From the book: My Spirit Is Not Banned by Frances Baard and Barbie Schreiner

My childhood

My father, Herman Maswabi, was a well-educated man. He came from Ramotswa in Bechuanaland2, to Kimberley to find work on the mines. It was there that he met my mother, Sarah Voss. She was a Tswana like him, but she was from Kimberley. They got married there, and then they had us children.

We were six children all-together, four girls and two boys. The first-born was Leah, and the next one too was a girl, Regina. Then came Nicodemus, the first son. Nicodemus and me always got on very well, and even now we still go along together fine. He is still alive now, even though he is very old. He is about six years older than me. I was the next one after him. I think it was October 1908 that I was born, but I never saw my birth certificate or anything. My parents called me Frances Goitsemang. Goitsemang means 'who knows?' My sister, the one before me, was much older than me so when I was born my parents called me 'who knows?' 'who knows that we are going to have another daughter!' After me came Adelaide. She was the youngest girl in the family. Then, the youngest one was Elijah. Those two boys, Nicodemus and Elijah, hawu! they used to fight a lot. But the girls, we got on very well with each other.

We used to live in quite a big house, six rooms or so, seven with the kitchen. My father built it himself and it was a very nice house. But it was just a simple place too. We didn't have electricity there. There was a tap in the yard and we used to fetch water from that tap to take inside for washing and cooking and everything. But we had a little garden in the yard, and we had some flowers and some vegetables growing there. Us children used to take a little water in a bucket every day to water the garden.

Every Sunday we put on our special clothes so we look very pretty and then we go to church, the whole family. My father was a steward in that Methodist church. I used to enjoy it a lot. I like singing, and the hymns were very nice. And there was no other place we could go to, only church! From there we would go out in the afternoon. We had an uncle who was the only brother of my mother, and he was so fond of us. In the afternoon after church we used to go and visit him. Every time he would give us some monies and we go buying sweets and so forth. Sunday was a nice day because you know you are going to get some money from uncle.

My father had a brother who was a minister there in Brand-fort, and this brother had about four children. When the children were still little boys, he and his wife both died. Then my father brought up his brother's children, and educated them too. So there were a lot of children in our house, and it was very full even though it was a big house. So, when I was still little, perhaps five years old or so, my parents sent me to my father's people in Ramotswa so that they must look after me. My father's sister didn't have any children so I went to stay with her. It is a sort of traditional thing to do this. My sister Adelaide went to stay with the sister of the minister who died. And me too, I was sent away to Bechuanaland so that my father's people would take care of me.

Ramotswa is a village not too far from Gaborone. My father's brother and my father's sister, my aunt, they both lived there. I went to live with my father's sister and her husband, but I was really living with my aunt, I mean, she was the head of the household. I think the woman is always the head. I just take it like that, that the woman is always the head.

It was not like Kimberley there. We lived in a traditional house with a thatched roof and mud walls. They used to build a long one with two rooms perhaps, and then there were some round ones too. We used to sleep on the floor in those houses, on mats on the floor. It was very different from my parents' house in Kimberley, but it was a nice place too.

My grandfather stayed very near to us, and every morning when it was just becoming light, very early, he would get up and take his trumpet, and then he would play it in the street to wake all the people in the village.

I think it was much better in that time than it is now. We had a lot of vegetables from the garden, and lots of morogo (wild spinach), and meat, a lot of meat. When it was cold, my aunt would cook inside the house. But when the weather was nice, she would cook outside, on a fire outside the hut. We ate very well there. We always had a lot of milk too. Some of the children, while their fathers are milking, they come with their mugs, and fill them up with milk right there from the cow. Of course, only some of the cattle were kept in the village, the rest were out at the cattle posts. My uncle and all the other men used to go out to the cattle posts to look after the cattle. Those cattle posts were a long way from the village and the men would stay there for some time, perhaps a month or so, before they came back to the village again.

The women stayed in the village all the time. They used to plough in the fields, and they must be there to take up the weeds so that the corn, the mealies, must grow up properly. Sometimes when the mealies are planted in a very big field and there is a lot of corn, a big harvest, they used to call the people who lived near in other villages. They call them all together, and when these people come together, they make this beer, kaffir-beer, to drink.

