Days Off in South Africa – Part 1

While training TV journalists at the South African Broadcasting Corporation in Johannesburg, my colleague Marie and I were offered a weekend loan of a friend’s cottage a few hours drive away.

We could hardly wait.

While there, we planned to visit another friend at his farm.

There, we’d see something extraordinary.


Just before leaving work that Friday, I ran into a journalist I knew.

“Don’t go, Cynthia” she warned.  “A lot of hardcore racists live in that area.”

I shivered.

It was the mid-1990’s and Mandela’s ANC had won the election, putting a public end to apartheid. But Marie and I were Canadians who didn’t know the country well.

And now, someone who did was urging me to cancel the trip.

Not Marie. Just me.


The difference in our skin colour had never been an issue between us. Not in Canada and not in South Africa.

We shared a small apartment near the SABC building in Johannesburg.  We shopped, cooked, ate supper, laughed, missed our families,  planned the next day’s work together. Though she often deferred to my leadership role on this project, Marie and I were friends and equals, colleagues at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation where we both held prominent leadership roles.


Of course we were aware of race – we were in South Africa, after all.

“I was so proud of you today,” Marie had told me after our first day at work at the SABC.

I’d been thinking the same thing — about her. About how privileged I was to have this wise, thoughtful, brilliant woman as my partner on this ground-breaking project.

“It was great to be there and to see the impact you had on everyone.”


South African journalist Sylvia Vollenhoven had told me on a phone call to my home in Canada one night:

“We’re glad you’re sending your team, Cynthia. But you also need to come here yourself. It’s important to us.” 

She paused.

“You’re a woman. And you’re black. And you’re in charge of all this.” 



Not wanting South Africa’s racial divisions to hang between Marie and me, I did a very foolish thing that weekend. In a place where race was everything, I said nothing about the warning.

I did not want it to disrupt this trip.


Driving along lonely roads, we consulted our map occasionally, but I was too quiet, lost in fearful thoughts that I didn’t share.

I should have, of course.

My silence was an elephant sitting in the car between us. The trip was already disrupted.


 Dedicated to my dear friend and training partner Marie.  The opportunity to work with you at this crucial time in South Africa’s history, ranks as one of the great privileges of my life.




Filed under A Good Home, After apartheid, Canadians working in South AFrica, Cave Drawings, Cave paintings, Journalists, South Africa, Training Journalists, Weekend in South Afica, Working in South AFrica

44 responses to “Days Off in South Africa – Part 1

  1. Nice setup. The mystery awaits…. 🙂

  2. First, what a privilege to be working in south Africa. Second, hope neither of you comes to harm in the sequel where there will be a jolt of reality, no doubt.

  3. Gives me goosebumps…..

  4. ohlalalalala, a continuous story! Love, cannot wait till the next post! xo Johanna

  5. Ann Moser

    Wow, what a story! I’ve put the kettle on and settling in for part 2!

  6. You certainly know how to post a cliff-hanger, Cynthia! Your story took me to an earlier time in Botswana, where multi-racialism found a good home. However, that didn’t happen without a struggle. Do you know the story of Sir Seretse Khama and Lady Ruth? Is it too much to say they were influential in changing the face of southern Africa?

    • What an amazing story. I cannot remember ever having heard of this before. Thank you very much.

      • It’s a love story I love. But apart from that it illustrates the incredible intricacy of race relations in that region. Botswana, where we lived in the early 80s was a wonderful, generous place, and mostly that came, I think, from the remarkable leadership of Sir Seretse Khama.

      • There must have been all kinds of expectations of him, and none of them included a white wife from Britain! What an interesting family legacy their three children received. I can’t help hoping that they are exceptional and good people.

  7. This is well written, to build suspense and encourage interest in the outcome!

  8. Being from the Deep South – you are scaring me already.

  9. Looking forward to part 2 🙂

  10. I guess the story has a good ending, but the suspense is tangible. Look forward to hearing more.

  11. I am going to be in Canada at Long Beach from Saturday to Saturday without wifi…ugh the suspense!!!!!! But I am looking forward to down time to finally finish the last few chapters of “A good Home”.

    • Where is Long Beach, Tina? Thanks for reading my book. I’m honoured that you have continued reading!

      • It’s in Wainfleet. About 40 minutes from Grand Island so a perfect vacationing spot for us. We rented a cottage right on the beach for the week. I’ve been trying to finish the book for 2 months now sometimes only getting a page or 2 in a night. It’s fabulous reading!

  12. On my goodness, you are brave. How long are you going to keep us in suspense?

  13. leeMck

    Dear Cynthia, Thank you for broaching this very important subject! I visited my daughter in Cape Town some years ago whilst she was studying at the university. She had a very difficult time convincing locals that I was her mother. I’m looking forward to part 2 of your experience.

  14. Looking forward to part 2!

  15. Oh, I hope it turns out well! 🙂

  16. You are very brave. I’m glad I chanced on this post after part II had been posted. I’m going straight there now, I’m not good at suspense.

  17. Cynthia, like in your memoir, you sure know how to grab a reader’s attention. Now I’m off to read part 2.
    Blessings ~ Wendy

  18. Fascinating story Cynthia. Change is accepted much more quickly and readily in cities than in the country isn’t it? Still. What an amazing and daunting job you were asked to do

    • It’s a funny thing, Clare: most of us like the countryside because it doesn’t change – or at least it does so very slowly. Yet, not changing at all can be disastrous.

      • Yes! Richard and I were talking today about a few of our local towns. We were saying that they aren’t anything special to look at but were living towns, with useful shops and a mixture of different types of people. Some of our beautiful villages and towns have so many preservation orders on them and so many restrictions on what can be done to the buildings that the place becomes dead. The houses get too expensive for any but the richest folk and ordinary useful shops have to close down as they can’t compete with the exclusive shops that follow the rich people around.

      • Yikes. They then become places for tourists and the super rich? I know a few places like that.

      • Yes. These places are everywhere unfortunately.

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