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The law declared their love a crime and imprisoned them both.
Now, one of them must risk all to save the other.
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Apartheid: noun, historical, a policy or system of segregation
or discrimination on grounds of race.
A prison in Cape Town
Twelve years before Nelson Mandela became president of South Africa, the country was governed by various pro-apartheid acts, including the Immorality Act, where sex between white and other ethnic groups was a criminal offence. Both parties contravening the Immorality Act would be imprisoned for up to ten years.
Excerpt 1 from ColorBlind:
I was scared, but not for the obvious reasons. It wasn’t because I had violated South Africa’s Immorality Act, which had landed me in jail.
It wasn’t the fact that, despite being in love for years, and secretly living together for six months prior to my arrest, my boyfriend, my black boyfriend, and I faced imprisonment – five years for me, ten for him (he would be dealt a harsher sentence because of the color of his skin). No, that was not it.
It wasn’t the fact that our that the police, a task force in full SWAT gear, created solely to handle anyone breaking the law, and daring to be color blind, had kicked down the door of our apartment at 3 a.m., dragged us out of bed in our nightwear, and threw us into waiting police vans. No, that was not it.
The above would scare anyone, right? Yet, none of the above terrified me as much as facing my father, Schoeman Vorster. That’s Pastor Schoeman Vorster. He was a charismatic preacher, respected and revered throughout South Africa by pro-apartheid whites, lauded by many of them. He ruled and recruited with fearmongering– The blacks are the enemy of the white people in South Africa. They are savages, they are dangerous, they should be greatly feared. We whites must stick together so that we can be stronger and fight them off when they attack, which will be any day now.
Yes, Pastor Schoeman Vorster publicly preached hate for people of color, demanded segregation among races, and believed wholeheartedly in discrimination based on a person’s color. It was legal, the law said he could do that, so he took advantage of that and held mass rallies where he recruited white followers throughout the country. In the U.S. you had the Klu Klux Klan, in South Africa we had Die Goed Afrikaaner Kerk (The Good Afrikaaner Church). The Klu Klux Klan had the Grand Wizard, in South Africa, we had Pastor Schoeman Vorster.
Pa was about to see me for the first time since my arrest. My secret love that I had kept hidden for so long, was now out in the open and I was in deep trouble. I had committed the worst possible crime a white woman could commit in South Africa – I had slept with a black man. Pastor Schoeman’s daughter had slept with a black man.
My greatest fear was answering to my father, now that I had been caught out. At the thought of facing him, my stomach churned, my throat felt like I had swallowed polystyrene, my palms grew clammy, and for the first time in my life, I actually heard my heartbeat. That’s how terrified I was of my father, the pastor.
Whenever I’m nervous or anxious, I bite my nails. That day, in the jail interview room, I steadily chewed on whatever little of my nails were left. When I remember just how disgustingly dirty they were – I had spent the last two nights in a filthy jail cell – I quickly jerked my fingers out of my mouth and tucked them under my thighs. And waited.
As the minutes dragged by, my fear was such, that my nails found their way back into my mouth and I chewed on them, regardless of how disgusting they smelled.
Then, he arrived. I felt my father’s presence before he even entered the interview room. I jerked to attention – back ramrod-straight, eyes alert and darting around, white knuckles gripping the plastic chair.
The door to the prison interview room was flung open, and my father strode in, eyes hooded, nostrils twitching, lips a white line. Dressed in a suit, he looked commanding and reverential as usual, taller than he usually did, larger too.
Sauntering behind him were my half-brothers, Jacob and Isaiah, young pastors in training, both suited and somber.
Behind them were two senior prison wardens, Jonas and Fourie. Behind them all, lugging an attaché case, was Abramowitz Cohen, one of my father’s trusted attorneys and fixer, who I’ve known since birth. Oom (uncle) Cohen, as we called him.
They greeted me with looks of contempt and revulsion, and under their collective disdain, I lost the ramrod in my back, and my shoulders rounded. With my head slightly bowed, I braced myself for the onslaught that was sure to follow.
Warden Jonas hastened to pull out a plastic chair for my father. “Here you are, Pastor Schoeman,” he said in Afrikaans, dusting the chair with his hands, then bowing obsequiously to my father.
