My Mother…

Published Oct 23, 2023


By Carl “Mpangazitha” Niehaus

My mother passed on, on Friday, October 20 at 11pm, at the age of 94. It was after an illness of a couple of months, during which she suffered severely.

Magrietha (Maxie) Petronella Niehaus (née Arlow) was born on April 14, 1929, on the farm Schuinsdrift in the Groot Marico district in the North West province (old Western Transvaal). She was one of 10 children, and is survived only by her youngest brother, Koos Arlow.

Maxie was married to Carl (Kallie) Gerhard Niehaus. They had two children, myself and Susanna Louisa Johanna (Sandra) Erasmus (née Niehaus), both of us are still alive. She had five grandchildren, Helen Magrietha Anna Niehaus, Elard Erasmus, Gerhard Erasmus, Khanya Niehaus and Nkanyezi Niehaus, and one great-grandchild, whom my daughter Helen named Forest.

Maxie was a dedicated mother and wife, with a very strong personality. She was truly the matriarch of the Niehaus family, and especially after her husband passed on seven years ago she fulfilled that role with strength and dedication. She was the core that kept the family together.

Maxie had a huge love for the arts and her Afrikaans culture. She read widely, and was a lover of Afrikaans poetry. She wrote poems herself, and painted and made exquisite wood cuttings, and works of embroidery.

Maxie saw herself very much as an Afrikaner woman, and during her 62-year-long marriage with her husband Carl (Kallie) she took the lead from him in his conservative (pro-apartheid nationalist) – and to he honest racist – political views.

However, after her husband Kallie passed on, on August 2, 2016, she significantly changed her views about apartheid, and started to acknowledge that apartheid was wrong. She made every effort to repair the strained relationship with me, her oldest son, who was a liberation fighter in the Struggle against apartheid.

In long conversations with me she tried to understand my views, and acknowledged that apartheid was wrong, and apologised that her husband had thrown me out of the family home at the age of 18 years old, because of my anti-apartheid views. She apologised to me, and several times at family gatherings spoke about it, and said that she is deeply sorry about what happened, and that she should not have allowed her husband to have done that.

While her husband was still alive she was sadly (and unacceptably) distant towards her two black (African) grandchildren. In this she unfortunately again took the lead from her husband, who refused to accept Khanya as his granddaughter. After her husband passed on my mother totally changed her relationship to Khanya, and to Nkanyezi, who was born after my dad had already passed on, and became a doting and loving grandmother to them. She also apologised to the family, and said that she should have been a better grandmother to Khanya earlier in her life, and that in this instance she should not have listened to her husband. She said: “It is difficult for an Afrikaner woman to go against the will of your husband, but I should have followed my heart…”.

As her oldest son, I will miss my beloved mother deeply. She shaped me in so many ways, and had a huge influence on my life. It was my mom who encouraged me to read, and who shared with me her great love for books and for literature. If it was not for her, I would not have developed the love for writing and public speaking. She took me to classes to get trained in elocution and public speaking, and right up into her ripe old age she followed my public speaking engagements.

She watched every interview that I did on television, and would always phone me after she had watched an interview, and gave me her opinion. She had very clear, strong views, and was very straightforward. She would tell me what she liked, and also what she did not like. We often disagreed.

Her world view, and political persuasions, given her age and strong Afrikaner lineage, meant that Mamma was much more conservative than me. However, she always disagreed with me, respecting me as an adult with the right to hold my own views.

Mamma had a very sharp tongue, but if she felt that she had said something too strongly, she was also quick to acknowledge that, and to apologise. Despite this great humble ability to self-correct, she was never a pushover, and was very capable of standing her ground, and to explain her strongly held views.

Mamma always dressed well. She took great care in her appearance. It is something that she taught me, that one must never, ever, leave the house not looking your best. She always told me never to let people see when you are going through a hard time. She always said to me: “The more difficult things are, the better you must look!”

When she was already very sick in hospital, I arrived one day in a suit at the side of her bed. She opened her eyes, and said in a very soft voice: “Jy lyk so mooi” (you look so beautiful), and then she smiled. That was the last time she managed to smile at me, and I will always remember it.

My mother shaped me, she gave me her personality, she taught me never to give up, for which I am eternally grateful to her.

I come out of her, for nine months she carried and nurtured me in her body, for 63 years there was not a day that we did not feel the umbilical cord between us. If I am anything, I am Maxie Niehaus’s son. I will always love her, and honour her for as long as I am in this life, and beyond.

Baie dankie my liewe Mamma. Ek is baie lief vir jou.

Your son, Carl

Carl Niehaus is a Leader of the political movement African Radical Economic Transformation Alliance (Areta)