Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Catch me if you can...

This may look like any old wardrobe to you, but it's a 50 x 150cm piece of local apartheid cultural history in South Africa.
This is my friend Taryn's wardrobe and it has a wonderful story.
Recently restoring her beautiful home in the affluent and leafy suburb of Greenside, Johannesburg, she discovered the bricks and mortar hold many a secret, including this one... Deep within the quiet darkness where her husband Andy's denims now hang, this wardrobe frequently gave shelter to Oliver Tambo and various of his ANC comrades, hiding their tracks from authorities.
O.R. Tambo, along with Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu, was a founding member of the ANC Youth League in 1943. He became Deputy President of the ANC in 1958 and a year later was banned by the government from political activity for five years.
During this time he'd meet his comrades in secret at Taryn's house, which was regularly visited by the cops trying to sniff him out. In response, the ANC sent Tambo to London to rally support for the anti-apartheid cause from his safehouse abroad. Like many others, there he stayed virtually in exile until returning to his homeland and the promise of freedom in 1990.
Did you notice the window? Strange to put a cupboard in front of a window you may think. Not really, when one needs to beat a hasty escape from a handy hideout into the dark night.
When you stand in front of it and touch the windowsill, you can almost smell the sweat of fear and feel the adrenalin of thumping hearts, crammed into the closet while police inquisition the hosts downstairs.
To have been a fly on the wall during those meetings, among that furious and driven brotherhood of men, would be a storyteller's dream. I love the mystery and history of this hiding spot... but the hellishness of having to take cover, among the trousers and shirt tails of others, in real fear for one's life gives me goosebumps.

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