An Influential Sister – Shelley’s Story

shelley and sister

Shelley (left) and her sister

Write On is delighted to publish the first story in our ‘What’s Your Story?’ series. This account of growing up in South Africa and awakening to the wrongs of Apartheid was written by Shelley Seiler, RUC’s Office Manager.

I was born in the 1950’s in the early days of apartheid and spent my formative years in a privileged white family in the northern suburbs of Johannesburg. My parents employed a black man who worked in the garden (we lived on a one acre plot with a tennis court and a swimming pool) and a black woman who worked in the house. Both of them lived on the property in the ‘servants quarters’. As far as I was concerned this was normal. My parents were liberal, English-speaking South Africans who taught us to treat all people with respect and who modelled this behaviour.

The only black people I encountered were ‘servants’ or the children of our employees who came to stay with them in the school holidays sometimes. As I grew into my teens I was influenced by my sister who is five years older than I am. She opened my eyes to the wrongs of apartheid and in discussions with her and her friends I came to realise that the way we lived in South Africa in the 1960’s and 1970’s was not ‘normal’.

I remember going to watch tennis at Ellis Park in about 1970. It was a night match and when it was over and we were walking towards our car we passed a white policeman hitting a black man with a sjambok. I don’t know what the circumstances were, but this vicious image affected me profoundly. It made me realise how hard it must have been for black people living in a white dominated society and made me more intentional about treating all people as equal.

When I was writing matric a number of my sister’s friends were arrested and held in solitary confinement. When they were finally released they told many horrifying stories of torture and mis-treatment and many of them left South Africa. Some have returned since 1994. My sister wasn’t arrested, but our phone was tapped and we spent a couple of afternoons burning books and papers that the Security Police might have thought we shoudn’t have. She left SA and went to live in the UK about six months after this as she felt threatened and uncomfortable in the SA of that time.

I am grateful for the people who showed me that it is wrong to judge people by their race, class, religion, etc. When I came to know Christ, in my early twenties, as I read the Bible I became more and more convicted about being judgemental. It is my daily prayer that God would enable me to treat others as he would treat them.


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