My first feelings of justice versus injustice must have come into me very young but an experience when I was a child crystallised it. We lived in a tiny semi-detached house in a poorish neighbourhood next door to a young man who was making his name in the world of cricket. Some of his fame seemed to waft over the fence and touch us. We told everyone we lived next door to Jackie Mc Glew.
During the middle of a polio epidemic Mom put little bags of camphor round our necks. In those days there was no vaccination. We played with the Mc Glew kids daily. One day, when I got home from school, I was sternly forbidden to climb through the hole in the fence to next door because one of the kids had polio and had been rushed to hospital. I remember climbing my little tree in our garden and gazing over the fence into the neighbouring yard, now deserted, with my heart twisting with emotion at the injustice of it all – and how frightening it was to observe the grownups’ fear. The grownups were SO frightened and didn’t KNOW THINGS. It dawned on me that grownups were just like kids. They didn’t know stuff – just pretended they did. Fortunately my little friend was home soon, having only been lightly infected.
One night shortly after the polio scare, a terrible hullabaloo broke out in the middle of the night on the Mc Glew side of the fence. I ran out in my pajamas and peered through the fence-hole. There were several policemen in the yard and the house maid was shrieking “Hauw Hauw Hauw” and covering her face with her hands. As I watched, a policeman broke open the door of her “kia” (house) where she lived at the end of the garden. There was a lot of shouting, thumping and banging and they violently dragged a man out and threw him down on the grass.
After quite a time of shouting, shrieking, gesticulating and threats, the policemen carried the man away. The chest pains of shock, fright and horror affected me. I was told by the grownups that the man had been in her house “illegally”. Thinking he was some kind of burglar or murderer I asked who he was. “Her husband” was the answer. Those were the days of the apartheid laws in South Africa. The injustice of it overwhelmed me and this one incident affected my political thinking for the rest of my life.
The Mc Glew family had to pay a heavy fine to the Government for”harbouring”. I didn’t really know what this meant but I could see that grownups didn’t know stuff. They were frightened just like kids. Police did bad things to other people. And “the government” was a nasty, nasty thing.