Then they all work that place, a lot of people together work the whole day reaping the crops. It is very hot in Bechuanaland. So, the people work, and then they take a break and have something to drink, and then they work some more until they have finished the whole field. When we have a lot of mealies, perhaps we can take some to the mill, or we make some exchanges with them, or perhaps we sell some of them in Ramotswa.

We were a lot of children in the village, and we all used to go to school there. It was a Lutheran mission school, and I went to that school for a time while I was there. I was confirmed there in Ramotswa. My father's people were Lutheran, so I was confirmed when I was still very small, because that is the way they do it in the Lutheran church.

When we were not in school we used to play all together, or sometimes we had to collect water at a river near the village. We collected water in clay pots, and we used to have these big pumpkins dried out and empty for water too. Fortunately it was not very far to the river, just a little way. We used to walk barefoot most of the time, even through the bush. Of course, there were some people that time who used to make shoes, and some of the children even had shoes from the shop, but most of the time we walked barefoot.

I remember as little girls we used to play this game with pots and cooking, like we were big, and looking after the house. We were playing that game there one day in Ramotswa and we made a little fire to cook on. Suddenly, poof! I caught fire in my dress. Hawu! It was the middle of the day, and all the big people were gone to the fields to work, and there were-very few at home there in the village. There were flames on my dress, burning, burning, and I was running round crying, with my dress just burning. Then some people, heard the children crying wah-wah-wah-wah, and they came out to see what's happening. They saw me running with this fire on my dress, and they ran after me. (I wonder why did I run around when I've got this fire on my dress?) They caught me, and put out the fire. Hawu! I was very frightened. And I was already burnt. My whole side was burnt from that fire, and it was very sore. Still now I have a big hole in my leg from that game we were playing.

My grandfather, the same one who used to play the trumpet in the morning, he knew a lot about herbs which they could use to make me better. They didn't have a clinic there at that time, but fortunately he knew all these things about herbs and traditional medicines. During the 'flu epidemic, about 1918 or thereabouts, he saved a lot of lives. He used to boil 'lengana' in big pots to make a cure for the 'flu. It saved a lot of lives, but still many people died. My best friend, Siphathi, her whole family died from the 'flu during that time. But so my grandfather -knew how to doctor burns, and he looked after me, my aunt and uncle looked after me too, and I started to get better.

But when my mother was told in Kimberley that this thing had happened she became very worried about me and as soon as she could she came to Bechuanaland to fetch me. I remember I was about eight years old when she came and took me away, back to Kimberley by train, back to my parents' home. Then she nursed me at home and I got better altogether.

My parents' house was in Beaconsfield, in Greenpoint township just outside Kimberley. Beaconsfield is not a very big place. You know when you go out from Cape Town you get all those little places like Worcester, well, Beaconsfield was just like one of those small places. We used to have to travel by bus or train when we wanted to go to Kimberley.

School days

After I got better from that burn I started to go to school in Kimberley. It was also a mission school like the one in Ramotswa, but my parents were not Lutheran, they were Methodist, so it was a Methodist school I went to now in Greenpoint. It was very nice at that school. They used to teach us in English and Tswana. Those that talk in English at home; they were taught in English, and those who spoke Tswana, they were taught in Tswana. So I studied at that school. My parents were very good, they looked after us very well, and they educated all us children too.

During this time that I was at school, when I was about nine, or maybe ten, my mother passed away. That was a very sad thing, and I was still so little. Adelaide and Elijah were even younger. It was during the start of that 'flu, and I think it was the 'flu that killed her. That changed things a bit. I was just left with my father, my brothers and sisters who were not yet married. For six months after that we all wore black in mourning for my mother.

My one sister was married already by that time. She used to teach at the mission school that I went to in Beaconsfield, and there she met the principal of the school, and they got married. Then she left to go to her own house. With our people it is the custom that when the one daughter gets married she takes a younger daughter with her to her house. So when my sister got married, she took the other sister of mine, Regina, who stayed with her there. One of my brothers was out teaching somewhere, and another brother was at school at Healdtown, and the other sister was staying with my aunt. And by then, those other children were away at school too. So after a while I was the only one who was staying in that big house in Beaconsfield with my father. The two of us stayed together and I went to school there.

