Black family circumvents rules to live in white South African community

February 21, 1991|By Jerelyn Eddings | Jerelyn Eddings,Johannesburg Bureau of The Sun

BRYANSTON, South Africa -- Carol Tshoedi, an attractive, petite woman classified as "colored" or mixed-race in South Africa, sat in the living room of her spacious suburban home talking about the improvements she and her husband had made.

They have replastered walls, refinished floors, installed a heating system and added four rooms. Next on their list for repairs are the kitchen, the swimming pool and the tennis court.

Mrs. Tshoedi, a schoolteacher, and her husband, Cecil, an investment broker at one of South Africa's largest banks, have been renovating since they moved into this quiet "white" suburb in August 1989.

They said they had been offered three times what they paid for the house, which they do not intend to sell.

"And we are said to bring down the value of the properties when we move in," Mrs. Tshoedi chuckled with disdain.

She said she once listened to a radio program about housing problems in South Africa, and "the whole talk was that when blacks move into the white areas, in comes the goats and the chickens . . . and the extended family -- the mother, the father and great-grandfather and all the cousins."

"I was enraged. I called in and said I live in Bryanston, and I do not have pigs or goats or chickens. . . . And this thing of us overpopulating your white suburbs is untrue. What we are actually doing is that we're doing the government a great big favor. Because there is a tremendous housing shortage in the black community. When I move out, my overcrowded relatives can move into my empty house. I think I'm working hand in hand with the government."

The Tshoedis have had no problems with the government in this lush neighborhood north of Johannesburg, but they were evicted the first time they moved into a white neighborhood by violating South Africa's Group Areas Act.

Under the act, which is expected to be repealed by Parliament this year, it is illegal for blacks, coloreds or Indians to live or own property in areas designated for whites. But well-to-do blacks are increasingly circumventing the law in order to move out of crowded, problem-plagued townships.

The Tshoedis formed a "closed corporation" with assistance of a white friend, who was listed as the major stockholder, and the corporation bought the house in Bryanston.

"The banks know they are not selling to a closed corporation but to a black person," said Mr. Tshoedi, who was born a member of the Tswana tribe but petitioned to be racially reclassified as colored so that his children would be eligible to attend colored schools.

The first time the Tshoedis bought a house through this method, they moved into a conservative neighborhood populated by Afrikaners, the Dutch-descended people who have administered South Africa's apartheid system of racial segregation since 1948.

On their third day in that house, in a suburb called Ridgeway, two police officers came to their door and informed them that they were breaking the law. The officers said they would be evicted unless they got written permission from their white neighbors to live there.

After the Tshoedis refused to seek permission, they were served a notice of eviction. They moved out but still own the house, which they haven't been able to sell because the government action against them is pending.

Mrs. Tshoedi said they bought the first house because it was a "lovely" house in an area close to her husband's work and not far from her son's school, which was then in a colored township. Ten-year-old Martin John, the oldest of their three children, attends a private boys' school near the Tshoedi home.

Their Bryanston neighbors have been friendly, and although integrated housing is against South African law except in a few sections designated as "gray areas," local government officials here have made it clear they have no intention of evicting black residents.

Other local officials have made similar declarations, including the Johannesburg City Council.

President F. W. de Klerk has said that the law will be repealed this year.

Meanwhile, the Tshoedis said, they have helped other black families form closed corporations so that they, too, could buy homes in white neighborhoods. They said there were dozens of black families, including a few millionaires, in the area known as Sandton, in which Bryanston is located. "And there are more coming," said Mrs. Tshoedi.

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