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: NINA HASSIM
: D SHONGWE
: 01 Aug 02
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DS: Good morning
and welcome. My name is Dimakatso Shongwe from the Documentation
Centre of Durban-Westville University. Today we are interviewing
Mrs Nina Hassim, at her home. Thank you Mrs Nina Hassim, or
should I call you Nina?
DS: For your time and welcome.
NH: Thank you.
DS: Nina would like to tell us a little bit about yourself?
When and where you were born?
NH: I was born on the 27th September, 1936, in Cape Town, in
Walmer Estate, Cape Town.
DS: Your parents, were they South African?
NH: My parents were South African, but my father was a German
Jew, who fled Nazism and came to South Africa, and met my mother
in the Communist Party.
DS: And your mother was?
NH: My mother was, do you want their names?
NH: Sorry, my father was Hans Friederich and my mother is Amina
Ghool. My mother met my father, I think, in the Communist Party
and married. My father fled Germany, and soon after that his
sister and his mother came to South Africa. So they are really
South Africans, made their home here. My mother came from a
well-known Cape Town family that had a political background.
My grandfather was an Indian, my grandmother was Malay. And
they entertained in their home diverse people. From India, from
Africa, the Khamas came to my grandfather’s house and
lived there, and other people as well.
DS: Okay. So your grandparents from your father’s side?
NH: I don’t know.
DS: You don’t know? Okay. Would you like [intervention]
NH: No, I only know my grandmother.
DS: Oh, your grandmother.
NH: Only my grandmother and my aunt came[from Germany].
DS: Okay, would you like to tell us about the community you
NH: In Cape Town?
NH: I went to Coloured schools; and my father and mother separated,
and when they separated, we had a period of instability and
then we went to live in District Six. My mother’s family,
my mother’s eldest brother gave her a little place to
stay in. And I went to school in that area. I went to Zonnebloem,
which was a very well known school, at the time, originally
started, I think, for the children of the chiefs but by the
time I went, it wasn’t. It was a mixed school, not mixed
no, it wasn’t really mixed. And then from there I went
to Trafalgar High School, which was, at the time, the foremost
political school there, the political teachers taught and it
had a very high reputation.
DS: Okay, what year was that?
NH: I went to Trafalgar in 1950, but I was already politicised
before that because my aunt was Jane Ghool, and her husband
was IB Thabata and my mother, even my father and my aunts, they
were all a very political family. My uncle’s ex-wife was
Sissy Ghool, who was a city councillor, but she was on the other
DS: Okay. What do you mean on the other side?
NH: We were Unity Movement, Jane Ghool and IB Thabata were Unity
Movement, All African Conventions Teachers’ League of
South Africa and Sissy Ghool was a populist. I have written
an article but I haven’t published it, but it is more
for my sister - on District Six. She was what I call the original
populist. She knew how to fire people with populism. But she
was a city councillor. She is the daughter of Doctor Abduraman,
who was the first Black provincial counselor, I think. But we
all used to meet, high school days and holidays, we would fight.
Scrap over big dinner tables, because the political ideas were
being thrown around, all the time.
When I was at primary school, the first political act that I
did and it is documented in the Torch, I had heard about the
libel case by Golding who was a member of the Coloured Affairs
Council and he had sued the Torch for libel because there was
a cartoon. I forget what the cartoon was, but he said it denigrated
him and so he sued the Torch Newspaper. You know the Torch,
DS: Torch, yes I know.
NH: Yes so I heard that they were going to go out of business
and I collected money and I must have been in about standard
two or three. I can’t remember. And I collected money
– maybe standard four, but I wasn’t even a teenager.
And I collected money and I took it to the Torch to tell them
it was pennies and halfpennies, but small but packets of money.
And they wrote about me because I really felt very strongly.
And then when I went to high school, I sold the Torch door-to-door,
on a Monday night or Tuesday night. I think it was Monday or
Tuesday night in the District, in District Six, which was absolutely
safe to walk in, if they knew you. And we would knock on the
doors. And in my article – no it is not an article. In
this thing that I am writing about, in that period I’d
say that we were safe and nobody ever chased us. They may not
have bought, but they never chased us selling the newspaper.
