Monday, August 10, 2015



To my grandchildren

1. Getting acquainted with God’s higher ways 1
2. Don’t marry a foreigner! 7
3. Don’t get involved in politics! 13
4. The girl from Mühlacker 19
5. Love grows, where my Rosemarie goes 29
6. Miles apart 37
7. A confession with serious consequences 43
8. A final farewell? 49
9. Love the stranger as yourself 65
10. Stormy waves 73
11. Reunited 81
12. More turbulences 85
13. A honeymoon with a difference 95
Photographs 107
Appendices 119
Glossary 127

In earlier years we used to enjoy singing:
I want God’s way to be my way
As I journey here below
For there is no other highway
That a child of God should go
Though the road be steep and rough
Where He leads me ‘tis enough
I want God’s way to be my way every day
Little did I know back then that this chorus would go on to become
like an anthem over my life. Time and time again, my wife and I were
able to experience God’s clear leading in our lives - particularly on
those occasions when the road was indeed ‘steep and rough’. One of
the most rugged roads was undoubtedly the one that ultimately led
to our wedding on 22 March 1975. A by-product of choosing to walk
this road was an involuntary exile from my country of origin, forced
upon me by the apartheid legislation that was in place in South
Africa at that time.
Even before I reached adulthood, I felt that it was the rightful
responsibility of committed Christians to face the challenge of racial
reconciliation in South Africa. At a later stage I deemed this as my
special God-given duty to the country of my birth. As part of my
effort, I collated personal documents and letters, hoping to get these
published under the title Honger na Geregtigheid [Hunger for Justice].
In that manuscript I included correspondence with the apartheid era
rulers of the 1970s and 1980s, along with comment. I hoped to win
over the one or other person from the overwhelmingly Afrikaans
National Party government of the time by writing the manuscript in
our mother tongue.
A good friend in Holland, where I was living with my family
when I was collating that document, pointed out to me that the
manuscript took on too critical an angle. He felt that it lacked a sense
of genuine love and compassion towards the Afrikaner people group.
I had to concede that the manuscript was possibly an overdose of
medicine to a sick society. I went on to revamp and tone down the
Honger na Geregtigheid draft, dividing it into three smaller booklets.
The first of these would concentrate on the re-telling of personal
experiences relating to the so-called Mixed Marriages Act. I named it
Wat God saamgevoeg het [What God joined together]. This present
book is a translated, updated and expanded version of this original
collation of memories.
Looking back over almost four and a half decades since
Rosemarie and I first met, it is hard to miss the now obvious
pitfalls I allowed myself to land in at various points in my life. False
activism is one of the traps that I fell into regularly. So I wish to
very deliberately record my gratitude to the Lord for correcting me
continuously and bringing me back whenever I strayed. He used
no other person more in this than my wife Rosemarie to whom
I devoted an earlier version of this text on the occasion of her 60th
birthday. I am grateful beyond words to our Father for leading me to
such a wonderful woman.
I am also very thankful for God-fearing parents. The title of
chapter one is derived from a Bible verse (Isaiah 55:8) through which
my parents were challenged to take a step of faith regarding finances
needed to see me through my teacher training. God used this parental
obedience to set a pattern in my life. They helped me to learn from
early on to trust that God’s ways are indeed higher and much better
than anything we could ever contrive ourselves. As a vote of thanks
to them I presented memoirs with the title His higher Ways to my late
father on the occasion of his 80th birthday. Rosemarie’s late mother’s
obedience to the Master also played a pivotal role in our story. This
very special contribution is highlighted in chapter 4 of this book.
As mentioned, the original version of What God Joined Together
was written in Afrikaans. I attempted to get this published in the
early 1980s, but this did not meet with success. Nonetheless, I did
sense some satisfaction when the law that prohibited people from
different races to get married was finally repealed in 1985 (without
tangible proof that my actions contributed to that).