I liked that school a lot. There were many things to do at school. I remember we used to play tennis and netball. I was very fond of playing tennis. I even used to play it after school. I used to sing a lot too. There was one song, which I liked particularly. When I was in standard six I went to another school at Lyndhurst Road, at a place called Malay Camp. It's a place where the Malays used to stay, and so it was called Malay Camp. I got very sick when I was there at that school. I really forget what was wrong with me, but I was very sick. While I was so sick, I called my teacher 'Please call my classmates to come and sing that song.' I wanted to hear them sing that song I liked so much. I don't know why they delayed, whether they thought I was going to die or what, or if they delayed on purpose, or if they couldn't get the children together, but they never came to sing that song for me. That was a song! It was called Rock of Ages. I liked that song very much.

When I passed standard six, my father sent me to Perseverance Training School where they used to train teachers. They used to give lessons there in teaching the lower classes. I passed my first year there, and I started my second year. I was 16 years, 16 or 17 at that time. I was learning very well, but then during my second year, my father passed away. It must have been high blood pressure or something. He bled from his nose. Then the doctor came and stopped the blood, and he went unconscious, into a coma. After a time, it was only a few days or so, he passed away. That was a terrible shock. Hawu! It was a very bad thing.

He was not a very old man. And my mother too, she died when she was not old. But now, since my father had passed away, there was no one to look after me, or pay for my school any more, and I had to leave school at the June holidays.

Then I had no home in Kimberley any more, so I went to live with my sister for a time. Then her husband, the one who was the principal of the school I used to go to, he got a post for me to go and teach at a place called Pardieberg3. It's somewhere in the Free State. You go out from Kimberley, and when you get into the Free State, it is just there.

I went to teach at Pardieberg for about a year or so. It was almost like a farm school. Some of the children were small, but some of them were nearly as big as me! I was teaching general subjects to all the children, ABC, and the 1, 2, 3, and so forth. I taught those children reading and writing for about a year, and things were going quite well for me. Then they told me I must leave the school because they wanted a qualified teacher and I was not qualified.

At that time I already had two children, Mildred, my first born, and Eleanor, my second child. Mildred's father was from Kimberley, but he died when she was still a baby. When I was teaching in the Free State I met Eleanor's father, but he died soon too, when she was still a child. Both these children were born at home without a doctor. You get these women who come and help you, the midwife, and that is how these two were born. It is cheaper like that. But it is a hard thing to get a child. To give birth is not an easy thing.

Domestic work

Now, since I couldn't teach any more there, I left Pardieberg and went to Bloemfontein to look for work. I got work there as a domestic worker only. I stayed with the relative of a friend of mine, Ariah Bookholane. I had been at school with Ariah, but now she lived in Port Elizabeth. Bloemfontein was not such a good place to live in. I was not so happy there. My children were living with my brother in Kimberley because I could not have them with me in Bloemfontein, and the work was not good. Also the wages were very bad, and the people were very rude. Ariah used to write to me sometimes from Port Elizabeth and after a time she wrote to me to come and stay with her. She thought Port Elizabeth was a better place, people work better there. I didn't like Bloemfontein, so I caught a train to Port Elizabeth and went to stay with her in New Brighton.

In those days it was much easier because I didn't have a pass. Women didn't have passes yet then, and so I could go and work wherever I wanted to, not like now. It was about the beginning of the war, 1939 or thereabouts when I got to Port Elizabeth, and then I had to look for work. There was a lot of work around that time because of the war. Lots- of men were going to fight in the war, and there were a lot of things to be made for the war, and so they had to use black workers in the factories. And they started to use black women in the factories around that time too. There were a lot of industries in Port Elizabeth, and so there were lots of jobs.

But I got work as a domestic worker again, working in some white people's house, cooking and cleaning. I remember my first job was at Summerstrand, right near the seaside. My employers were not bad; they were nice people, and I enjoyed it. Of course, in those days people were not paying well. I can't remember how much I received, but it was just a little bit. But at least there in the Eastern Cape they paid better than they did in the Free State - that was where they paid really badly. But then prices went up because of the war, and so it was not very easy.

