In 1957, Doris Mynhardt gave birth to Helene Louiesa. As a toddler, Louiesa walked barefoot as her mother could not afford to buy her shoes. She was raised as a Christian but she also attended a Muslim school purely because they handed out free meals. Doris worked at a pickle canning factory and barely managed to make ends meet. In 1962, Louiesa started school, which was an exciting adventure for her. White children did not go to this school. Doris lost her job because of absenteeism from work and alcoholism. When Louiesa was nine years old, they moved to a subsidized house in another town, which was luxury as it had its own backyard and plumbing facilities, but no electricity. Still, it was much better than where they used to live.
Louiesa had fun at school, and even got a ride in a helicopter as a lottery prize. Life became better when electricity was installed in their house, and she was able to listen to the radio. At thirteen, Louiesa started high school. Life was hard for them as Doris did not work. When they stared receiving welfare payments, things became better and Louiesa found part-time employment. In 1976, she went to Johannesburg and found part-time work at a bank. In 1978 when Louiesa turned 21, she took driving lessons and bought a used car. She applied for a first-owner housing subsidy, and after some difficulties with the bureaucracy, her application was granted. One day, her coworkers played a prank on a co-worker telling her that she won a lottery, and she immediately resigned her job. Life became much more serious for her and her mother.
Memoirs of a Play-White is the first instalment of Louiesa’s life as a colored girl in an apartheid South Africa. Reading about the struggles she and her mother endured to make a humble living in a social environment where black people barely had any rights, poverty and hardship takes on a new dimension. It is difficult to imagine such an existence where a person’s skin color determined their status, rights, and defined opportunities. However, Helene Louiesa has managed to shine a powerful spotlight on that period in South Africa’s history, and injected amusing tales in an otherwise terrible story. As a growing girl, Louiesa accepted the harsh treatment she received from the whites because that was all she knew. However, that did not embitter her or turned her misfortunes into hatred. She always sought to better herself, and prove to everyone that she was capable as anyone, and perhaps even better than most. That attitude was recognized by her employer, which helped make her initial steps into the commercial world a success.
Memoirs of a Play-White is a thoughtful work and this review is a glimpse into a world that has to a large extent disappeared. Some readers will find this book difficult, as it exposes a way of life many would rather ignore, but it should not be ignored, pretending that it did not happen. This work will make readers reflect, and rightly so, because our history and how we treat each other forms the foundation how we develop our future and the future for our children.
This book is available on Amazon.