The death of our revered President Nelson Mandela in December
2013 brought back many fond memories, and inspired me to resume
work on this story. I hope that one day our grandchildren will be able
to read it.
Due to the nature of our story, racial terminology is used
numerous times throughout this book. I have chosen to utilize the
most commonly understood terms Black, White and ‘Coloured’ to
differentiate between the three biggest racial groups in South Africa.
I have put the word ‘Coloured’ in inverted commas and capitalized
the term, as I am aware that this classification of my own race group
has caused particular controversy over the years. I refer readers to the
glossary for explanations of Afrikaans and German words.
I wish to record my sincere gratitude to our daughter Tabitha
who edited the document to make it more readable. She also
photographed the picture of our hands on the cover of this book.
Our son Rafael proofread the final product.
I pray that many may enjoy reading about What God Joined
Together so sovereignly and particularly about how He did it so
beautifully with us.
Cape Town, March 2015

C H A P T E R 1
Until the age of about nine, the world as I knew it consisted solely
of the single square mile around our family home in the bubbling
slum-like District Six in Cape Town. As a little boy, I did not think
in my wildest dreams that I would one day get to any other country,
let alone get married to someone from a place far away. I can vividly
remember the few instances that I stepped outside the District Six
neighbourhood. What a big deal it had been for us to attend the Van
Riebeeck Festival at the docks when I was six; and what a memorable
outing it was when we watched the documentary ‘A Queen is
crowned’ at the Bijou Cinema in Salt River a year later. Although
both venues were only a few kilometers away, they were located in
another world from my perspective. The Whites living in Vredehoek
and Green Point were geographically nearby, but it may as well have
been overseas. This is how disconnected our society was at that time.
The Blacks of Windermere and Langa, represented in my world by
the coal-blackened men who brought fuel for our stove, were to be
feared and resented. The radio was something I only started listening
to after we had left District Six, and even then it was only ever to
hear rugby commentary on a Saturday afternoon.
From an early age, I made a habit of roaming all corners of
District Six. I knew the names of almost every street by the time
I was six. When Aunty Bertha Roman, our neighbour, found me in a
dark alley that I was not supposed to be in, I knew that I was in for a
double hiding – one from her and one from my mother. “Sit die hond
agter haar!” I retorted ingenuously, telling my friends to let the dog go
after her. It was thus with great relief to my parents that I could start
my schooling career at Zinzendorf Primary School in Arundel Street.
Through God’s grace, possibly also as an answer to the prayer of my
parents, we moved away from the area where I had already started
mingling with the wrong folk.
As a mere fifteen year old teenage boy, I started to become
acquainted with the idea of a sovereign God. My then best friend
Nicholas Dirks invited me along to an open-air rally, where Dr
Oswald Smith, a prominent Canadian evangelist at the time, was
the main speaker. Amongst a crowd of a few thousand faces, I found
myself feeling deeply challenged by the evangelist who beckoned
us to ‘come to the Cross.’ However, due to a lack of discipling that
would have helped me to pursue a relationship with God, my spiritual
growth was stifled. It was only when I visited the DRC Sendingkerk
[Mission Church] in Tiervlei (now called Ravensmead) that I was
freshly challenged to wholeheartedly put God first in my life. I also
realized at this occasion that this might mean putting other passions
aside to better align myself with God’s will for my life. The pastor
of the church there, Dominee Piet Bester, subsequently took on a
mentoring role in my life. He was also the one who got me interested
in missionary work. Raised as a ‘Coloured’ in apartheid South Africa,
I never considered that I would ever end up in another country,
though – no more so for missionary purposes.
As far as my education was concerned, it was always clear that
after completing secondary school, I would go on to be trained as a
teacher. Many members of my extended family were practicing this
profession and it seemed to be the obvious choice for me as well.