My father shifted his glare to the chair. He was a stickler for cleanliness, because it was next to godliness, he always said, so I knew he would rather stand, than sit on a germ-infested prison chair. However, for whatever reason, he caved and, without thanking the warden, took a seat on the edge of the chair. With both hands on his lap, probably to avoid touching the grubby table, he glared at me, his eyes granite and icy. I quickly averted mine.
My brothers remained standing, hands loosely folder in front, feet astride, like CIA agents behind the president. The other men stood too, despite the chairs in the room. I suspected it was to intimidate me. It worked, even if it wasn’t the plan. Six white, strapping men, all angry and humiliated by my actions, towering over me – how could an eighteen-year-old not be intimidated?
For a while, it was so silent in the room, I heard the hissing and groaning of the hundred-year-old prison pipes.
My father’s sharp voice eventually pierced the silence and temporarily muted the pipes. “That kaffir raped you.”
With great difficulty, I raised my eyes to look at my father. Don’t call him kaffir! That was my first thought.
Pa only spoke Afrikaans, which was the language of the white man in South Africa. We were encouraged to speak Afrikaans at all times, not English. “You hear? That black bastard, he raped you.”
I knew better than to talk back to my father, so I remained quiet. It wasn’t good enough – he crashed his fist onto the table, causing me to jump.
“Hear what I’m saying? Ja?”
Under duress, I responded in a mixture of English and Afrikaans. “Nee, nee, he didn’t rape me, Pa. We –”
“He raped you!” he screamed, his race flaming, his eyes bulging, his lips dry and cracked from fury.
“No, Pa, he did not,” I repeated. “I love him Shabba. I mean, Tshabalala – that’s his name.” My voice wasn’t defiant, for no one dares defy Pastor Schoeman. It was firm, but respectful.
My answer simply incensed my father even more. “You … you … you do NOT –” He was so angry, spittle flew out of his mouth as he snarled at me.
I was terrified, yes, but I needed to correct him about Shabba. Correct everyone around for that matter. “We … we are going to get married, Pa. We –”
I stopped talking when I saw him cracking his knuckles, because … when Pa cracks his knuckles, you are going to get disciplined. With his fists. In a big way. Old school. At six-foot-three and approximately two-hundred-and twenty pounds, Schoeman Vorster did not need a weapon – he was one.
Judging from the way Isaiah and Jacob flinched, it was fair to assume that they’ve experienced their fair share of knuckle-cracking. Pa spared no rod, because he said, the Bible warned us not to.
Knowing that I was in a jail with two prison wardens, and that there was little chance of pa getting physical with me, despite my terror, I summoned the courage to explain. “We have been living together on and off for about six months, and we plan to –”
My father, who was in his late fifties, moved with a swiftness I never thought possible – he hurled himself across the table he had avoided touching, and crashed into me like a rugby player, taking me to the ground with him.
“I will kill you, Sarie!” he screamed, striking me repeatedly across the face. Luckily, shock served as my bubble wrap – I only felt the first two blows before I started to black out.
“Meneer! Meneer!” Warden Jonas said in an amused voice, as he pulled my father off me. “She’s learnt her lesson, I tell you. Ja.”
“No child of mine will ever disrespect me like this,” my father said, as he straightened his tie and adjusted his coat. “A kaffir …” He paused to pat down his hair, “I will kill them. Ja, both of them, I will kill them and go to jail if I have to. It will be an honor killing. That’s what I will do. Ja.” He patted his hair again.
I lay on the floor, gurgling from the blood in my mouth.
Warden Fourie helped me up to my feet and sat me on a chair again. Bloodied and weak from the vicious beating, I flopped forward, forcing him to hold me up.
“Spare the rod and spoil the child,” my father said to no one in particular, wiping his hands along the sides of his pants.
“I know, I know,” Jonas said, his head bobbing. “I got children too, Meneer.” He held up four fingers. “Yasis! Kids today, they never listen, ay? I fully get it, Meener.”
Sitting with my head bowed, I watched blood drip from my split lip onto my lap. Since I had no tissues to wipe away the blood, I gingerly dabbed a sleeve across my mouth.
