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South Africans Cry the Beloved Country : Some Look Back at Their Land in Dread While Others Plan to Return

March 24, 1985|KATHLEEN HENDRIX | Times Staff Writer

South Africans in Los Angeles are here in all their racial, ethnic and political diversity, and they have brought the complexities of their society with them. Here is a representative look at who they are .

For Pamela Wade there is danger in the temptation to go back to South Africa. Recently her husband, Richard, received an offer to teach at the University of Natal and the temptation was put to the test. They did not return.

"I got worried that life would become so easy again, and so subversive in that easiness. You do not see what you don't want to see. If you give in to the fear and the tension you cannot survive. You have to sublimate it, block it off."

Pamela and Richard Wade were a young married couple when they came here from South Africa in 1960 so that Richard, an engineer, could do doctoral work at Caltech. They have been here ever since, living in Pasadena, raising a family of four.

"When we left it really was with no intention to return," Pamela said one recent afternoon at Imperial Schools in Pasadena where she teaches music. "It was just after Sharpeville (at which police fired on a crowd of unarmed demonstrators and killed 67 black Africans, setting off wide-scale demonstrations).

Not a Healthy Future

"We felt very much that the future of the country, unless the government changed its policies, would not be a healthy one in which to have a family. . . . To raise our children in our ethics and have them live by another standard would be hypocritical."

She is from Durban in Natal, where her English ancestors settled in the 1700s, and she is proud of her African heritage, calling it her birthright.

Her attachment to South Africa seems not only intact, but also intensified by nostalgia and dread.

She has returned for two visits, the latest in 1976, a visit to her aunt and uncle's farm in a beautiful part of Natal. During that last visit, an alert had gone out while she was there: A black man had been sighted with a gun.

"The local (farmers) were all armed with submachine guns. To me it was the most heartbreaking thing in the world, to see these guns replace the old hunting rifle every farm had. To see this impending violence in that beautiful place. I started to get the shakes: 'Get me out of here. Get me back to Pasadena. I cannot live with that fear.' "

Clutching her head at the remembrance, she said she asked her relatives, "How can you live here?"

She and her husband "agree to disagree" with their relatives there, she said. She recounted one telephone exchange she had last year when she mentioned how pleased she was by Bishop Desmond Tutu's Nobel Peace Prize. It was a conversation stopper.

Threat to Safety

"What they hear when Tutu is talking," she explained, "is a threat to their safety," adding that while most of her family want "to do the right thing" and want to see "an easing," they fear losing everything they have as the alternative being demanded.

A Weekend Marriage

Currently the Wades have a weekend marriage. Pamela has remained in Pasadena where their daughter is finishing high school. Later they will join Richard in La Jolla where his consulting engineering services firm is based. However, they are holding on to their Pasadena home for their relatives, "in case anyone has to leave. I don't know if they would leave. I wish they would."

The Wades are American citizens now, and assimilated. They do not know many South Africans and do not seek them out, having had a few experiences initially, Pamela said, meeting people who "espoused things we did not believe in, for example referring to Africans as moont, kafirs, coons. We'd left to get away from that." That, and not Africa itself. They love Africa.

Richard Wade was born in the then British colony of Mauritius and spent his boyhood all over Africa, wherever his father was working as an engineer. At one point, he said during a recent weekend in Pasadena, he was the only male at a black girls' high school in northern Nigeria, studying Latin with the girls, roaming the countryside and hunting with a Hausa boy his age, realizing his friend wanted some basic things in life and that white civilization was not one of them. Nor would he want to be indentured.

The Wades found South Africa changed in many ways when they visited in 1976. The laws of petty apartheid had been relaxed so that, for example, some restaurants and theaters were integrated.

Pamela saw the changes as too little and too late to stem the mounting anger and impatience of black youth. She senses an inevitable upheaval.

"I would not have predicted those kinds of reform," Richard said of the 1976 scene. "I predicted it would have been blown up. (South Africa's) been able to avoid that with a lot of Gestapo-like tactics, I'm afraid. . . . I'll tell you quite candidly, if the political situation in South Africa were not the way it is now, I would go back."

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