The government said Fietas must be for whites only. So many people had to leave. All the Africans went to Soweto, the ‘coloureds’ went to Eldo’s and all the Indians went to Lenz. And while people were busy moving out, the bulldozers moved in, knocking down the old houses and shops.
Learn and Teach went to Lenasia to visit Mrs Naidoo. Mrs Naidoo lived in Fietas for most of her life. She told us about the good old days.
EVERYONE KNEW EVERYONE
“When I first left Fietas, I used to cry all the time.” says Mrs Naidoo. “I went to town every-day because I was so lonely. In Fietas there were always people around. We knew everyone. Here in Lenz, people are boarders in their own homes. People pay rent but their houses are not homes. People do not spend any time at home. Everybody goes to work early and comes back late.”
SHARING THE GOOD AND THE BAD
Then Mrs Naidoo started to talk about life in Fietas. “In Fietas life was beautiful,” says Mrs Naidoo. “Everybody was for everybody. No matter who you were, or what you were, no matter what colour you were, everybody cared for each other.
“For women Fietas was especially good. There were no creches or things like that. So all the women helped each other. The women were there, at home all day. Lots of the women worked, but they worked at home, doing dressmaking and things like that.
“My husband wouldn’t look after the children. No, he wouldn’t do that. He would say, “Take your ‘parcel’ with you or get somebody to look after them. I can’t look after children.” So you went to your friends.
“I had a friend next door who really helped me a lot. We were like sisters. All our babies were delivered at home with a midwife or a nurse. We used to help each other. When she gave birth, I helped. I cooked for her, and looked after the kids. And when I was sick, she used to come and cook for me.
“If my friend went to see a film, she would say, ‘You must go and see that film, it’s very nice. You go and I will look after the children.’ If my friend cooked something special, she always sent some to me and I did the same.
“Our biggest problem in Fietas was space. The houses were very small, two bedrooms and a kitchen. But I think that brought people together. If you were having a party, or a feast, then everyone helped.
“People with big houses let you store your things in their house. Or, if you had a visitor, they let your visitor sleep at their house.
“There was no place for the children to play — we had no gardens. So the children played in the street. There was always hopscotch drawn on the road and skipping ropes tied across the street.
“But you knew the children were safe. The streets were very narrow — only one car could go down. So people drove very slowly. Also the children were always nearby. It was easy to keep an eye on them.
BUYING ON THE BOOK
“When you needed something, the shops were right there — you just sent the children, your own child or your neighbour’s child. And if you did not have cash, you bought ‘on the book.’
“We all kept books. When the kids went to the shop, the shopkeeper wrote down what you bought. At the end of the week, or at the end of the month, you took your book to the shop. The shop-keeper added up how much you owed and you paid him. “We also bought food every day, but now the shops are so far away you must buy for a week, or for the month.
“People had different customs. Some people were Moslems, others were Hindu. At the end of the Moslem fast, everyone waited in the streets, watching for the new moon. When the children saw the moon, they used to run down the streets, shouting. Then we all knew that we could eat.
“In October it was the Hindu Diwali. The night before Diwali people lit little lamps with camphor oil in them. The whole of Fietas smelt of camphor and excitement. And on Diwali night, there were wonderful fireworks. The whole sky was full of light from the fireworks.
“We were not without problems in Fietas. The landlords were rich from the rent we paid while we lived from hand-to-mouth. The rents were high for such small houses. We had no electricity and water in the houses.
“Sometimes four families shared a yard. You all shared a tap and the toilet too. Often there were fights about cleaning. When I got angry, I used to say, “Yissus, we have to clean other people’s shit here also.” Then people would get shy and do the work.
IT HURT TO LEAVE
“But even with the bad times, I felt very hurt about leaving Fietas. It was my home. It was the place I wanted to be. When we left, I knew I was leaving my home behind. This Lenz is not home.
“Now when I go to the clinic, I meet people from Coronation who lived in Fietas. When we talk, I say that I am away from home. There can never be another Fietas, no matter where you go. Everyone I meet says that. Before, in Fietas, we were part of the community, but here in Lenz we are people on our own.
” Life has changed. I’ m not the same person I was in Fietas. In Fietas I used to get along with everyone. Here in Lenz you don’t even see your neighbours. Everybody is for themselves here.
“Even the other people who moved to Lenz from Fietas are different now. People are scared. In Fietas you always left your door open. But here everyone locks their doors, even if they are in the backyard.
“When I see the people next door, it’s hello and finished. You can’t think of your neighbour when you can’t even think of yourself. “I hardly ever see my old friends from Fietas. They are all living in different places. My old neighbour lives in Actonville, in Benoni. Sometimes we visit each other at weekends.
PLAYING WITH PEOPLE’S LIVES
“I don’t think that the government understands what they are doing. They sit and say this place must be white, this place must be black or indian or whatever — like they are playing a game of chess.
“But they don’t know how it feels to lose your home and your friends. They don’t know how it feels to move with the help of bulldozers.”