Apartheid experiences

By Annabel Smith, Head of Global Awareness

Last Thursday Lele Jones visited 6.1 historians to talk to them about her experience of growing up in South Africa under apartheid. It was an extraordinary privilege to hear first-hand about her family’s history in Sophiatown, and then, after their forced removal, in Soweto. Witness to both the outrages of daily life and such turning points as the uprising of Soweto school children in 1976 and the death of Steve Biko, Lele’s memories brought home the reality of a situation that’s often very hard for outsiders to understand.

Lele brought her pass with her for us to see – one of the hated passes that triggered the Sharpeville massacre and tyrannised the lives of millions of black South Africans. She also showed us her ‘Homelands’ travel document which was issued by the apartheid government in place of a South African passport, but this was not recognised by the international community, thus making foreign travel very difficult.

Perhaps the most important journey she ever made was to Botswana, to marry Bedales Maths teacher, Martin Jones. Because their marriage was illegal in South Africa, and different races were segregated into separate urban areas, they soon moved to England. Lele told of her panic on finding herself on the same bus as white people, forgetting momentarily that this was not illegal here. Because of stories such as this – powerfully bringing to life the words of the A level text books – and Lele’s quietly fierce appeal to never be bystanders in the face of injustice, we are already looking forward to her coming back to visit us again. Next time she is going to sing!

Click on the image below to read a news article published in The News, 1990:

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