There were lots of us, young people, students. I was about standard
seven, when I first started.
DS: You were selling the newspaper just because you were involved
in Torch or is it because of hardship maybe?
NH: No, no, no it was a political newspaper. We got nothing
DS: Oh it was a voluntary [intervention]
NH: We did it for nothing, yes it was voluntary. In fact, the
strange thing, not strange, the thing is that, that group that
sold, when I think back, there was a Zimbabwean with me. He
and I used to go together because Trafalgar was a place when
it was Rhodesia there were no high schools at one time there
for the students and so they often used to come to Trafalgar.
So Trafalgar actually was a place where you actually did meet
other people from outside the border, but Zimbabweans mainly,
ex-Rhodesia. So the Zimbabweans were often politicised at Trafalgar.
DS: So that is when you started to be politically active?
DS: So in high school?
NH: I was a member eventually of the debating – what did
we call it, it was like a debating society. And there too, we
were political. We had - one of our biggest meetings at the
school was against the van Riebeeck festival, 1952. That was
the first time I ever addressed a group in 1952.
DS: Would you like to tell us about the…?
NH: The van Riebeeck festival was going to be a very big festival
celebrating the coming to South Africa of van Riebeeck. 1952
must have been 300 years of van Riebeeck’s coming. And
they had all sorts of smart things at the Waterfront and in
Town and there was going to be big celebrations and we joined
the call by the – the students at the school joined the
call by the political organisations to boycott the festival.
So people didn’t go to the festival. Only the really –
it was a very big boycott, yes in Cape Town. I also remember
the Train Apartheid Resistance Committee. In fact I have given
my badge – now that would have been in ’47. ’48
the Nats came in, and very soon after that the Train Apartheid
came, and so it must have been about ’49. So how old was
I? I must have been about thirteen. I was about thirteen and
it was a big – Train Apartheid Resistance Committee was
formed, the TARC. Have you ever heard of it?
DS: The TARC?
NH: TARC – Train Apartheid Resistance Committee and it
had various, it was almost like a united front of different
organisations and there was a huge meeting on the Grand Parade.
And I was one of the collectors and my badge, I had a badge.
I donated it to the District Six Museum. We collected to go
around the crowds. At those big meetings people would give,
they didn’t have much but they would give. And they would
come flooding in. I think there was some trouble, because some
of the students I think, after that meeting, they were told
not to, but they did actually go and board trains. And I think
some were arrested, but I don’t know. I was young and
I didn’t do that sort of thing.
DS: So what was it really, Train Apartheid, all about?
NH: Before the Nats came in you could sit anywhere on the buses
and trains. Not on the mainline trains. I think they had what
they call second class reserved or something like that, that
is where you sat. You know if you came on the mainline from
Cape Town to Durban. It was sort of segregation of some kind,
but the local trains in Cape Town, you could sit anywhere and
in the buses you could sit anywhere. When the Nats came in,
it was on of the first – that, and the ‘mixed marriages’
[Act], those were amongst the first things that they did. And
they made boards, and you couldn’t sit anywhere anymore
and so people were incensed because the trains in the Cape,
those days, weren’t like now. They were safe and that
was our very big method of travelling from one point to the
other to go to work, to go to school, that kind of thing. And
there was huge outcry.
DS: Okay just to understand, so you are saying by this time
you were at high school?
NH: Ya, I was at high school and I was thirteen. I am not sure
whether I was at high school at that particular[time], but I
think though I must have been.
DS: Your parents, especially, I think, your mother was ..?
