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Jo'Burg Days: Daniel

Barbara Durlacher’s South African story confirms that sometimes a tragic accident can have a happy ending.

To read more of Barbara's stories and features please click on Jo'burg Days in the menu on this page.

You could see immediately that he was popular. Every time he came indoors for tea, the women would gather around him and the noise level would rise with the happy laughter, jokes and amusing remarks. They often brought small titbits from home in their lunch boxes for him, ‘Something nice for you to taste, eh, Daniel, seeing as you don’t have a wife to cook for you.”
They all looked forward to Tuesdays and Fridays when he came from the bosses’ big house on Westcliffe Ridge to work in the office gardens, trimming the edges, mowing the lawn and pruning the miniature shrubs and, if the rains were late, watering the bright borders of petunias and pansies. At the bosses' big house he was kept much busier; the garden there was huge with many old trees planted when Johannesburg was still a dusty mining camp, as well as a fish-pond and a swimming pool. He picked up the dog mess, swept the leaves and did the weeding and planting. But he enjoyed being out in the open, listening to the birds and the sound of the wind, feeling the sun warm on his back and always working towards his goal of saving enough to buy a nice wife and a plot back home in Zimbabwe.

When the new lady in the office offered him a job working as caretaker and gardener at her block of flats he was momentarily tempted, and even came to see the building and briefly considered whether he should change. But no, he had been working a long time for Baas William and he knew that his pension was growing nicely. If he left his secure job in Westcliffe, who knows whether he would earn as much, and would there be a pension scheme?

So, he told the office lady that he had a 'brother named Sam,' also from Zimbabwe, who was looking for 'gadden-wek' and that he would send him along instead. Sam arrived on the appointed day, a young, strong, good-looking black man, with beautiful white teeth and a wide, happy smile. After listening to the terms of employment and the duties and inspecting the servant's room on the roof, he readily agreed to start the job on a three-months trial.

Sam soon settled down into the routine building, cleaning and maintenance of the small swimming pool and compact garden and it was not long before he had endeared himself to all the residents. Up early and working late, washing cars out of hours and always willing and happy, he was a welcome addition to the building. His English was good and he could read and write a little, he was responsible and a quick learner and it was not long before the caretaker happily handed the full running of the building over to him, knowing everything would be taken care of efficiently and well.

Now and again Sam ran into a little trouble, like the Friday evening on payday when he was brought back to the building at eight o'clock looking forlorn and scared by a burly black SAPS constable who claimed that he was an 'illegal' and did not have the proper papers. The drunken policeman demanded a bribe of R150 to release him, otherwise he would be sent to Lindela, the dreaded repatriation camp, before being railed back to Zimbabwe as an illegal immigrant. Sam's frightened eyes said it all, long before his subdued whisper “Give him R50 Merrem and a cold drink!” galvanised her into action, and although she regretted the need to succumb to the insidious threat of bribery, she quickly handed over a R50 note and a bottle of Coke and insisted that the policeman return Sam's confiscated passbook and residence papers immediately.
One evening, Sam and Daniel came to her asking her to explain the legalese of the staff pension plan. Although she vaguely understood it, she felt it more prudent to tell Daniel to ask one of the black staff members at work to explain it to him in language he could understand, rather than confuse him even more by giving him her, perhaps incorrect, version of the complicated document. But one thing was clear. Daniel was not married and had no legal offspring. He had nominated Sam as his heir, although the possibilities of Sam ever actually inheriting anything seemed remote.

Then, after two serene years, tragedy struck. That Christmas, Baas William and the family departed for their usual Christmas holiday at their seaside house in Hermanus, leaving Daniel in charge of the Westcliffe house, garden and dogs. A couple of days after their departure, Daniel was happy to join his friends at an all-day party in Hillbrow. It was when he emerged from behind a parked car in Claim Street that he was knocked down and killed by a hit-and-run driver. Nobody seemed to know any of the details and it was some days before the African grapevine got the news to Sam. His woeful face and swollen, tear-filled eyes, and halting delivery soon told the caretaker the sad story and then began the saga of getting Daniel’s body back to Zimbabwe for the funeral. Later there were telephone calls, meetings and many typewritten letters to his employers to ensure that Sam's inheritance from the company pension fund was forthcoming, in addition to the amount they generously donated to cover the costs of the funeral. When Sam finally received his cheque the lady in the office insisted on taking him to the bank and opening a deposit account to ensure that the money was as safe as she could arrange.
Later Sam was able to use these funds to build a house for himself and his young family in Zimbabwe. With the experience he gained from this undertaking, he was engaged as a contract builder for a young black entrepreneur who appreciated and understood Sam's capabilities and sense of responsibility and wished to give him a further chance. It was a marvellous end to what could have been a family tragedy but instead, brought good to all.

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