The Idiocy of the Apartheid


The height of some of the more fatuous rules governing the Apartheid regime in South Africa. The SABC had just started TV broadcasts.

To accommodate our growing family Diana and I decided to make alterations to our home in Jo’burg. The local brickworks managed to match the bricks originally used to build the house some thirty years earlier. Three thousand face bricks were delivered on the median strip, making our intentions obvious. We had the appropriate planning permission.

            We had engaged two highly recommended Zulu builders, Peter and Abraham, who lived illegally, in a downstairs flat on our property, for the duration of the job.

Within days of the arrival of the bricks, Diana had a visit from a very intimidating looking gentleman, who at six feet six, and as wide as he was tall and with stomach and buttocks to match:

“More mevrou (good morning ma’am).” He removed his hat. “I see you are having some building work done.”

“Yes of course.”

“Who are your builders, mevrou?”

“Well, meneer, there they are, you can see them through the dust. They are just doing a bit of demolition work to start with.”

 “Ag, I see mevrou. The k… (he was going to use the K word but thought better of it). The blacks are OK with demolition work- they are very good at breaking things.” He smiled at his own humour but engendering no response from Diana, continued. “Ja, and they can lay stock bricks, mevrou, that’s the inside bricks, but mevrou they don’t have the skills to lay face bricks. The Government has decided this.”

“They seem perfectly ok to me. They have a very good reputation.”

            “Ag mevrou, you don’t understand. You have to have a registered builder to lay face bricks.”

 “Registered builder?”

Ja, mevrou. Blacks cannot be a registered builder in a white area. They don’t have the required skills.”

 He handed Diana a card: “Stompie van Rensburg”, it said. “These people will tell you how to get a registered builder.” There was an address and a phone number on the card. He left hurriedly.

The following day I phoned the number on the card explaining that we were proposing to make alterations to our home and that we were hoping to engage an African builder for the job. No mention was made of Stompie’s visit, or the delivery of facebricks.

“Tell me meneer, Is this a big job?”

“No not really.”

            “How much is the cost?”

“Maybe five thousand Rand (about five thousand $US at the time).” It was actually three times that.

Ag, meneer, tell me is the building at the front of the house or the back of the house.”

“It’s at the back.”

“Ag, meneer, just take a chance, meneer, if I was you I’d just take a chance.”

            In the end we decided we had better abide by the job reservation rules, however silly they were, otherwise we risked a fine. Plus, Peter and Abraham would also have got into trouble had we not complied. I then paid a visit to the office mentioned on Stompie’s card where I was given a list of a few builders. We eventually engaged an Indian builder (Whites, Indians and Coloureds were permitted to be registered builders in so called white areas). It became obvious within a few days that all they were interested in was some sort of a payout. So, we paid the registered builder one thousand rand and were left completely alone with our pleasant and competent Peter and Abraham. A friend of theirs joined them also living in the flat; someone who had also fallen foul of another Apartheid inspired regulation. The gardener pitched in on Wednesdays.

The building work was done beautifully and competently. I suppose the regime got their pound of flesh…

Guy Hallowes