Fred and Sarah Carneson represent that rare breed of white South Africans – the sort who chose to forego all the privileges that came with their skin colour to live an uneasy life-long struggle against apartheid.
When he died on 8 September 2000 aged 80, the old communist Fred Carneson departed a contented man. Six years into the new democratic order when death came, he had reason to look back at his life and body of work and not shed a tear in regret. His old comrade Wolfie Kodesh says: “He just looked as if he were going to sleep. He looked at peace.”
Given a chance to live their life all over again, when asked, the Carnesons said they would give their life to the struggle again, perhaps with even more vigour.
White folk like this Cape Town pair, almost invariably communist in their political outlook, were the red in the rainbow that Archbishop Desmond Tutu saw South Africans to be. Uhuru south of the Mother Continent would have remained a distant dream had it not been for the selfless efforts of whites like the Carnesons. The apartheid authorities dangled the carrot of freedom countless times before them. Denounce support for the terrorist ANC and be free like all whites in the country, the bigots teased. But Fred and Sarah stood their ground and would live to see freedom in their lifetime.
This is a love story between a man and his darling wife and how, ordinarily, they would have raised their three children – Lynn, the author, John and Ruth, with love. But apartheid insisted on being a character in the story, turning the doting father that Fred no doubt was into an absent father away on long spells of imprisonment if he was not hiding from the security police.
The children suffered but none greater perhaps than Ruth who was retrieved from the brink of a mental breakdown.
Normal schooling they did not have as other children ostracized the Carneson brood for the sins of their communist parents.
It is the story of a family that was meant to be torn apart by an evil system but stood their ground. In the process, they helped birth a nation.
In the words of Nelson Mandela, Fred and Sarah are “veterans [of the struggle] whose names will live beyond the grave”.
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