What God joined together: Chapter 13 — A honeymoon with a difference

The final chapter in a serialisation of a fascinating new book by Cape Town missionary and author Ashley Cloete about love across the colour divide in the apartheid era. Each week we will publish a new chapter. YOU CAN ORDER THE E-BOOK VERISION AT https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/1144423 or https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0B1381P29

Three days after our church wedding, Rosemarie and I parted once again for the start of our honeymoon. I left with a Lufthansa flight and Rosemarie was ready to fly the following day with South African Airways. She was still very tense because I was not supposed to enter my home country at this time. We were clearly circumventing the condition of the visa that she had received. Not knowing what had happened to me since I left Germany, fears of my arrest in Cape Town or Johannesburg airport would have been only natural.

Initially we intended to stick to the spirit of the special condition of the visa, by entering the country separately. We had taken precautions with regard to lodging. It was arranged that Rosemarie would sleep in the Elim mission station guest house. This was indeed a strange preparation for a honeymoon journey, but we were quite prepared to put up with this situation temporarily. We had also agreed that I would not come to the airport in Cape Town to meet Rosemarie, because one could never know whether she would be watched by the Special Branch of the police. Thus Rosemarie came to the Mother City of South Africa with a good dose of apprehension, expecting to possibly see my brother Windsor as the only known person. He had visited me in Bad Boll during his period of study in Switzerland. In my correspondence with family and friends, I had been misleading all by implying that Rosemarie would be coming alone.

This untruthfulness was also coming home to roost soon. From Johannesburg, I phoned Wolfgang Schäfer, our seminary lecturer, asking him to pick me up me at D.F. Malan Airport (now known as Cape Town International Airport). My sister and her family were, however, not at home when we arrived in Sherwood Park5. Thus I requested Wolfgang to drop me at my friend Jakes’ home in Penlyn Estate. I felt so bad when I saw how my dear dark-complexioned friend turned completely pale when he opened the door. He was so completely unprepared for this turn of events!

Soon it was agreed that I would be sleeping at Jakes’ house during the first night after Rosemarie’s arrival. I was quite happy with this arrangement because I could thus catch up on the latest church news at the Cape. Jakes had become quite an ecumenical personality since the special New Year’s Day of 1965 when we met each other for the first time. My parents, however, still did not know that I had come to South Africa. I thought of sending them a telegram, but in the end I didn’t do it. In a small village like Elim one had to be very careful, especially since the Special Branch had been there with clear instructions for our stay.

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Rosemarie was scheduled to arrive the next day. In the morning, I utilized the opportunity to go to the Newlands Cricket Ground. To see the likes of Barry Richards and Graeme Pollock in action was too wonderful an opportunity to miss.

Despite our agreement not to meet at the airport, I decided on the spur of the moment to go along to the airport after all to welcome my bride on home territory. On her arrival at D.F. Malan Airport, I was there to welcome her with the words: “Das ist ein richtiger Hochzeitstrauß!” [This is a proper wedding bouquet!]. I had not been impressed with her simple Biedemeier bouquet at the wedding, and could not resist the temptation to surprise her in this way. How could I welcome her more fittingly than with a box of beautiful Proteas from the Cape? She could, however, not really appreciate my gesture. She was too shocked that I had come along to meet her and, on top of that, was kissing her there publicly! That was not a wise move on my part. Thankfully, there were no negative consequences. Rosemarie was extremely thankful and relieved that none of the worrying scenarios that plagued her so much had come to pass.
Coming from a cold, wintry Europe with Königsfeld covered in snow at our wedding, we could not have given Rosemarie a better treat than to go to the beach the very same day. Here the problems could have started with all the racially segregated beaches, but the Esaus, my sister’s family, had a good solution; the Swartklip Beach had not (yet) been racially classified.