However, the financial situation at home was a major constraint, so
it was decided that I would go and work after Matric to enable my
older brother Kenneth to complete his two-year teacher training
at the prestigious Hewat Teacher Training College. After a few
unsuccessful attempts at finding white-collar clerical work, which
was as a rule reserved for ‘Whites’ in the apartheid era, I settled for a
menial job, cleaning machines at the Nasionale Boekhandel printing
works in Parow. After working there for only a few weeks, I came
home one late afternoon and learned that I, like my brother before me,
had been accepted as a trainee at Hewat Teacher Training College.
I was quite surprised when my parents disclosed to me that
they felt I should go to Hewat despite the absence of funds for
this. Our mom had been challenged by that day’s ‘watchword’ from
the Moravian textbook. It read, “My ways are not your ways ...”
(Isaiah 55:8).
My parents wanted to trust God to see us through financially for
that critical first year of teacher training. This was quite exceptional,
as “faith ventures” were fairly unknown in the ‘Coloured’ society of
South Africa and even more so in the Moravian Church of the 1960s.
However, their faith was completely vindicated. Looking back,
I believe that God used this parental obedience to set a pattern in
my life, in helping me discover that God’s ways are indeed higher
than our own.
After completing the two-year teaching diploma at Hewat,
I landed my first teaching post at Bellville South High School.
I was actually qualified as a primary school teacher, but was offered
a position due to the dearth of high school teachers at the time.
I taught there from 1965-1968, whilst simultaneously doing some
part-time studies towards a B.A. degree.
While I was still completing my teacher training, an inner
longing to also become a pastor began to tug at my heart. Chris
Wessels, a young pastor who had preached in our church, had
challenged me to take up theological studies, but I was adamant that
the Lord should call me clearly and personally if becoming a pastor
was in line with His plan for my life.
The decision to wait for His divine calling did not in any way
lessen my involvement in evangelistic work. I myself had started
preaching at youth services from the age of fifteen, still looking like
a primary school boy, and soon began inviting teens from other
denominations to preach at our local Moravian youth services.
Through a mutual friend, I managed to get Allan Boesak, who
would later become an extremely prominent political activist, to speak
at one of our youth services. Allan’s dedication to the Lord made
a deep impression on me. When he mentioned the ‘stranddienste’
[beach services] of the SCA (Students Christian Association)
he sowed important seed on the fertile soil of my heart. The SCA got
Christians from different denominations together to evangelize. One
of their big projects involved students sharing God’s love to guests at
beach resorts during the Christmas holidays. ‘Coloured’ students were
assigned to Harmony Park near Gordon’s Bay and I had no hesitation
in signing up for this event, which started every year on Boxing Day
(26 December).
As I was getting ready for this outreach, I suddenly began to
panic when I realized that I was not at all equipped for a task like
this. I felt so spiritually empty myself. How was I going to evangelize
in this condition? In desperation I cried to the Lord to meet me
anew. I had nothing to share with anybody - unless God would
fill me with His Spirit. And that He did. Something supernatural
happened that day. In one brief moment I felt touched and lifted
from the feeling of complete barrenness. I was suddenly energized
and keen to join the other young folk in Harmony Park.
The sense of unity and love of the young vibrant believers, who
came from different church backgrounds, was a completely new
experience for me. As we joined together in the outreach, there
seemed to be some very special power at work. I was spiritually set on
fire and the experience changed my life completely.
After this, I started to consider God’s potential call on my life
into full time service more prayerfully. I put it before the Lord time
and time again that I was fully prepared to proceed with theological
studies if this was His calling.
At the beginning of 1968, one of my teenage heroes, Reverend
Ivan Wessels, contracted leukemia. He passed away a few weeks later
in his hospital bed at Groote Schuur. He had been such a prominent
and influential figure in our community that almost the entire
Moravian Church establishment gathered in the suburb of Lansdowne
for the funeral. The church had lost one of its great sons, and South
Africa as a whole had lost one of its unsung fighters for justice. Bishop
Schaberg challenged the funeral assembly: “Who is called to fill the
gap caused by our deceased brother?” I felt personally addressed. Back
home in Tiervlei after the funeral, it was not difficult for me to say,
“Lord, I’m prepared to be used by you to help fill the void.”