NH: My mother was the backbone for her brother, her sister and
the rest of the members of the Unity Movement. She supported
them all the way. Her home, even, actually, when my father was
still at home. Though he didn’t really like it because
he – the cleavage between Stalinism and Non-Stalinism
in our home was quite pronounced. And my mother’s home
was open to them. They would have fund-raising parties and make
money for the anti-CAD and for the All African Convention and
CARTA. And then when my mother and father separated, my mother
was always there to raise money. Help to – roll up her
sleeves, make food, sell things to make money for them. Her
home was also open. One year the CARTA teachers came, and we
lived in two rooms. We didn’t have a lounge. We had two
tiny rooms and the teachers came, and my mother had to move
all of us, and juggle and make place for the teachers from the
Transkei. She was very supportive of her family. And in fact,
she really wasn’t a member of the Communist Party really,
by then. She really did swing across to the Unity Movement.
DS: So obviously she was supportive of you?
NH: Very supportive, all my life.
DS: Doing all …?
NH: Yes. No, in our family that was the given, and even those
that didn’t support the organisation were always there.
Yes they always, they may not have agreed, but they never stood
in anybody’s way. And when there was trouble they were
always there to help. This was the unusual thing about our family.
That even when they belonged to different organisations or were
apolitical, when trouble came, they came to help, always.
DS: So at high school, what school was that?
DS: Trafalgar, was it mixed or…?
NH: It was mainly Coloured and Malay, and we had one or two
African students, very few.
DS: How was the environment, you know, social life there?
NH: In what way?
DS: I mean was it – it wasn’t racist, I believe?
NH: No, no, never, never, not like now. It was a different –
the one African student that was in my class, his mother was
a washerwoman. He was probably in the top ten of our class.
And I knew – and in District Six as well, there were African
families living there, and there were White families living
there. Do you want to know about that?
DS: Okay. You were still explaining how was the community in
District Six, would you like to expand on that?
NH: Yes. There were small pockets of African families there,
as well as White families. And so my feeling, when I started
thinking about it about a year or two ago,was that the trauma,
that dislocation of removal, I think, affected them as much
as it affected the Coloured and the Malay community. And in
– and I can give you examples. Would you like examples?
DS: Yes do that.
NH: There was a hostel for Africans in the District Six, in
Searle Street, just a stone’s throw from where I lived.
And those were migrant workers, mainly from the Transkei, and
I befriended some of them. And they gave a lot of stability
to that area because they were strong, brave men. When the 'skollies',
the gangsters were around, those men would come from work; they
were very respectable gentlemen. They were migrant workers.
It gave that area a certain stability. And they were never,
ever looked down on. I went into that hostel as a young girl
of twelve, ten maybe eleven or twelve, thirteen and I was perfectly
safe there. And I had made friends and we used to write a little
newsletter and we used to – just three people would read
it, but they were [interested]. And when they left there, when
District Six was - people were thrown out, I often felt that
those men must have had a very hard time in the townships because
they were used to town life. You know what I mean? And unfortunately,
the one that I was very close to, died in an accident. And I
wish, sometimes, people would remember how hard it must have
been for them as well. Then there were Whites. There was one
White family, quite close to where we lived. They lived in the
most peculiar house. It has a level below street level, and
there was a man in that house who was a recluse. I don’t
know if he was mentally retarded or mentally ill or just depressive
or whatever, but he just sat there, underneath this tree. You
walked on the pavement, you would look down, and you could see
him. And there were about two or three sisters, White sisters,
they were Whites, sisters in that house. They were very reclusive,
they looked, they were, they didn’t mix with people. But
you knew they were there, and you greeted them. You know, and
they knew you and many - a couple of years after my mother was
removed from the area, she met the one woman at a bus stop or
at the station, and my mother said how she wept. She wept because
of her own dislocation. And that is something sad for me, that
we don’t sometimes remember some of the others.
DS: Or maybe they don’t come out too and say: “This
has affected us”?
NH: That is right. And that was very sad because, you see, I
suppose the community was a very giving community there. They
took no notice of them. They could just be miserable or on their
own or reclusive, with nobody interfering with them. What would
happen when they went somewhere else? They might not have had
that same kind of sympathy, even. Ya, it was very sad. There
was another thing, if you are really interested in that period.
There was a boy at school, he was White with blonde hair. He
lived down the road from us, but when he got to university he
suddenly became White. And how it happened, I don’t know?
DS: What do you mean he became White?