The 200 kilometre trip to Elim was on the programme for the Friday. When we arrived there, I thought rather impulsively that Rosemarie should get a ‘real’ welcome by my parents and not in my shadow. After all, I was not supposed to be in the country. I let Rosemarie go inside while I hid in the car.

From the car I could hear the warm welcome given to my wife, coupled with general relief with regard to Rosemarie’s ability to speak English. In jest, Jakes, who had also met her in Germany the previous year, had left almost everybody with the impression that she could hardly speak any English. Now it turned out, as the Esau family members had of course discovered already, that it was not such a big problem after all. The first few questions about the journey and so forth didn’t pose any problems, but then the crunch came: “How’s Ashley?”

I had put Rosemarie in a real predicament. I salvaged the situation by appearing ‘from nowhere’. But this was too much for our dear mother. Hysterically, she burst out in tears. Not only had I misled them through my letters, but they did not expect to see me ever again. That was apartheid reality. Now I was standing there in front of my parents so unexpectedly! In this unforgettable, close to sacred moment I could only embrace my parents and my newly wedded wife. In our minds, this treasured moment still belonged to our wedding ceremony.

One of the imperatives was to visit the local police station. It would have been impossible to hide my presence in the small village in which my German wife would surely have been the talk of the town. Because I knew that the local police officers were classified as ‘Coloured’, it was easier to ask what instructions they had received. The officer co-operated fully. I told him of the arrangements we had made to sleep separately, but he encouraged us instead: “You are married. Behave yourselves as such. If I get new instructions from my headquarters in Stellenbosch, I shall warn you timely.”

On Easter Saturday we went to the local graveyard to assist with the annual cleaning exercise. Rosemarie sported a “Black is beautiful” T-shirt. I was glad that she did that because it had been quite a problem to some friends that I wore these shirts. We met one of these friends, a pretty dark-complexioned young woman from our youth group in District Six. At that time she and other young people had been entering and leaving the Seminary complex almost every day. “That’s not true!” she exclaimed, as she pointed to Rosemarie’s T-shirt. We had some trouble explaining to her that God created people with different skin colours as he did with the flowers, that they are all beautiful in their own right.

The experience in Elim helped us to become more ‘daring’ with regard to sleeping together. We knew of course that we were morally on firm ground, but yet we also knew that our mere being together was already tantamount to breaking South African law6. However, we didn’t feel any strain at all because of this. We were learning fast to behave normally in an abnormal society.

Initially there was no necessity to appear together in public. But I also wanted to show my wife something of the diversity of Cape Town. Rosemarie and I tried not to provoke anybody through our presence, but on the other hand, we had now decided to try and be ourselves as much as possible. We would simply do the most convenient thing with regard to notice boards and the like, acting as if we were in any other country. This meant in concrete terms that we ignored the sign boards denoting the facilities for the different races occasionally.

One of the first things that Rosemarie had to see was District Six – or more correctly what was left of District Six. This slum area of Cape Town with its beautiful setting between Table Mountain and the sea had been declared a ‘White’ residential area in February 1966. In the years thereafter, many houses were demolished. While I was studying at the Theological Seminary just prior to my leaving South Africa permanently, we witnessed the bulldozer at work, demolishing one house here and a shop there after the owners or tenants had been forced to move out by government decree.

I took Rosemarie to the vicinity of my childhood. Our parental house at 30 Combrinck Street had unfortunately already been flattened. The two houses to the left and the right in the row were still standing there. Thus Rosemarie could get some idea of what the area had looked like.