The next day we went to the mission station Pella for a Sunday
School Conference. I was completely surprised when a member
of our church board approached me with the question of whether
I would be interested in a bursary for theological studies in Germany.
I was overawed by the perfect timing of the Lord! If this offer had
been put to me a few days previously, I might have declined it.
The temptation to study abroad would have been very attractive,
but I wanted to be absolutely sure that it was God’s call. I told the
minister that I saw this as clear confirmation of the call of the Lord
the previous day.
Barely a few months later, I was packing my bags for the great
trip abroad.
C H A P T E R 2
D O N ’ T M A R R Y A F O R E I G N E R !
In the meantime, a girl called Rosemarie was born in the South
of Germany and was raised in a world so utterly different to mine.
Yet this very girl would one day cry out to God that “it would be the
greatest miracle of all if I were to marry Ashley Cloete one day.”
A true miracle is exactly what it would be. One that bears witness
to a God who is capable of so much more than we can ever imagine.
Rosemarie and her sister Waltraud grew up as typical ‘post war’
children, with their parents often recalling their traumatic experiences
of the war at home. A constant fear existed in their young hearts that
another war could break out any time. Around the age of four, little
Rosemarie was sometimes too afraid to go to the bathroom alone,
fearing that the next war might break out right then.
One of the greatest dreams of Rosemarie’s father, who had
climbed the ladder to a respectable position in the regional revenue
office, was to own his own house. In order for this to be financially
possible, her mother took a secretarial position at a school. As little
children, the two sisters were left in the care of young women who
were employed as housekeepers in their home. When Rosemarie
got to primary school age, she and her older sister became latchkey
children; each one of them had a key to the house around their necks,
with nobody to welcome them when they came home from school.
Growing up, Rosemarie and her older sister Waltraud often
witnessed their parents in conflict. These disputes were usually evoked
by the differences in their respective upbringings and their very
different views on life. Not understanding what the conflict was all
about, Rosemarie often feared that her parents might get a divorce.
Throughout her childhood and teenage years, Rosemarie battled
with the tension she felt between wanting to respect and obey her
father with his somewhat rigid views on life, and the desire to forge
her own ways, and create her own opinions. She was well-aware
that her father wanted only what was best for his daughters, but also
learnt that his idea of what was best may have been tainted by the
unusual circumstances surrounding his upbringing.
To put things into perspective, let me share with you a little
bit about the background of Rosemarie’s parents. Franz Göbel,
Rosemarie’s father, grew up in the small town of Weißwasser in
Silesia, a region in the east of Germany. During World War II, this
part of Germany was taken over by communist-ruled Czechoslovakia,
causing his family to flee to southern Germany. In the environment
in which he had grown up, Adolf Hitler was regarded as the ‘Führer’
who provided solutions for all of the country’s problems. Rosemarie’s
father, along with most of his community, was thus very much
influenced by Nazi indoctrination. Years later, he still regularly
defended the Nazis in conversation, even referring to what he
termed “the exaggerated numbers asserted to have been killed” in
the gas chambers.
Rosemarie’s mother Erika (née Marte), on the other hand, came
from the city of Stuttgart with a completely different upbringing.
She had been one of the best in the class academically, privileged as
a girl to attend school right up to the ‘Abitur’. She was, however, not
allowed to proceed onto higher education due to her refusal to join
the Hitler youth. Her family had been critical of Adolf Hitler and his
regime, and as a family the Martes respected Jews. Aside from this,
the war had left Erika deeply traumatized in another very direct way;
their house had been bombed when she was a young adult, and this
was how she had lost her mother.