NH: He never mixed with the Black students, he never –
I mean you know.
DS: He just changed.
NH: He just jumped, so I am not going to say that, that kind
of thing also didn’t happen, you know.
DS: Then after – you matriculated at the same school?
DS: And then you went to?
DS: Which one?
NH: Cape Town.
DS: Cape Town, then how was life then?
NH: Life was very exciting those days. There were lots of people.
I mean Neville Alexander was there, and he took on the heavy
weights and there were always arguments. There was a corner,
called the Unity Movement Corner, and it is still there. And
the arguments at lunchtime and the discussions that went on.
I mean there was a Namibian, what is his name? Then there was
somebody else from Kenya. There were students from all over,
and the arguments. There was one who went to the United Nations,
eventually, and I mean Neville would just demolish them. And
then we also had meetings at the university, and that was also
a time of great turmoil. It was the Universitys’ Act.
I don’t know what it is called, and there were marches.
I didn’t join the marches. We didn’t believe in
that sort of thing. But there was turmoil, in the student population
throughout the Western Cape or let’s say Cape Town, I
don’t know the whole of the Western Cape. And so, by then,
there had been a split in the Unity Movement, the All-African
Convention section and the Anti- Cad section, which you know
about. I am sure my husband spoke about it. And the students
that belonged to the All African Convention wing and the students
that came from the Anti-Cad wing came together to mobilise and
to organise the students. Because there was this ferment and
we met and we then broke all over again. Because the All African
Convention wing were pushing for a proper student organisation
and the other wing said they must come into existing organisations.
And we said students have their own particular needs and agenda.
They need to be able to express themselves, and we felt that
the more organisations you could get people into the better.
Especially the students who would go out eventually and take
the ideas. And so we split again, and at that time Dullah Omar,
Neville Alexander, myself and various other people I am now
beginning to forget some of the names, were all in the original
[organisation] when we were discussing and we actually split
on the question of the organisation. And our group broke away
from the sort of nebulous group, and we formed the Cape Peninsula
Students Union and that was formed in Mowbray, must have been
about 1955. I am not good at dates, hey, about that time, yes.
About the mid-fifties.
DS: Because, you know, most people we have interviewed, especially
those who have studied at the University of Natal the situation
there – the institution itself was racist. So I just want
to find out whether at the University of Cape Town was it a
NH: The university itself was racist, right, there is no two
ways about it. And some lecturers were decent people and some
were totally horrible. You got – I mean I did chemistry.
The one class I was in, I had no partner, you can’t do
physical chemistry, it is like physics, alone. And when I went
to say I am all alone this man said: “Well you will have
to be alone there is nobody to work with you.” But the
Black students were very close and they met and they engaged
on all – you know because it was such a – because
people had come from all over. And you met Transkeins at the
university who came from political families, as well. I mean
Archie Makeje was there. I don’t know if you have heard
of him. He has written books. Archie Makeje was there. Fikile
Bam was there, sell-out now, co-opted by rich Afrikaner firms.
Fikile Bam was there. Neville was there, Archie Makeje was there,
what was that other guy’s name? Then there was the anti-Cad
people who were there. There were lots of people and we would
fight. I mean lunchtime was time to go and fight over anything.
NH: Konsangwisi was there. On any issue, whether you were joining
the march or you not joining the march, or you’re going
when they are going to put up that thing. You know, the principal
put up the plaque to say – what was it called? Something
is gone, free education – the freedom university freedom.
There was no such thing at that wretched university, right.
We were kraaled there. And a few students would bridge that,
and I can remember a handful. I can’t remember their names,
but most of the time it was the Black students, and I use Black
in the generic sense – African, Indian and Coloured.
DS: All right, after you finished your degree what did you do?
NH: Once I left university I decided that I shouldn’t
be in a student organisation. Too many students stay in student
organisations for the rest of their lives, and this I would
say to this day. Because you have got all these thirty-year
olds in these organisations doing all sorts of funny things,
right. I don’t agree with that so I joined the Society
of Young Africa. I joined SOYA.
DS: What was it all about?