“You have embarrassed me and our family with your behavior,” my father continued as he paced. “With your … your ‘dealings’ with that … that kaffir!” He made a spitting motion, before he continued. “Speaking English to me! English? Such disrespect?”
Jacob reached to pat my father’s arm. “Pa, your blood pressure …”
My father shrugged him off. “You know what I stand for, what my principals are. What our core values as a family, a people, a nation are, and you still do this? What about the law? You have broken the law, and for that, you are heading for prison. Ay? My daughter, the criminal. How does that make me look?” He started to count on his fingers as he spoke. “I preach the word of God, I live by Bible principals, I conduct biblical tours throughout our land, spread God’s message, I … I … I recruit fighters for our church’s army to keep our race pure. Ay? I go beyond my call of duty to safeguard our race. Beyond! Seven days a week, I do all this. And this is how you show your appreciation? My own daughter, my own flesh … disrespecting me like that. For my own flesh to commit such a … a terrible crime? I feel shame. Terrible, terrible shame, man. I am humiliated that my daughter chose to disregard our values, our fight, our struggle. To betray me like this?” He shook his head in sorrow. “Laughing stock – that’s what will be.”
I said nothing, but listened out for the sounds of his knuckles cracking. “This behavior of yours, it is going to affect not only my standing in the church, my standing in the community, in this country; it will affect all our bloody lives. All our lives. Every one of us. You want that, Sarie? You want the church to fire me? Who will pay all our bills? Who will pay for privileged lifestyle you have enjoyed since birth? Where will the money come from?”
I didn’t answer.
“You’re an intelligent girl, you know all of this, and you still do this? Humiliate us like this by being caught in bed with a kaffir? The servant’s child? Eh? Someone who grew up in the stables?”
Don’t call him kaffir!
He looked at Jacob, his firstborn and right-hand man. “Where did I go wrong? Tell me? What did I do to deserve this? Tell me, Jacob. Tell me, tell me, TELL ME!”
“Pa …” Jacob gave a, you-did-nothing-wrong wave.
My father looked at Isaiah, my other brother. Isaiah shook his head at my father in sympathy, then flung a dirty look my way.
For a few moments, my father paced, mumbled, and muttered to himself. Finally, he turned to look at me. “You will say that he kidnapped you, raped you. You will say that you had no choice but to go with him, because he threatened the lives of – no, no, no, he and his men threatened the lives of me and the rest of our family members. Your mother – he threatened to kill your mother because of our pro-apartheid stance, you hear?”
I didn’t answer – I kept my eyes lowered but kept the corners of my eyes on the lookout.
With his eyebrows elevated, my father looked at Jacob.
Jacob nodded in agreement. “And bring in the church, Pa. They should take some responsibility here.” He went on to elaborate, put his spin on things. “Because of our church’s beliefs, Sarie was targeted. Because of your support for the church, Pa. And … I can come up with a ransom note from the kaffir, his –”
“We can show proof of us paying him the ransom too,” Isaiah added. “Get footage of some kaffir picking up the money at night, release it to the papers …”
“Them,” Jacob interrupted. “Proof of us paying them the ransom.”
Isaiah nodded. “Ja, ja, them!”
My father looked at Cohen for his input.
Cohen cleared his throat, pushed up his horn-rimmed glasses with his index finger and said, “That will all help greatly. Damage control – that is what we will be striving for.” He looked at me, and in a gentle voice said, “I’ve known you since you were a baby, Sarie, and I have to say, it pains me greatly to see you in this place. Physically, hurts me. This kaffir, he has taken advantage of you, of your family, your kindness, man. And look where it has got you? Ay?” He gestured to the room. “Look around you, Sarie; it is rather deplorable. Look, look, look!”
All necks in the room began to swivel around, and with mouths contorted in disgust, they took in the bare cement floor, the stained plastic chairs, the grubby wooden table that was anchored to the floor, and the flickering fluorescent lights on the flaky ceiling. The place reeked of urine and stale cigarette smoke.