Erika was ‘evangelisch’, i.e. she was a member of the Lutheran
State Church. Rosemarie’s father, however, had been raised as a
Roman Catholic. In a general atmosphere of mutual distrust between
the two big German ecclesiastic denominations, Rosemarie’s parents
dared to get married nonetheless. They had mutually agreed that any
children in the marriage would be raised as Protestants, not Catholics.
After fleeing to southern Germany, Rosemarie’s father’s family
had found refuge at a former monastery in the small village of
Maulbronn. The former Protestant monastery was used to welcome
war refugees from both big church denominations. Rosemarie’s
parents were very happy when they were allowed to stay on in the
accommodation section of the monastery as a young couple. Housing
for families was very scarce in Germany at this time, and they were
grateful to find a solace there.
From a young age, Rosemarie had been an avid reader, and
often used the time alone at home after school to catch up on some
literature. But their father felt that reading was no pastime for young
girls, so this became something she had to do in secret. It took many
years for Rosemarie to overcome the sense of guilt and secrecy she
felt while reading books. Still, it was largely through the literature she
read that Rosemarie gained more and more compassion towards the
Jews as a people. This was of course much to the dismay of her father.
As far as Rosemarie’s faith journey is concerned, Rosemarie was
well-aware of spiritual matters from a young age. In her own words:
I recall my mother telling us Bible stories from an early age. Even as a
child, I suffered from feelings of guilt because I felt that I could not live
a life which lived up to God’s expectations. Very early in my life I had
the secret wish to become a missionary one day, although I also had the
impression that I could never remain faithful and steadfast if I would
be required to suffer persecution.
While still at primary school, I was confronted at a camp of the
Liebenzeller Mission to accept Jesus as my personal Saviour.
I experienced this step as a relief, to know that I was at last a child of
God. The verse from Isaiah 43:1 “I called you by your name, you are
mine...”, which was given to me at that occasion, carried me through
into my teenage years, when the worldly things began to attract me
As Rosemarie approached the age of fourteen, she attended
confirmation classes, as was customary for teens in the Lutheran
State Church. The classes themselves were not particularly gripping
or challenging. For the final confirmation event in the church,
the pastor requested the learners to randomly pick a card with
a Bible verse from a box, which was to become their respective
‘Konfirmandenspruch’ on the special day. Rosemarie picked
Psalm 93:4; a verse that would become deeply meaningful to
Rosemarie. “Mightier than the thunders of many waters, mightier
than the waves of the sea, the Lord on high is mighty!” In later years
she was often reminded of these words when it seemed as if she
would ‘drown’ in yet another wave of life’s turbulent storms.
Rosemarie’s liberal Religious Studies teacher in secondary school
seemed to attempt to counter other spiritual influences in her life. It
was not easy for Rosemarie to stand firm in her faith when the teacher
peppered them with critical perspectives on the Bible. Similarly,
she needed steadfastness at home as she continued to gain a lot of
sympathy for the Jews, opposing any influence her father tried to exert.
Rosemarie wanted to study physiotherapy, but this would mean
moving to the town of Tübingen for her studies, and her father did
not like that one bit. Besides the expense of studying there, there were
too many foreign students in that university town for his liking. The
thought of his daughter potentially meeting someone who was non-
German seemed too great a risk. He had his own ideas about what
his future son-in-law should be like. His negative experiences with
southern European foreigners as part of his work in the civil service
seemed to confirm all the prejudices he had picked up as a receptive
young boy. Thus Rosemarie and her sister were requested to make a
promise that they would get married only to a German. Although she
had not met many foreigners in her life up to that point, Rosemarie
refused to commit to any promise along those lines. She did not refuse
so much out of conviction, but she just felt that she should not bind
herself in such a way. When Papa Göbel scathingly mentioned that
she also better not marry a pastor, she once again refused to oblige.
As she was not allowed to study physiotherapy, she settled for her
second vocational choice, studying to become an ‘Erzieherin’, which
would officially qualify her to become either a kindergarten teacher
or a support worker in a children’s home. This training brought her to
the city of Stuttgart in 1967, the very city where I would spend much
of the year 1969.
