18 October 2013. It took a radio talk show to remind me of who my parents are. It was an interview with a successful business man who began his career working as a waiter and selling clothes on the side while saving up money to start his own business – a backyard hair-salon which has now evolved into a chain of retail stores employing at least 800 people. This mans’ story reminded me of a business venture my parents started in our childhood, and the amazing example they set for us (me) kids of the values of hard work, persistence, dedication and love.
My father then worked as a mechanic for Murray and Roberts (M&R), and though he was talented at what he did and could do the job better than his managers he was never promoted because he was (is) a black man. But he never gave up trying to improve himself continuing to studying by correspondence through Damelin – he was always reading, studying and listening to music. Together with my mother they dreamed of a bright future for their children and thought of ways to improve their lives.
My mother was a hard worker, raised by a successful business man, a merchant, who never worked a single day for a white man, from Orlando West Soweto. Her real passion or calling though was to be a teacher, but she never got to continue her education after both her parents passed away when she was 16. When the time was right she returned to school in her mid- thirties; as a married woman with four children all at school going age. At first the prospect of my mother going back to high school, was daunting for me because it meant that she would have to wear a school uniform like other high school children. But I soon got over the initial embarrassment when I saw the amount of admiration people had for my mother and by extension for me too, especially the fact that at her age, she looked younger and was more energetic in her school uniform that most of the children at high school. People would ask me- “that’s your mother??? With awe stricken mouths and I happily basked in her glory. I may not have been popular at school, or deemed pretty, but my mother was both pretty and popular in high school and that was sufficient for me.
Going to school became such a pleasure, because we would all walk the 3-4km journey my mother to school, she would drop us all off at school, all clean, with packed lunches – and she’d wave goodbye to us at the gate with a huge smile on her face as she proceeded on to her high school with my younger sister, who she left at a day- care center nearby. I would savour those moments because they filled me years with such pride. I would watch her walk-away until she disappeared from my sight.
Our home soon became an extended classroom after school with all manner of high school children coming to our home to do homework with my mother, who was especially gifted with math and accounting subjects. She was a multitasker of note, studying, tutoring, and looking after us kids while my father was away working. Our home was a hive of activity, my mother enjoyed cooking and baking she created such an atmosphere I always looked forward to going back home from school, there was no better place to be. Those days went pass quickly and soon my mother was doing cartwheels on the front of our lawn! She was so happy! She had passed her matric with distinctions and could be admitted to any university of her choice. I have never seen my mother as happy as she was that day; it was a bittersweet moment for me because I go back to being ordinary. hehe kids. She tried to enroll at a teachers college but that proved an enormous challenge because the nearest college was too far to commute every day and she couldn’t stay there because we would be left alone at home with no parents. As a compromised she enrolled at Pretoria Technikon where she studied hairdressing, which meant that she could come home every day though sometimes it was very late. That was also an interesting time because she would always practice her new-found skills on our heads. I wore weaves at 13, which was something of a novelty at the time and a source of envy from my school mates who would exclaim – wow you’re hair really grows fast – they’d say. Even though Pretoria was far from where we lived, students would still follow my mother back to our home spending weekends, and having sleepovers to learn more from her. After she completed her studies, she and my father began the process of realizing their dreams, opening up a hair-salon business. They went to seminars, tried out different hair care products, roped us all in into the skill of marketing, we were each given products to sell on weekends and after school, to earn our Christmas shoes etc. They put all of their life savings into the business which they named SAZARA – a combination of the first two letters of their names and surname. It was amazing to watch them work together. The business was not without its challenges but it brought joy to our home, because my mother was happiest when she was teaching, working and sharing which the Salon provided ample opportunities for her to teach black people about their hair, and the best ways to take care of it. They were such visionaries too, the salon also sold hair products, which we were always required to clean and sell to incoming customers. We all worked, I would go to the salon after school, to help clean up, do hair, manage the till, and on weekends I would work, washing towels, doing the bank runs, I was their protégé. My mother soon went back to school to study to be a beautician, and then opened up a face care beauty clinic – as an additional component of the hair salon; she would have facial treatments for men and women, and spent most of her time educating her customers on how to take care skin. Something which was very new at the time, especially for the black community where we lived. It was a beautiful time of learning and growth which after we expanded to new premises, business was not the same anymore, and in the end they had no choice but to close shop. That hit my mother hard she became ill, and it was only the birth of my younger brother that gave her a new lease on life. It was a hard time for the family, a draught season that lasted until my parents moved to KwaZulu Natal. My father continued(s) working – to support the family, continued reading, studying. My mother continued(s) to teach by homeschooling my brother.
It is only now that I am beginning to heal after my own disappointment with starting my own business (working for myself) that I realized just what my parents went through when their dream began to fall apart. And it is only now that I realize that my parents were the only people who could help me through this difficult time, once I got over the shame, and disappointment of not “making it'” or being the “brilliant daughter they had groomed me to be” that I realized that the realities of shattered dreams were not new to them and though they never pursued their dream further, they understood, what it takes, how painful it can be to watch a dream slip away despite your best efforts to hold on. They proved that there is life after failure, that things do work out in the end, and everything works for the good for those who believe. And in their own way they tried to be there for me, but I was until now, blinded by shame and anger for failing.
Their greatest gift of all to me is that they have always and consistently led by example. My mother showed us the value of education by going to back to school, adorning a school uniform and sharing a class with children she was old enough to be their mother. She showed me the value of hard work, by working at home, at school, she lived with passion and always found innovative ways of making life exciting, creating a home which was (for me at least) at the very best of times a multimedia heaven: My father would play his music loudly ,an eclectic romantic musical collection from Kenny G, Louis Armstrong, Classical Beethovens etc, to Motown to Miriam Makeba, Keith Sweat to Julio Iglesias, while hard at work in the garden, while my mother would sway and dance happily while cooking and baking the most delicious treats, we would all soon converge to the living room in the evenings to relax to a marathon of movies and cartoons hand-picked by our parents. Sometimes my mother would do exercises with us in the afternoons, teaching us about stretching to the beats of Lucky Dube , she was also a consummate storyteller (like the likes of Gcina Mhlophe) she would invite us to dream with her, to imagine what our future would be like with great detail, she would tell us her stories so vividly and we would sit enthralled like lion cubs under the fierce but warm comfort of a lioness – All things which made our home at the very best of times the most amazing place to be. They were very strict no-nonsense parents to be sure, yet they were also a lot of fun when they relaxed a bit. They continue to stay together and have supported t each other through the most trying times never giving up on each other. They still love each other despite the many challenges of life. My father never gives up believing in the good in all things however bleak a situation may seem, a pillar – no – a tower of strength to all of us, he still wakes up at four in morning working 22 hour days and still finds time to listen, encourage us and his daily response to how are you or how was your day still remains “perfect”.
I don’t think I have ever seen quite as clearly as I do now how much they both love us – and how much they both tried (and did do their best), to do what was best for everyone. Together they never gave up believing in their dream, encouraging each other and us children to dream and still trust that the best is here in the now and still to come. Their dream may not be the SAZARA that it once was, but it is a dream that still lives, because it’s given me a place to go back to, the warmth of home, with no judgment , just love and freedom, a place to regain my strength to face yet another day, to try and try again. I am grateful to have been brought up under the care of such amazing yet silent leaders, gentle giants in their own right, go –getters and visionaries. Mom and Dad, you inspire greatness.
I love and Respect you