Table Mountain is obligatory for any tourist to Cape Town. After seeing the sordid remains of my childhood, I had great pleasure to take Rosemarie there on the beautiful day. Here I felt like a tourist in my own country. My friend Jakes dropped us at the cable car station, where we bought our tickets at separate ticket offices. There was, however, only one cab to take us to the top. Being the only ‘non-White’ in the cab, I was not surprised by the unfriendly faces which looked at me as someone who did not ‘belong’ there. The one Rand fare was still a lot of money for ‘Coloureds’ in those days. They would rather walk up on one of the many routes (though very few of us took that trouble; hiking was not a common pastime for us). The gazes instantly became excited and admiring (as well as jealous?) when I started talking to Rosemarie in fluent German. I could almost read their minds: “Oh, this is what Mr Vorster must have meant when he said that the country would change within a matter of months.” South African ‘Whites’ were apparently ready to accept foreign people of colour, which left me with mixed feelings.
A few hours later we were emotionally in the doldrums as we tried to behave ourselves normally in the apartheid set-up. There was a restaurant for ‘Europeans’ (the term used for ‘Whites’) on Table Mountain, which we wanted to visit at lunch time. When we saw a long queue outside, I thought that this was wasting precious time.

Why not go to the other facility, the one for ‘non-Europeans’? That one was completely empty when we got there. We took seats there, but we now had to wait… and wait… and wait. No waiter came to serve us. They did not have the courage to come and tell us that they would not serve us. I should have known better. We were after all still in apartheid South Africa.

On Sunday morning, a visit to our church in Tiervlei where my cousin ‘Boeta’ John Ulster was now the minister, was almost obligatory. The two Blue Gum trees that stood forlorn on both sides of our gate in Northway Street in Tiervlei reminded me where we had once lived, where we spent so many happy days as a family, before my parents were relocated to Elim. On the eight plot small holding there was now a shopping centre and at the back corner where our pig sty had been, there was a cinema which later became a big church (My parents subsequently received a ‘princely’ amount for the three bedroom brick house and 8 plots it had been.)

During our lunch chat in Sherwood Park Mommy spoke with gratitude how they could assist our sister and her family to purchase their property. I still admire the grace and magnanimity of my parents. The compensation was actually a pittance for this blatant theft under the guise of slum clearance.

On this our first Sunday evening back in the Mother City, Rosemarie and I also wanted to enjoy Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik at the City Hall. We did not sit in one of the ‘free’ seats that were used by ‘non-Whites’. Amazingly, nobody seemed to take offence. Was this a sign of the beginning of the end of petty apartheid? Would we be able to return permanently one day?

I also took Rosemarie to the schools where I had taught. At Alexander Sinton High School I had been receiving letters from my darling immediately after my return from Europe, because post was not yet being delivered in Sherwood Park where my sister resided with her family. At this school there were still a few Matric learners who immediately wanted to know whether my wife was the Rosemarie I had spoken about as a teacher. A visit to Elsies River had to include meeting the family from where I wrote many a letter and where I had her photo on the door of the tiny outside room.

After visiting various friends and family in the Western Cape, we travelled through the Eastern Cape, via the Transkei to Natal, spending only a night apiece at various homes. After a wonderful weekend in Pietermaritzburg that was forced upon us in a way because of fuel rationing, we drove via Zululand to Johannesburg. The whole journey was quite adventurous, because we were not supposed to be together, let alone be driving as a couple in a car. We experienced many a close shave, just avoiding speeding checks ahead thanks to the warnings of drivers coming from the opposite direction.

We were fortunate to have taken two young ‘White’ female hitch hikers along just before entering Transkei. It was treated like another country with a border post control. The border guards seem to have been satisfied that the three ‘White’ ladies had a chauffeur!

An experience in Johannesburg was even more nerve-wrecking. We arrived in the ‘city of gold’ at about midnight. It was clear that we could not go to the Potberg family in the Moravian parsonage at that time of the night, without informing them beforehand of our intended arrival. I knew that there was a hotel for ‘Coloureds’ in the Bosmont suburb where they lived. However, I had no idea where this suburb was in the largest city of Southern Africa. We could not think of any better option than to get information at a police station, of course very fearfully. Now it was Rosemarie’s turn to hide in the car.

