Download audio file (isabel1.mp3)
Mark: What part of South Africa were you born in?
Isabel: In those days it was called the western Transvaal.
Isabel: These days it is called the Northern Province.
Mark: The Northern Province.
Isabel: Yes. It is west of Johannesburg. About a hundred and sixty kilometers west. Due west of Johannesburg.
Isabel: Countryside. Mining towns. Gold mining towns.
Mark: So you grew up in a mining town?
Isabel: Yes, I did.
Mark: How many people?
Isabel: I certainly didn’t know at the time how many people but I guess there were not too many. In our school there were about a thousand students which I thought was a hell of a lot. Ahm. I cannot estimate how many people.
Mark: I grew up in a mining town.
Isabel: I would say about twenty thousand. Twenty five thousand. Something like that.
Mark: I grew up on a mining town in Australia.
Isabel: Oh did you?
Mark: Twenty five thousand. Copper lead silver and zinc.
Isabel: Oh right. Ok. yes. They have a distinctive flavour; a quality of their own. I would hardly call it a flavour. My father was in the uranium plant.
Mark: An engineer?
(the sound of a match being struck) (the sound of a cigarette being lit)
Mark: So like, most people were white or most people were black or?
Isabel: Most well one wasn’t even so much aware of the population then. Most of the people who mattered in those days were white and then the mines of course…
when I say “mattered” it is certainly in inverted commas. (laughs)
Mark: Yeah. I know what you mean. Yeah.
Isabel: And then of course the mines had these huge compounds where they had imported labor from Mozambique and Zulu-land and all over and these men lived on their own in these huge compounds without their wives. (inhales) And they had curfew at nine o’clock at night. The sirens would go throughout and every black person in town would scatter for their little rooms at the backs of the homes of the people that they worked for.
Mark: How old were you when you left there?
Isabel: I was fifteen, sixteen. I left there as soon as I could. I couldn’t wait.
Mark: You went to the city to go to school?
Isabel: Mm. I carried on my schooling in Johannesburg. Stayed with my grandmother in an apartment and finished matric in Johannesburg.