I didn't have a house of my own to stay in so I used to stay in the yard there at the house where I was working. It was a small little room, with a very little window, and a toilet next door. But it was better like that, because sometimes I would finish up late, especially with the Jewish people. They used to have late dinners in the evening, and when you came out of the kitchen you are so tired you just go to your room and sleep. But it was not so bad. When I was new to the town I did not know many people, but then I made friends with some other people who worked nearby, so it was not too lonely. And sometimes I would be with some friends and then perhaps we would go to the seaside or something.

He was a jolly somebody

Sometimes when I used to get some time off, I would go and visit Ariah in the township. One day when I was there another man from Kimberley, Lucas Baard, came to visit her too. He was very surprised to see me there! We knew each other well because we were from one place and we used to go in the same class at school. We grew up together in one village. After that, we used to meet each other a lot in Port Elizabeth and we started to see each other often. He even used to come and visit me in my room where I was working. Sometimes we used to go to a dance, if they have got a dance in one of the halls at the township. Sometimes there was even a band. But we only went sometimes because I was staying a long way from there, in town, and we couldn't afford to go there often.

He was a jolly somebody, just the same age as me. Of course, before I met him there, I didn't know he was in Port Elizabeth, but then when we came together and spent some time together, we fell in love and we decided to get married. It was in '42, perhaps September, when we got married, there in the Methodist church. He was a Methodist like me. So, then I became Frances Goitsemang Baard.

He was a Xhosa, and in those days, when a Xhosa went to work on the farms, if he arrived in July, then the farm would call him July, or so-and-so August. When my husband's father went to work on the farm he must have had a lot of beard, and so the farmer called him 'Baard' [beard], and that is where I got my name from.

When I was married, I had to leave work so I could look after the house for my husband. Houses were very scarce that side in New Brighton, and it was very difficult to get one. But we were very lucky because my sister's child was teaching in Port Elizabeth and he had a house. After a time he went to Benoni to work there, and he gave the house to me, 102 Aggrey Road, and that was where we stayed. We were very lucky, because the people were struggling to find houses.

It was a small four-roomed house we had, just like the one I have now. We had a very nice garden there, and we had electricity too in that house, which we didn't have in Beaconsfield. But it was very funny. For duration of time, not so long, just as you are sitting here for a while, you put 10 cents in the meter.

The electricity works with that money for a time, and then you hear it say tchups! it's gone, and then you have to put in another 10 cents. At the end of the month, they come and open that box and collect the money. Not all the houses were like that, just the ones near our portion.

There were naughty boys who used to open the box somehow; you know how boys are when their parents are not at home. They used to open the box and take the money. When the councilman comes to collect, he'll wonder, 'But what has happened? Why is there no money here?' He'll see that there has been some trick that has been done, and then they fine the owner of the house for interfering with the council's box. And so the children have taken that money and spent it for themselves, and the parents have to pay the council.

We built a stoep[verandah] right round our house, and we made a nice little garden there. The yard was very small, and the toilet was there in the yard, but it was a very nice house. I stayed in that house all the time until the special branch took me away and I ended up here in Mabopane.

But at that time I wasn't worried about politics, I didn't even understand them. I just accepted the way things were. And my husband, he didn't understand anything about politics either. We just lived there in New Brighton, and he worked in the motor industry, and I stayed at home and looked after the house and the children.

We had two children there in that house, two boys. Frank, the older one, he was born in about 1945, and the younger one, Benjamin, was born in about 1947. These two children were born in hospital, not like my daughters. There was not a hospital in New Brighton, there was only a clinic, but there was a hospital outside the location, at Leviston. It was quite a long way from the township, but you could go there by bus. Those two boys and my daughters were all christened in the Methodist church. Eleanor is Catholic now though. She married a Catholic man so she became Catholic too. She is the head of the women at her church now.

I liked Port Elizabeth. It was cool there, not so hot like Kimberley. I used to go down to the sea, and I would put my feet in the water and wash myself, but I would never go as far as where the waves are coming in so big. After I was married, we no more went to dances. I was not interested in these things any more. But I still went to church every Sunday.

It was difficult for me for a while in Port Elizabeth, because mostly they speak Xhosa there, and when I speak Tswana it was very difficult for us to understand each other. But then I got to learn a bit of Xhosa, and they learnt a bit of my Tswana, and most of them spoke Afrikaans also, so sometimes we used to speak Afrikaans.

But that is enough talking about when I was young. Now we come to the interesting part, the trade unions and so forth, ne?