Home at last - after being ‘killed’
Karoline was born on August 1, 1980, in a hospital in Sandton to a white British woman, Kris, and her white South African husband Ken. The couple had met at college in England, where they studied for careers in the hospitality industry.
Days after the birth, Kris realised that her baby did not look like Ken and was of mixed race and she had to own up to a liaison she had had with a Sotho chef who worked at her father-in-law’s hotel, where she and Ken also worked.
Baby Karoline was taken to England under the pretext that she was sickly and needed to receive medical treatment there.
Instead, she was put up for adoption, just a month-and-a-half after her birth.
She was adopted by Malcolm and Angela King from Surrey, who named her Sarah Jane (she later changed the spelling).
Kris and Ken returned to Johannesburg and told Ken’s family that baby Karoline had died in England.
Launched last month, King’s first book has already shot to number two spot on the South African non-fiction best-seller list, hot on the heels of the number one best-seller by Trevor Noah.
“I am a citizen, a proper South African,” said King, who spent the first 26 years of her life in England.
“I love it. To come from a country at that time of apartheid and be its worst nightmare, this mixing of races, this awful, awful thing, to have to be taken out of the country in secrecy and all the rest of it and to come back and to live here.
“I walk down the street and it’s like I’m lifting two fingers up. I just think: ‘Yeah, you tried and failed’ because I came back and I live here, I pay tax, it is my home.
“And I will never leave. England is not home. I will never go back to live there. I will die here. There’s a lot of emotion, there’s a lot of pull attached here. When you’ve been taken from somewhere you came from and you have been essentially killed from that part of your life and then to come back and live as your true self is huge. I don’t view it as being on a permanent holiday, this is home, this home,” King added.
At her home in Camps Bay, surrounded by the two big “loves of her life” - her “very significant other” and her dog Siza - King darts in and out of the darks, lows and lights of her life story, all while applying her make-up with dexterity.
During her first year at the University of Greenwich in London, where she was studying law, King contacted “the Biological Mother” who had always kept the adoption agency informed about her whereabouts, which included the times she lived in Germany and Italy.
Kris had informed the agency that should King wish to contact her one day, she should do so through Kris’s parents who lived in England.
“So on the basis of that, I contacted her. I wrote them this kind, hesitant letter because I did not want to upset them. They were horrified because I don’t think she had told them she had given their address.
“Her parents wrote that they knew about me. They wrote: ‘This is a family decision; we don’t want to have anything to do with you. We have forwarded your letter.’ It is so strange, not from the point of view of ‘why don’t you want to have anything to do with me and why don’t you want me to part of the family’, but from the point of ‘why leave your details?’.”
Kris eventually replied, said King, and “I was so stunned when she sent this letter, saying essentially: ‘Leave me alone. You were the biggest mistake I ever made. I don’t want to be in touch with you. I don’t want contact with you’.”
With her letter, Kris included Karoline’s “classified white” South African birth certificate and the name and photograph of her biological father. “She holds all the information that there is. It is hard; there is this part of me that I will never know. I don’t even know if she has given me his right name. I’ve tried to find him. I hired private investigators to find him and there’s no trace of him. He would have been 67. She is 59 years old,” she added.
“It is this thing with adoptees, called the primal wound. You have it in you that your biological mother did not want you and has rejected you. It is rejection from a primal level and a pre-verbal level. There would have been a part of her that knew that I may not have been her husband’s child.”
When King first visited the adoption agency in 2001, a picture of a little blonde white boy with brown eyes fell out of her file.
“I said ‘who’s this?’ and was told by the adoption agent, ‘that’s your brother’. So she sent a picture and this is why it seemed so strange to me.”
King found her half brother, Alex, via the internet. They communicated for years and when she came to South Africa in 2007, from a year of living in Dubai to rehab in Johannesburg, they met and have built up a somewhat tenuous connection for over 10 years now.
While King excelled academically, obtaining her honours law degree and a Master’s degree in journalism from the University of Canterbury, she was enduring dark times which included the second rejection by Kris, and the loss of both her older adoptive brother Adam and her father Malcolm, within a few years.
She was plunged into a life of eating disorders and alcohol abuse, and became addicted to over-the-counter medication.
As King grappled with the puzzles and inconsistencies of her life, she carved out a career in broadcast journalism and talk radio and currently has a late-night Cape Talk radio slot which she “loves” because she “can talk about anything”.
“The part that I love is finding guests.
“It’s fun and it’s awesome. I wonder ‘how am I going to fill 20 minutes?’ then I get a guy who can just speak for half an hour,” said King, who does six 20-minute interviews in three hours every night from Sundays to Thursdays.
King hopes to have a baby one day, which “is going to be the most amazing thing, I can’t wait; it will be just the joy of having my own child, looking into the face, finding similarities”.
In the meantime, she said she would continue to do what she did best: broadcasting, walking her dog on the beach, playing her music (she’s an accomplished pianist, singer and cello player), and writing more books.