My first real memories of political activism happened (repeatedly) in the BC Liquor store on Commercial Drive. I was 5, my sister 3. And our parents would place us strategically at the end of an aisle and give us a very important task: we were to be the lookouts, in charge of warning them about any staff who might be moving their way. So while we — seemingly innocently — stood watch, my parents plastered the labels of the South African wine bottles with anti-apartheid stickers.
You see, the fight against Apartheid was just part of my childhood. Our home was the BC mailing address for SACTU (the South African Congress of Trade Unions, an affiliated partner of the ANC). It was just the way things went at my house: my sister and I would sometimes give up our beds for fleeing or visiting political refugees. We thought it a treat to help sort and count the change gathered from all the fundraisers. And we knew every word and proudly belted “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAFrika” at any chance we got.
Many of the people cycling through our home became good family friends — for me, in particular, a wonderful man named Peter. They would make curry, we would make sweet coconut bread to dip in it, and we would all eat while the adults talked about political action, Nelson and the struggle. Once, Peter even agreed to let me take him to my school classroom — as an odd kind of ‘show and tell.’ And there, he patiently talked to a class full of suburban (primarily Caucasian and Asian) children about what his very different life had looked like. He talked about running out the back door of his house — in the middle of the night, without shoes on — because he heard police trying to break through the front door. He talked having to leave his family behind. And he talked about Nelson.