NH: SOYA was the youth wing of the All African Convention sector
of the Unity Movement. It was where we were going to be trained
politically, and that is what I did.
DS: By that time, how old were you?
NH: I was quite old, twenty-odd. Now I am very old, right. Then
I was quite old. I was I think about twenty-one.
DS: So after the university you joined?
NH: I joined SOYA.
DS: And then at SOYA, were you in an executive member or just
NH: Cape Town Soya, I think I was on the executive eventually,
not at the beginning, but eventually I used to, I think I did
– yes I can remember going to executive meetings. I was
on the executive of the CBSU as well. Ya.
DS: So you and at the SOYA from SOYA where did you go?
DS: APDUSA, okay and then…?
NH: I don’t know if I should. There was an underground
structure of the All-African Convention – it wasn’t
of the All-African Convention, it was a cell. It was a party
and I was invited to join that, and the decision to form APDUSA
came from that forum. We were sworn to secrecy, and to this
day I don’t even know if I should be saying it. Because
it was one of the things that I never even told the cops. It
was so hidden. It was so deeply embedded in your psyche, that
you didn’t talk about it. But it was from that cell, that
party that directed the formation of APDUSA and that actually
DS: So what was it exactly all about?
NH: It was a cell really, you can say. A cell of people, revolutionary
DS: So it was an underground movement?
NH: Yes it was. You could say underground because nobody knew
about it, hey.
DS: Would I say like the ANC, in those days, had an underground
NH: No, it wasn’t quite the same, no. It was more a core;
it was a core group of people.
DS: So you never, you were just involved in this …?
NH: That was where you got your Marxist training.
DS: Marxist training, would you like to talk about that?
NH: Oh, I forgot.
DS: Or your favourite literature on life and?
NH: No I can’t.
DS: You can’t remember?
NH: No, but that is where we got our training.
DS: So your working experience, where did you start practising
NH: I had a science degree, and when I came to Natal to get
married, it was very difficult to get jobs. In the Cape you
still could get jobs, you come to Natal, it is worse than an
ox-wagon’s laager. I couldn’t get work. When I first
came I had a job at the university, but when I came to ‘Maritzburg
that is when I couldn’t get work. Eventually I did get
work. Ya, I worked at the university as well, as a technician.
And then I left there because I was a bit bored, and I got a
job in a factory but then they tried to force me to do things,
which they didn’t force the Whites to do.
NH: Hours of work, agreements that we made about hours of work,
lunchtimes, little things like that. And then I was so upset
that I told Kader that I couldn’t stand it anymore. I
had a child, I had …
DS: By this time you were married?
NH: I was married, ya, and I said to him [Kader], I couldn’t
stand it anymore and he said I had better leave if I couldn’t.
And then I tried to force them to go back to the agreement that
we’d made for the job and they refused and I said right,
I am leaving and then they brought some – it was tough
days those days. They brought somebody from Jo’burg to
tell me exactly how even, till I go I have to do this, this
and this ,and I said no you can take it off my pay but I am
not doing it. I am leaving. And I was sitting at home - I have
left out something. I will tell you that just now. And I came
and I was sitting at home, and at some point Kader said to me
at Easter that year, he would offer me a job. I could do law
because otherwise I would drive them all mad. And so I said,
“No, if you are prepared to do something for me, let me
do something else. Let me do pharmacy.” So he agreed,
and so that is how I became a pharmacist. We knew that it would
give me a chance to earn a living, if anything were to happen.
What I did leave out was when we came to Pietermaritzburg –
from the time we came to Pietermaritzburg we were politically
active in the community and we used to bring out leaflets, have
meetings and we were picked up on every single occasion we gave
DS: You were picked up?
NH: By the police. We knew as soon as we start, then we would
be picked up and it was the height of the repression, at the
DS: What year was that?
NH: What year was that? I came to Pietermaritzburg in, I think,
it was 1961 and it started from ’61 to ’62, it went
on throughout that period.
DS: So by this time, you were also doing pharmacy?
