”I spend the morning cleaning and polishing the 1946 Austin 10, ostensibly without a worry in the world – as it should be for a young man of 22 who, later in the day, will marry the woman he loves. In reality, however, I am sweating with anxiety, a hundred questions and issues swirling around in my head, none of them about the wedding itself. ‘Where you going for your honeymoon?’ someone asks. I’m struggling to come up with an acceptable answer, but Bibi doesn’t miss a beat. ‘I don’t know,’ she smiles. ‘Peter refuses to tell me. It’s a surprise.’ That, of course, is not true. What lay ahead was no honeymoon, not at all. But we could not tell anyone the truth.”
It was a tense and dangerous time for non-whites in South Africa in the 70s and 80s – a time characterised by hatred, distrust, propaganda, fear and frequent clashes between protesters and the security forces. Being an anti-apartheid activist was risky business. Being a member of Umkhonto we Sizwe – the ANC’s military arm – even more so, and, if caught, could result in indefinite detainment without trial – even torture and death.
Peter Present shares in this memoir what it was like growing up in Elsies River, a working class community in Cape Town, South Africa – before and during the height of unrest – and what prompted him and his new bride, barely hours after they’d said, “I do”, to leave home to join the armed struggle. Peter opens up about their lives: from the values instilled by their parents while growing up; their experiences of racism; the people who helped them along the way; what it was like to train in an ANC military camp; and then, upon their return, living a double life where not even family or friends knew their secret.
Hyper-vigilance and secrecy had kept them safe, but it also took its toll. Peter shares his journey of learning to trust again and of overcoming the last-remaining shackles that held him hostage in his mind, long after freedom had been won.
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