Oscar Wilde supposedly said ‘it’s where the flowers don’t smell, the birds don’t sing and the women have no morals’ – South Africa.
Well it only took me 30 minutes on South African soil to mix up my ‘net blankes’ (whites only ), and ‘nie blankes’ (non-whites ).
The lady behind the Post Office counter in Cape Town was apoplectic as she shouted and pointed at the sign, ‘nie blankes, nie blankes’.
It was 1972, I was 21 and a stewardess on the cruise liner S.A.Vaal. A concerned crew member had warned me to be careful about the petty apartheid signs.
But hey, I was British, young, full of attitude.
I just breezed into the Post Office and stood in a queue – the wrong queue.
With the death of Nelson Mandela, and the massive media coverage, it brought back so many memories.
Folks, how I wasn’t killed in Cape Town I’ll never know.
That first night ashore, where did I go? Not to the luxury ‘whites only’ hotel for dinner with the girls.
My dad was ex-Royal Navy and he told me all the sailors went to the infamous ( for drugs and prostitution) Navigators’ Den in District 6.
So off I went. Dark and sleazy with a black R&B/soul band. I loved it.
The other stewardesses went bonkers when I rolled back to the ship.
Excuse me, I’m a Pompey gal who used to frequent The Birdcage in the ’60s.
But during my 11 trips to Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, East London and Durban, I witnessed harrowing sights.
We were told to keep to the main roads but I wandered off to the back streets.
I saw poverty, mutilation and begging dark eyes that followed my path, but never challenged me.
Perhaps they knew we were ship’s crew and maybe we would tell what we saw back home in England.
I even managed (by mistake) to drive in a hire car through a shanty town.
Now I was scared. But again, the black South Africans just stood and stared.
So when Cameron, Obama and Thorning-Schmidt took a ‘selfie’ photo at Mandela’s memorial service I thought it was uber-tacky.
Perhaps none of them have witnessed apartheid first hand.
I did. And the tales I can’t tell you haunt me still.