The twilight kids

By Sam Mabe

The apartheid paper trail often wound into thickets of absurdity. Those who were not registered or classified according to official procedures were considered to be non-existent, and could not access any of the resources granted to citizens (such as schooling and jobs). These people lived in limbo, subsisting on the margins of society. Read the following story, published in Sunday Post in 1979, of a group of kids who were living in this twilight state in the late 1970s.

They have no identity and no school.

About 40 children in the Kliptown area, whose ages range from seven to 14, have been denied the right to attend school because officially they are neither black nor coloured.

They were born and brought up in a mixed community of coloured and black parents. Their births were not registered anywhere and they do not have birth certificates.

Hence, their existence is officially unknown.

Others lucky enough to have their names in the population register, classified coloured and accepted in coloured government schools, reject them and will not play with them.

"Teachers", Ms Rhoda Muller and Ms Bertha Jacobs - neither trained for the job - started a "school" in Kliptown last year and they teach the racially unclassified children how to read and write.

"There could be hundreds and hundreds of others like them who roam the streets because they cannot be accepted at any school. Their only sin is that they have never had any official document which can tell whether they are coloured or black," said Ms Muller.

The children, who started "school" in April last year, look plain black or coffee-coloured and some very light in complexion. They all speak the language of many coloureds - Afrikaans.

"Attendance fluctuates. Sometimes we have over 20, like today, and on other days, up to 40. But some are serious and they come almost every day," Ms Muller said.

Nelly Cuine is 14, the oldest of the twilight children and is in Grade Two. The youngest is Sydney Erasmus (7) in Grade One.

Nuns first began teaching the twilight children with a garage for a classroom about seven years ago.

The welfare organisation, Good Shepherd Community Services, sent two letters to a local school recommending the admission of Susan Losper (9) and Ellen Losper (12), both of whom have no birth certificates but, said Ms Muller, they could not be admitted.

Asked by Sunday Post how they started their "school" in an old house once occupied by a white when Kliptown was white area, Ms Muller said: "We used to meet the children everywhere roaming during school hours and we got worried about it.

"We visited their parents and introduced our idea of starting a school and they agreed to send them there."

Mrs Jacobs said: "They could neither read nor write when they came here, but they are now able to write their names and do a little reading.

"We just teach them what we can because we are ourselves not qualified as teachers, although we do seek help from qualified friends when we encounter problems."

The "teachers", both members of the self-help women's club, Women of Troy, are working free of charge and the children are not expected to pay anything.

"We know there are hundreds of other children suffering like these, but we do not have time to scout for them. It is really heartbreaking to see children growing up to be nothing in life.

"We will welcome any number that can join us and we're even prepared to have double sessions if it comes to a crunch, because we want them to have a future," the women said.

They are helped by Miss Mary Fizgerald of the Centre for Social Development at Witwatersrand University with most of their needs to keep the "school" going.

Miss Fitzgerald said her centre was providing bread, milk and soup and some stationery. The centre is also paying the rent and rates.

On Fridays some centre members teach the children games and other extramural activities.

Mr CD Beukes, Chief School Inspector the Transvaal, said he knew nothing about the twilight school. Schools have been instructed to demand a birth certificate before admitting any child, he said.

But those who not produce such certificates immediately could be provisionally accommodated if they had proof that they have applied for certificates.

The birth certificates, he said, were needed to establish the official dates of birth of the children and not their race.

- "The Twilight Kids", Sunday Post, July 22, 1979

back to the Race Classification Board memorial page

"Even the Cango Caves had a separate entrance for black people."
Vincent Kolbe on Race Classification
Apartheid signs, Mossel Bay
Picture: © Sunday Times


In this lesson plan, learners will have the chance to interact with information from clauses of the Population Registration Act of 1950 as well as from various legal records associated with two cases of people appealing for reclassification.

Lesson plan (1.09MB)
You′ll need the Adobe Acrobat PDF reader to view these lesson plans. Download it here.
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Artwork Photo Gallery
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Audio stories of the heartbreak caused
Listen to stories of the heartbreak caused by apartheid’s race classification laws.
A 360° tour of the memorial at the High Court Annex, Queen Victoria Street, Cape Town.
Race Classification Board Memorial
The Sunday Times Heritage Project memorial to the Race Classification Board – one of apartheid’s biggest absurdities – is attracting a lot of attention in Cape Town