I was so fascinated with the man calling us the stolen children, I later asked my mom’s friend John how the guy knew us? John told me the story about how my mother planned our move to the USA and that we were all over the newspapers after we had left. He also told me how that guy was the one who made the move possible, without knowing what he was really doing.
John wasn’t sure if the program still exists but back when we still lived in Swaziland, the government offered scholarships to people who wanted to study aboard. Apparently my father encouraged my mother to apply for the scholarship, thinking my mother would leave us behind. My mother applied for the scholarship and included her children. The program also paid to send families overseas, that’s how she was able to include my sister and me. She did not tell my father that she was planning on taking my sister and me because he would have stopped her.
When my mother was accepted for the scholarship, she didn’t just keep it a secret from my father. She kept it from her family too. The person who was in charge of the scholarships was the man who asked “ The stolen children?!” John continued to tell me that he had no idea he was approving a scholarship that was helping my mother to run away with her children. I guess if he knew, my mother’s scholarship application probably would have never been approved.
Even though I had an idea, for years, I never really cared about the plans and all the details of why we moved. That very moment I wanted to know more! I think in a lot of ways I was learning more about my mother. John’s wife Judie was also part of the conversation, and she added to the conversation by saying it was her sister Mary-Jane who made the changes to our passports. Mary-Jane worked at Home Affairs at the time and made the changes to our last name. I could feel my eyes getting bigger as I was listening to the story on the preparations to leave Swaziland. No one knew we were leaving accept Judie and her family. I am sure it was difficult for my mother to keep it from her family, but it was too risky. They probably would have tried to stop her.
They had described how stressed my mother was days before we left. Our passports never left her sight because they were our only way out and if my father and his family found out we probably would have never gotten a second chance.
My mother didn’t want to take a chance by presenting our new passports at the Swaziland boarder since we were a well-known family. She was worried that someone would recognize us and see we were using a “false” last name. That is why we had to hide in the trunk of the car to cross over the boarder into South Africa. Once we crossed over to the South African side, we were ok, since it is a much bigger country and chances of being recognized were very slim. I remembered spending a night in South Africa but didn’t know where, I vaguely remember that night. Judie told me that the house we slept in that night was her mothers home.
I wasn’t aware until then how complicated this process was and how much everything changed so sudden.
They also shared stories on why my mother left my father. Some of the stories I couldn’t believe because it’s difficult to believe human beings could be that way, but today I can believe every word and imagine it. We laughed as they shared the stories. It wasn’t funny when it happened but hearing the stories was just unbelievable. I am sure for my mother going through a lot of that must have been painful, lonely and frustrating.
For over a year John and Judie shared stories with me about my mother and father. I really enjoyed and appreciated them, especially because I needed to hear them. I ended up having questions I didn’t think I had and they were happy to answer them. I can also understand why my mother has not been able to talk about it.
John then told me how he was also very good friends with my father until they started helping my mother, sister and I. Shortly before leaving Swaziland my mother moved us into an apartment and I remember living there. I actually have fun stories from living in that apartment. What I didn’t know until John told me is that it was his apartment.
At the time Judie and John were newlyweds, and he moved to the UK to study while Judie lived on campus at the university she attended in Swaziland. Their apartment was free, and they allowed my mother, sister and I to live there. That did not sit well with my father, anyone that helped us become his enemy. It took my father 6 weeks after our escape to finally go to Julie and ask her about our whereabouts.
I thought I went back to South Africa for the World Cup, but the World Cup brought me back to slowly start pealing off the layers I never thought I had.