Trip to Post Office

Today I walked down the street with Deb and Debbie to do a number of errands during our lunch break. One of them was finding a post office to buy postcard stamps to send postcards to our loved ones. It was not until we were half-way through our line that I realized I was, in a sense, following my mother’s footsteps from 40 years ago.

In the early 1970s, she came to visit a nursing friend of hers in Johannesburg. This friend and her husband were black. The husband took my mom and her brother to the post office. My mom’s friend’s husband was in Johannesburg as an ambassador from another African nation.

Under the pass laws, he had diplomatic immunity and therefore the same pass privileges as whites. When he went through the white line with my mother and her brother, the woman at the desk started to scream at him for being in the wrong line. She did this until he showed his pass. At that very moment she became a completely different person—polite, charming and went out of her way to serve him and my mom and uncle.

This was the first story I heard about Apartheid, and it has shaped me. It drove me to be here today and to learn more about South Africa during my undergraduate years.

Today as I stood in line at the post office, I was part of one line, all of whom were whites. The woman who served me was black. To me, this is the new, remaining picture of how far the people of South Africa have come. Yet it is also a reminder of how far we still have to go. I celebrate that there is only one line, and that there is no need for pass books. Yet I wonder as the affects of an economic apartheid are still present with us today.


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One thought on “Trip to Post Office

  1. Thank you for this story, Heather. The summer before my senior year in high school (1973), I was in Costa Rica with AFS. A black student from South Africa was there, Peter. He was there only because AFS threatened to cut South Africa out of participation in AFS if he had not been allowed to travel as part of AFS. We were not in the same city for the summer, but I did see him occasionally during those months when we gathered for special events as part of the program. He was reluctant to speak of his life in South Africa; he feared recrimination when he returned just for having been the center of controversy for his participation. And that was quite enough. When I was in the 6th grade, a Sunday School teacher read to us from Alan Paton’s “Cry the Beloved Country” which I went on to read myself (nerd!) so I was aware of apartheid as an historical reality, but meeting Peter made it real for me and I never forget him and wonder to this day what became of him.

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