IN LOVING MEMORY

A woman of ninety five passes away in her sleep in the humblest of surroundings with her many children, grandchildren and great grandchildren at her bedside.

This is the story of Elizabeth but we shall call her Betty.

She is not famous and she has done nothing exceptional in her life.

She has married, produced children and labored through a lifetime against a colossus of political and racial indifference.

She has suffered the most extreme indignity and heartbreak that a human being should ever have to endure on this senseless earth.

She has never attended school or learnt how to read and write.  She has never owned a book or a pen.

She was ignorant for most of her life of the technology which drove a revolution foreign to her whole way of life.

There have been times when she never saw the light of day and when premature death seemed just a gust of wind away.

But she has served her family, friends and nation well enough to be remembered at this moment in time and in this way.

Let us remember Betty.

Today is the fourteenth of February in the year 1950.  It is a little after seven in the morning and the dawn of this valentines day has barely broken for more than a hour.

She was born one summers morning in the poverty of a village on the banks of the Orange River in the northern province of what we now call South Africa.

Raised in a home with her many brothers and sisters, the home was rudimentary at best with no bathroom or basic sanitation facilities.,

So it was commonplace for Betty to bathe in the waters of the Orange River.

Modesty was unbecoming of this pretty angelic-like young girl of ebony skin.

But one particular morning was different from all the others in the twilight of her childhood and which would have quite an impact on the rest of her life.

When she was twelve years old, she found a pretty pebble in the shallow waters and noticed a young Dutch Afrikaner, in uniform, staring at her naked frame through the bracken of the trees.

She would never know who that man was or care to understand why a man such as he could desire a woman in the child she still was.

Betty was not beyond the word of God and curiously engaged with missionaries when they came to her village to spread the christian message.

At fifteen, she was married off by her family to a young man she had never met from a neighboring village five years her senior.

The husband of barely a week took her virtue and left her pregnant with child to go to the city, never to return.

All her life, she remained close to her brother Erasmus who shared a secret with her of the pretty pebble until he too passed away a year ago.

She was once beaten so brutally by her second husband that she lost her sight for nearly a year and her hearing remained permanently impaired.

Scars on her body are evidence of the intolerable torture she endured during that unfortunate marriage.

When a few years later she did finally find love with a kind man who she met through domestic work, he was taken from her inside three years by the most terrible afflicted disease and she was alone again in the world to fend for herself and her children.

She married for a fourth time at the age of forty to a man who was of farming stock and who was prepared to fight for the South African cause against the British.

Alas, he was taken from her too in the combat of battle and she was widowed once more.

Her indignities and suffering did not end there.

Her humble home was burnt to the ground as she and her children became basketed detainees in a concentration camp under the scorched earth policy of British military overlord Lord Kitchener.

Here was a woman who gave her very heart and soul to the simplicity of life and asked God for no more or less than redemption and forgiveness for her wrongdoing.

Her life was certainly eventful but it was so full of goodness, generosity and grace that it brings tears to my own eyes to tell her amazing, heart-rendering story.

Then came the day in 1927 when the aged widow met and chatted at a missionary school with a young nine year old boy who came from the same tribe as her and who spoke the same native tongue.

His Father had just died and who had declared to him in his last breath that one day he would become a great leader of his nation.

For the first time in her life, Elizabeth held a pen in her hand and wrote her name.

It was a truly momentous moment.

If Elizabeth (or Betty) had a dream, then it was to know what freedom was and meant.

She saw in the eyes of that young boy that he knew but she could not interpret the message.

That boy, as you surely know, was Nelson Mandela.

In later years, Betty would hear of his joining the African National Congress in 1944 just as world war two was drawing to its nigh.

But what did freedom mean to Betty?  What could it mean?

Her homeland was occupied by the Dutch Boer-Afrikaners and then along came the bold, brashful British to disturb the peace and shake up her already fragile world.

Colonial confrontation ensued over the mineral wealth of a developing nation.

And just when it seemed as if there might be something called freedom for someone like Betty, the new South African government of 1945 brought in apartheid to segregate black people from white people and treat them as second class citizens.

Betty knew that that young boy and now a militant man would fight the battle but one which would not be won in her precious lifetime.

And so here we are in what is no more than a simple shack on the banks of the Orange River.

The pretty pebble, all twenty one caret of it, glistens in her still hand.

Elizabeth, Betty, is being remembered by us all.

I never personally knew Betty but it has been my absolute privilege to tell her life story.

In Loving Memory.  God bless you Betty.

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