“Every one of us has a place in society,” Cohen continued, shaking a finger in the air. “And clearly this kaffir has forgotten his place. By daring to do what he did to you, a white woman, he has displayed an inordinate degree of arrogance to us whites. Disregard and disrespect, Sarie, not just for you, your family and your church, but for the law! The law! Now, he has put you in this predicament? You’ve got to save yourself, Sarie. You can only be free of this terrible, terrible place if you co-operate with us, listen to Pa. You do that, and I will make sure we will send that kaffir away for a long, long time for what he did to you, I’m telling you.” He looked at my father, then my brothers. All their heads were bobbing in agreement.
My father stepped forward and pointed at me. “You will do everything Meneer Cohen asks you to do, sign everything he asks you to sign, throw that kaffir under the bus, you hear?”
I remained silent. The bleeding had stopped, but my mouth felt on fire, and my one eye was starting to close from the beating.
“I’ve got the statement already prepared, Sarie,” Cohen said, sliding a batch of papers across the table to me. “It’s basic, doesn’t include all that your father and brothers want us to say, but we can add more details. For now, just sign at the crosses, Sarie.”
I skimmed over the document, over the lies and fabrications, then looked up at Cohen.
“Once you sign this document, we will arrange for your release within minutes,” Cohen promised, before he looked at warden Jonas with eyebrows elevated.
After glancing at his watch, Warden Jonas confirmed the promise with a nod.
Cohen slid his pen over to me.
As I pretended to consider the document, which was in Afrikaans, the men in the room brainstormed.
“His father is on the run from the police for engaging in all sorts of criminal activities.”
“Oh, ja? What kind of crimes? Maybe we can use that?”
“Eh … mainly political, but … we can organize something.”
“Ja, okay, let’s do that. A family of criminals – that’s what they are.”
“Terrorists, ja, ja!”
“Jacob, now look here – you must address the media at the press conference. Your father and mother should stand in the background looking grief-struck, ay?”
“Ja, Oom, I can do that.”
“Photograph Sarie’s face. Blame him for her injuries.”
“Blame them for her injuries.”
“Ja, blame them.”
“I’ll ask for twenty years, minimum.”
“Think you can get that?”
“I know a few judges. May need to grease a few palms …”
“Ja, okay, whatever you need; just fix it. Please, man!”
I turned my attention back to the document. Freedom sounded so great. I badly wanted to go home. I had barely slept, hardly eaten or taken a shower in jail. My face throbbed from the beating, my backed ached from the being battered against the cement floor, my left eye throbbed. Besides my injuries, I longed for my bed, my pillow, my hairbrush, a nailbrush, my own clothes that wasn’t abrasive to my skin, and to rid myself of the stench of jail. I longed to go back to my life and put this horrendous place, this absolute nightmare behind me.
Then, I thought of Shabba. Throw him under the bus … twenty years behind bars for my lies and falsified claims. All because he loved me. I thought of his smiling face, his warm hugs, his tender kisses, and my eyes began to burn. The thought of him rotting away behind bars for the rest of his adult life for no reason, made me want to sob.
I weighed my choices – cooperate and go home, or refuse, and spend the next five years in this godforsaken place.
“What is it, Sarie?” Cohen asked. “Why are you crying?”
I didn’t answer.
“Sarie…” my father growled in a warning tone.
I kept my head bowed to hide my tears.
“Sarie …” Jacob said, his voice also imbued with threat.
“Sarie, it’s Yom Kippur,” Cohen said, “the holiest day in our Jewish faith, yet, here I am trying to help you out. “My family will be waiting for me to return home for our evening prayer. We need to wrap this up. Please!” He held out the pen to me.
I looked at Oom Cohen – how does a person fabricate lies and throw an innocent young man in prison, then go home to his family and pray to God? How could God allow something like this to happen?
“Shabba did not do these things to me, Oom,” I said in a small voice. “He would never hurt me. I love him, he loves me, we’re going to get married some –”
“Sarie, PLEASE!” Cohen shrieked, stabling the pen into the table.
“— day. I’ve being his girlfriend for years, so I’m sorry, I can’t sign these lies, Oom. I’m sorry.” I pushed away the papers.
Cohen pushed back his glasses with his index finger and glared at me. I held his gaze.
