Shelly and Cape of Good Hope

By Amy Saeki-Zhai

There is always something that we can’t do anything about ourselves. Ethnicity and skin color is one of them.

Her tanned skin has a shining beauty in a flower dress, and her white teeth and cheerful smile make her look much younger than her age. Shelly is currently a resident of Gold Coast, but she was originally from South Africa. When I first asked her for an  interview, I expected to listen to some exotic African culture, such as cuisine or music. Nonetheless, I quickly found out that reminding her of her hometown carries severe pain and trauma.

It did not take me too long to figure out the reason. Shelly lived in South Africa under Apartheid. As an African, she and her family were forced to relocate and lived in a segregated community on a reservation. She told me how people shared limited resources such as food, clothes, and responsibilities in the village commune. Every mother took turns picking up children from school to ensure their safety. Shelly also told me that she went to a Muslim school where children were not allowed to learn English and Western culture. But Shelly and her family thought English was crucial for her future. So, she also attended a second school organized by a Church, where she secretly studied English.

Shelly, her friends, and the people from her community often joined the protest movement against Apartheid. She said that all people in the commune were united against one common enemy: their government and Apartheid. One day, she was also going to participate in another demonstration. Then suddenly, her family received a notice from the Australian government to grant her political asylum. She needed to board the ship departing that night to make it happen. 

Her family sacrificed everything to save their children from the political turmoil in South Africa. They spent all of their savings on their children’s education. They told Shelly, “You can choose any country you want to go to but remember, there is only a one-time chance, no second chance.” Shelly chose Australia because, as a teenager, she wanted to see many exotic animals in Australia. She understood that many challenges were waiting ahead after she arrived in Australia. But she thought cute kangaroos and wallabies could cheer her up when lonely, like a story in a children’s picture book. 

Her family helped her pack her luggage; they put as many things as the bag could hold. They know for a long time, maybe forever, that they may not be able to see their daughter again. Shelly dashed onto a ship. After the ship left the Cape of Good Hope Port, she learned about the demonstrations she was supposed to participate in with her village people and friends. According to the news, there was an enormous clash between police guards and the protesters on that night. Almost all participants in that demo had been shot and killed. Those who were in the front row had their heads blown off. Shelly was chilled, and her leg started trembling with fear. She barely could hold herself and crumbled down to the floor.

I would have been there without getting into this ship tonight. “Front row, that’s always my fixed position in the demonstration. My friends and community are all gone now, in one second.” “I could not believe that.” “Life and death were a matter of ‘blink.’” “Truly terrifying.” After many decades of living in Australia, Shelly still shook her shoulders and covered her face with her hands. Deep sorrow and feelings of guilt for surviving come back with her tears.

The burning color of the sunset that Shelly saw from a hill in the Cape of Good Hope was not a nostalgia for her home.

It was a color of anger

It was a color of bloodshed

It was a curse for the never-ending everyday cycle

Of life as animals

The Ocean wave at the Cape of Good Hope that Shelly saw

was not for the fun of swimming with family

It was an endless repeat of fighting between protesters and police

It was the red bubble forming and hitting the shores.

It recedes and comes back again in a few minutes.