The police officer explained the way to Bosmont. After having driven some distance, we became unsure whether we were still on track. At a set of traffic lights I tried to check this out with another motorist. How happy we were when the Indian explained that he was going in the same direction. The owner of the hotel, aware of the South African laws and practices, was rather skeptical at first. This was not surprising due to the time of the night that we arrived there, but after inspecting our passports, he was satisfied that we were indeed husband and wife. The next morning we left before breakfast, because we didn’t want to get the hotel owner into trouble.

Having fulfilled the condition of the visa not to enter the country together as a couple, and after our honeymoon with a difference, we returned to Germany with thankful hearts that nothing happened that could have spoilt the memorable trip. However, the honeymoon did bear a stamp of finality regarding my new status: to all intents and purposes I was an exile.

Back in Germany, one of the first things to do was to phone our parents (i.e. my in-laws). To visit them on the very first Sunday after our return was only natural. We knew that this did not mean that Papa Göbel would be at home to meet us, though. The memory of the previous time I had visited their home, on that tragic occasion one and a half years prior to this, when Rosemarie had to leave her parental home, was still vivid. But on this bright sunny afternoon we experienced one surprise after the other. Our faith had been too small, because God had wonderful things in store for us. Papa was there at home to start with. But then he also went along to their Stückle, a small allotment where the family spent many a Sunday afternoon. This time it was to be totally different. Papa Göbel offered me a pair of his shorts, addressing me with the personal Du [You]. With that – and it was particularly discernible in the tone – he was saying almost as much as “I accept you fully as my son-in-law.” He soon followed this up with: “You can call me Papa!”

Rosemarie, who knew her father so well, recognised how much it must have cost him to come this far. Once the ice was broken, it didn’t take long before it seemed as if we had known each other for ages, as if there had never been any problem at all. God had performed nothing less than a miracle!

Evidence was found later that the Lord had started working in his heart prior to this. He had treasured Rosemarie’s letter pleading with him to attend the wedding, and on 4 February 1989, when he died suddenly of a heart attack in his car, the letter was found in his possession, in his wallet.
I didn’t give up on my dreams to return to South Africa with my wife one day. I was ready to battle fiercely for the right to return from exile with my wife and the children we hoped to have one day. One of the forms this took on was many years of intense prayer for my country.

The prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act was finally repealed in 1985. We returned to the Cape, seven years later, with five children in tow. We still live here today, and have dedicated our lives to His service. We hold on fervently to the promise, that “every valley shall be exalted.”

Celebrating our 40th wedding anniversary with our children and grandchildren


Looking back at 47 years of happy marriage, during which we however also had our fair share of challenges, gratitude stands tall towards the Father whom we have been serving since our youth. We had to learn many lessons, including a few of them the hard way. On occasion I had to suffer under the dire consequences of ill-considered moves, such as when I tried to manipulate Rosemarie’s father to give us permission to correspond. And when the chances of a possible marriage looked remote, after some bungling on my side, the Father intervened to bring us together again in His mercy and love, thus confirming our relationship towards ultimate union.

But also in this regard we experienced the meaning of the Bible verse that our former seminary director, Bishop Henning Schlimm, expounded so beautifully and movingly at our wedding ceremony, namely how the divine Eagle’s Wings carried us again and again.

A practice which we implemented not only during our short courtship before my return to South Africa, but also during an agreed hour on Sunday evenings, highlighted the power of prayer. Indeed, what a friend we have in Jesus. Praying for and with each other, taking all your issues to the Lord in prayer, would be the advice we would give to so many couples down the years.

Right from the start we discerned that next to the challenges of a cross-cultural marriage, there is also an opportunity to learn from the positives of the culture of the other party. To have God as the third party in our union demonstrated the strength of a three-stranded chord.

In the twilight of our lives we are blessed to see how my exile, of which our wedding was the final trigger, became a blessing to many not only here in South Africa, but also in Germany and Holland. With Joseph, who spent the bulk of his life in Egypt, I can now testify that what misled apartheid legislators contrived, God turned around for good.

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