My father took a step toward me, his face a mask of menace. I quickly shrunk back in fear. “Is that a fact?”
I did not answer, I just braced myself for another one of my father’s beatings – maybe if I sat facing the side, he wouldn’t get my face when he beat me.
“I need some time alone with my daughter,” my father said though clenched teeth, his eyes now slits.
Jonas quickly stepped in front of my father. “Wag, Meener, wag! Give me a chance to talk some sense into her.” His voice was reassuring, confident, as if to say, After my chat with her, she will acquiesce.
“Go, grab a cup of Rooibos tea at reception. I heard meneer likes Koeksisters, so I arranged for some for you. So, go have some, take a seat, leave it all to me.”
Jacob touched my father’s arm, then jerked his head toward the door. After flinging me you’d-better-behave look, my father got up and left the room. My brothers and Cohen followed him.
Warden Fourie, a beefy, red-faced man with a belly that grazed his thighs, squeezed his bulk into a chair across me, then spent a good few moments trying to place one leg over the other.
He stared blankly at me as he did. Not glared, just stared, as if he was unsure what to make of me. I didn’t know what to make of him. So far, he’d been quiet and watchful, while Jonas did all the talking. I was used to glares, head-shaking and tsking! from those around, so the poker face threw me.
Warden Jonas, who could easily pass for Fourie’s younger brother, pulled a chair, sat across me and smiled. “Sarie … what a lovely name!” With his hand on his heart, and in an operatic voice, he broke into an Afrikaans folk song.
“O bring my trug na die ou Transvaal,
Daar waar my Sarie woon,
Daar onder in die mielies by die groen doringboom,
Daar woon my Sarie Mariaaaaas!”
He stopped and smiled at me. “Love that song. I sing it whenever I have a few dops in me, know what I mean?” He made a quaffing gesture and followed it with a wink.
I rewarded his good-cop gesture with a feeble smile.
He turned and looked at Fourie, his eyebrows elevated. “What you think? Ay?”
“Eh … don’t give up your day job,” Fourie muttered in a sullen voice, still struggling to cross one leg over the other.
Jonas threw his head back and laughed, slapping his thigh as he did. Then, he pulled his chair closer to mine, adopted a serious look, and in a mixture of English and Afrikaans, said, “Listen, Sarie, we make mistakes, we are human, we all make mistakes. But now, we want it all to … to go away so that we can get out of this foking plek. Ay?”
I nevertheless nodded, wanting to appearing like I was listening, like I was understanding and cooperating even, hoping Jonas would take pity on me and release me from jail without me having to throw Shabba under the bus first.
“Ja, because you’re a white girl, and what the hell do you know about prison life, huh? Niks! So we want this whole … this whole … mess to go away, right?
“So, sign the papers,” Jonas finally said, dragging the documents closer to me.
I shook my head. “Sorry, but I can’t, meneer.”
“Sign the papers, Sarie,” he repeated. “I don’t wanna have to go out there and tell them that I failed at my job. I must tell you, Sarie, God’s truth, I have never failed at my job before. I don’t like failure, ay? ‘Specially when someone else causes me to fail.” His voice was quietly threatening.
I sat with my head bowed and slowly rubbed my aching arm.
“Sorry, meneer,” I said, “but he did not rape me. I can’t lie like that. Sorry.”
Jonas twisted a finger in his ear, removed it, viewed his finger made a face, then wiped it on the side of his pants. After which, he looked at me, at Fourie, and at me again. He reached forward and gently tugged at a tendril of mine. “Such a pretty girl,” he said in a husky voice. “Even though your pa messed up your pretty face, you are still such a looker.”
My instinct told me that it was not a compliment. It also made me cross my arms in front of my chest.
My instinct was right – Warden Jonas pulled my chair so that my knees were between his thighs. It felt invasive, wrong, but what could I do about it? All I could do was try not to think about our thighs touching. “Sign the papers, Sarie.”
I didn’t react.
His thighs suddenly slammed shut against mine, his eyes fixed on mine.
I swallowed hard and tried not to feel, not to think.
