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Words of wisdom from those who've lived through it all

Freddie and Jeanette Blom Picture: African News Agency (ANA)

Freddie and Jeanette Blom Picture: African News Agency (ANA)

Published Apr 5, 2020


Cape Town's survivors of war, genocide and the Spanish flu have sage advice as the world grapples with the grim reality of the Covid-19 pandemic.

They share an enlightened optimism and an unspoken understanding that this, too, shall pass.

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Ena Burnett, 94, is an expatriate from Scotland and when she was 18, she joined the British army.

She described her service during World War II as “pen-pushing” and “not very much really”, yet her administrative duties helped ensure sufficient staff were allocated to the local ammunitions depot to maintain production.

Now living in Fish Hoek, Burnett said her two-and-a-half years service and her experience of the war was comparable to the uncertainty due to the global coronavirus pandemic.

On the national lockdown, she said: “In our backyard we had these corrugated iron shelters which we hunkered down in during air raids and you were there and everyone else was somewhere else.

"(But) what it did was it made people proud and brought out the camaraderie and the good people and things that they did.

"The majority of people joined together and strangers greeted strangers and it was a lovely time in that way,” she added.

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Holocaust survivor Miriam Lichterman, 97, has also endured hardship. She was born in Warsaw, Poland, and survived a Nazi death camp and starvation.

She now lives in Sea Point, where she said she doesn't mind being confined indoors: “I still write and I still read... I am at home and I have plenty of food and people are calling me. I take every day as it comes.”

Jeanette Blom, 85, and her husband Freddie, who is 115 and is credited as the oldest person living in the city, stay in Delft.

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Freddie survived the Spanish flu of 1918 as well as World War II, and Jeanette said they remain in good spirits.

“We are lucky because we have family and friends who go to the shop for us,” she added.

Anti-apartheid activist and cancer survivor Denis Goldberg, 82, said he doesn’t like to live in fear or feed into those of others: “We do the best we can and we somehow get through periods of fear and uncertainty... like war, like apartheid.

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"People managed and yes, we have traumatic experiences, but somehow human beings are mostly able to deal with it and get on with their lives.”

His optimism is shared by acclaimed ballet dancer Johaar Mosaval, 92, who said he still does his own housework, adding that lockdown is the perfect time to “clean the floors properly”.

Growing up in District Six during World War II, Mosaval said food was rationed and shipped to soldiers on the front-line: “You could not even find a teacup in the store so we made mugs out of condensed milk tins.

“Food is plentiful, we are so lucky and fortunate... we do not have to worry about food because food at the moment is in abundance, unlike back then."

Weekend Argus

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