NH: No that came after that, ya, that came after that. I got
a bit mixed up there. First we came to ‘Maritzburg. I
couldn’t get work there and I got work. Then I yes then
after that I did pharmacy. I did pharmacy at Westville [UDW].
DS: Oh, I just want to find out your first, personally, I understand
maybe experiencing, as a whole, racial oppression, but I just
want you your first experience of racial oppression?
NH: My very first?
NH: I can’t remember a time without some kind of segregation
[MACHINE SWITCHED OFF]
DS: Okay I was still asking you about the question of your first
experience of racial oppression.
NH: I cannot, ya.
DS: Ya,I understand you cannot really point out exactly but
can you at least maybe have an idea when it started? Even if
it means going back at your early age.
NH: Ya, it is because of my mother and father being different,
I think, and also because of my mother and her family. There
was a time when my father wanted to put me in the German school
and my mother totally, point blank, refused. Because, she said,
this is a Black child and I wasn’t to be taken away from
my environment and I, because of my mother and her attitude
from a very early age, I knew that I was Black and I was very
happy to identify as such.
DS: So earlier on you said like racial oppression was different
in a way starting from a certain period. The question I want
to ask is that would you at least explain to us exactly what
was the difference of oppressions before Nats came to power
NH: It was no you didn’t do certain things – well
I was very small, remember that. I must have been six/ seven,
you know. You knew you didn’t do certain things and you
weren’t welcome in certain places but it wasn’t
so pronounced. It was more by agreement almost, that you didn’t,
and you lived in this area and you didn’t, but and that
you went to a Coloured school, and you didn’t go to some
other school. But when the Nats came in, it became more pronounced
and more hurtful because it was legislated. And so the bus had
a board, and the train had a board, and the beach. We loved
the beach, and the beach was closed to us, and the beaches that
we were used to were closed to us. And it was that kind of thing.
And in our family, one of my cousins had to rush to marry because
of the Mixed Marriages Act. So we were very much aware of it.
That it was more pronounced.
DS: Okay, I just want to find out you – what the impact
of Apartheid basically, socially to Blacks especially socially,
economically as well as politically?
NH: Socially those people who were politically conscious never
let it affect their social lives, and I would include the people
who were not politically conscious but whose philosophy in life,
and I am thinking in particular of certain Whites, who themselves,
didn’t take a political stand but were non-racial in their
very being. They never let it stand in their way and they would
still meet and mix, even at great danger or risk to themselves.
That is socially. Economically, I am not sure that it wasn’t
just a perpetuation of what happened under the United Party.
I think it was there from the beginning and so I don’t
think that it made – the class divide stayed, so I don’t
think that was so pronounced. So and politically, politically
I think it did bring people together.
DS: I just want to understand, you know, because lately especially
in schools, you find people talking about Apartheid, racism
but they don’t know exactly what it means. If I just want
to find out your ideas.
NH: On racism is different.
NH: Because when Apartheid came – you see it is difficult
for me in the sense that I came from a family that was not only
mixed but had relationships across all the colour lines. So
for me it is a little difficult to try to think of how other
people perceived it. But that period was a period in which race
was of less importance than political ideology, and if you were
in the same political group then race was never an issue. And
that is what I find so distasteful now in which people do not
judge you by what you believe and what you think and how you
behave but they judge you purely on race because that I don’t
find – I didn’t grow up in that environment. And
so when I had to be judged on the colour of my skin, I actually
mind and that is too much today, and that I think, is due to
two things and it is not just the legacy of Apartheid. That
mustn’t be used here as an excuse. I believe it is something
to do with the rise of an elite that uses race to justify their
DS: So I just want to come back to the question about yourself
basically. I just want to find out were you subjected to any
arrests during your political involvements?
NH: Ya, apart from the times when I used to be picked up and
my name taken and all that and then I was also warned not to
take part in political activity by some magistrate, at some
point. And then, but I wasn’t banned, but Kader was house
arrested. So I didn’t have that fortunately, but after
that I was detained in – what year was Kader detained
DS: Okay can I just pause for a minute.
END OF TAPE 1 SIDE A