Suddenly, he shoved his knee between my thighs. A loud gasp escaped me at his move. With the wall behind me, and Jonas placed firmly in front of me, there was no place for me to go.
He tilted his head and said, “You remind me of this chick in school. She was a goffel (whore), but she was … fun. He pushed his tongue deep into his left cheek, then his right. “That’s why I like you, Sarie, you remind me so much of her.” When his knee wedged deeper between my thighs, I put both hands on his thigh and attempted to push his leg away. It didn’t work, he was a wall himself. With a sinister smile on his face, he watched and fed off my fear.
“We had so much fun in the back of my father’s bakkie, I tell you.” With every word he uttered, his knee inched closer and closer to my crotch.
I was eighteen, a prisoner at his mercy, while he was in his fifties, with one of the most dangerous kinds of power a despot can have – that of a prison warden. I had never felt so utterly powerless in my life.
Not knowing what to do, my eyes dropped to his shirt button and stayed there.
“Your tits are better than hers though.”
I looked at Fourie, with pleading eyes – Do something please! Rescue me from his disgusting colleague. Fourie simply deadpanned.
For a few moments we sat in silence, Jonas’ knee wedging closer and closer to my crotch, my hand still on his thigh, still trying to stop him.
Jonas suddenly sat back, folded his arms and glared at me. Relived, I used that time to swivel my body away from his so that I could escape his knee should he try that again.
For a few moments, the two men silently watched me try to compose my rattled self.
Once again, probably believing that he had intimidated me enough, Jonas pushed the document toward me.
I shook my head.
“Sign the papers, Sarie,” Jonas said, his voice taut and threatening.
“Nee, meneer, I can’t. Sorry.”
“Sign. The. Papers. Sarie!”
I said nothing, did nothing.
With his head tilted, he stared at me. “You like kaffirs that much?”
I didn’t think the question deserved the dignity of an answer.
“Black cock? That your fetish, eh? Black cock?”
My eyes lowered to the button on his chest and stayed there while he degraded me.
“What’s wrong with white cock?”
I didn’t answer.
He leaned in and said, “Which white man is going to want to marry a white woman, that has had a black cock inside of her? You are damaged goods now, girl. You are going to be shunned by everyone around because of your love for black cock. Your whole family will be shunned because of your disgusting fetish. You want that? You want to bring such shame to your poor mother and father?”
I said nothing.
“Sign the papers and save yourself, Sarie. Do it for your family. Do it! Say he raped you. Say he took you by force.”
I moved back in my chair, a clear indication that I was not going to lie about my relationship with Shabba.
Jonas suddenly crashed his fist into the table, causing the pen to fly into the air and almost hit me. “Sign the foking PAPERS SARIE!”
Although I jumped with fear, I did not reach for the papers. He spent a moment peering at the fist he had crashed into the table, before he turned and looked at Fourie. The two of them seemed to communicate with their eyes.
With a nod, Jonas turned to look at me, a slight smile on his face. “Ja, well, no fine. Sarie Vorster, we must respect your wishes.”
Despite the smile, his words did nothing to comfort me. Jonas started the conversation with me by warning me how much he disliked failing, remember? From the onset, it was clear that he wanted to impress the great Pastor Schoeman Vorster with his koeksisters and Rooibos tea. Because of my obstinate attitude, not wanting to send an innocent man to prison, Jonas would have to declare that he had failed with me. How could he not be angry with me? What was in store for me now? I groaned inwardly at the thought of what punishment lay ahead, now that I had offended the warden, the one person who held all the power in this place.
Both men stood up, and without another word, sauntered out of the room. Are they going to giving up on me? I wondered as they left the room and shut the door behind them. Do they plan to take me back to my cell? Feeling emotionally and physically drained, I longed for them to go away. All of them. Especially my furious father. Even the confines of my dirty and dingy cell would have been better than being near my father and his fists of fury.
Moments later, the door to the interview room opened, and in walked my father. Strangely, he was alone. Even stranger, he shut the door and turned to look at me. The, to my absolute horror, he began to crack his knuckles.
END of Excerpt
ColourBlind – A heartbreaking, heart-soaring tale of love and loss that will make you laugh, make you cry and keep you turning pages.
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