C H A P T E R 3
D O N ’ T G E T I N V O LV E D
I N P O L I T I C S !
I cannot say that preparations for Germany were my biggest priority
in the months leading up to my scheduled departure. I was teaching
and simultaneously completing studies towards a B.A. degree.
In the summer vacation at the end of the year, I hopped from one
youth camp to the next instead of trying to get my knowledge of the
German language on par.
Just before my departure in January 1969, the same bishop who
had challenged me so much at that funeral a few months before,
warned me earnestly to stay clear of politics whilst in Germany. It
was rumoured that agents of the apartheid government were also well
represented overseas.
While I had been teaching in Bellville from 1965-68, I had
tried to instill the idea of racial equality among my pupils. I would
repeatedly tell them, “We are not inferior to Whites but also not
superior to Blacks”. Therefore it was quite consistent when I opposed
my teacher colleagues who were only clamoring for salary parity with
Whites. I made myself unpopular, suggesting that we should rather
fight for salary parity with Blacks. I was, however, not aware how
deep-seated notions were in South African ‘Coloured’ society – yes,
even in my own heart.
The acid test started the moment I left South African shores in
January 1969. Although there was no apartheid on the steamboat
called the Pendennis Castle1, I felt so inferior that I did not dare
to use the swimming pool while the Whites were still in the water.
In Germany a few weeks later, I was shocked when a very dark
- complexioned West African from Togo entered the room at a
conference that I attended as a guest. My immediate thought was,
“What is he doing here?” I conveniently over-looked that I, too, was a
guest who was foreign in the context.
I thought I had completely overcome my inculcated racism
after being in Europe for about one and a half years, when I was
suddenly caught off-guard walking through a subway. A racially
mixed couple was walking in my direction, affectionately and
unashamedly holding hands. My immediate reaction was, “Are they
not afraid of being arrested for contravening the Immorality Act?”
In later years, these personal experiences helped me to have more
understanding for other people who wrestled with deep-seated
racial or national prejudices.
As a native speaker of the Germanic language Afrikaans, and
having taken a year of German in my degree studies, I was soon quite
fluent in the language. Being a South African of colour meant that
I soon gained some renown in the southern German countryside
and I was invited to speak about South Africa at various events.
1. Travelling by air was still financially out of bounds for the general public.
The church paid my ticket.
I spoke about the ‘unique problems’ of the country, which I defined
as the apartheid government policy, the disunity of the churches
and alcoholism. The Lord blessed me with insights that turned
out to be quite prophetic. I suggested prayer as a solution to the
problems - I believed fervently in the power of prayer, although I was
never a great intercessor myself. This was obviously the result of the
mentorship and teaching of Dominee Piet Bester and the influence
of a few fervent intercessors of Moria Sendingkerk.
Without making a particular effort, I initially heeded Bishop
Schaberg’s warning not to get involved in politics. However, a
letter from my parents in mid-1969 changed all this in an instant.
It shocked me out of my wits to hear that our family had been
served with a notice stating that we had to leave our property in
Tiervlei under the guise of ‘slum clearance’. Before I left South
Africa, we had heard a rumour that our property (the house we
lived in and the surrounding piece of vacant land which was
suitable for development) had been offered to a businessman from
Bellville South. Considering that our solid brick house by no
means resembled the shacks which one thought would qualify for
slum clearance, we realized that the rumour which we had initially
brushed off as unfounded, was true in all likelihood.
What really enraged me about my mother’s letter was the fact
that she mentioned something about “the will of the Lord”. I simply
could not see it that way! In my eyes, this was nothing but a blatant
wanton move by the Parow Municipality. I felt strongly that this
would never have been allowed if it hadn’t been for the unjust
apartheid-inspired government practices.
In my anger, I stopped just short of joining the armed struggle
against the apartheid government. I chose instead to write a strong
letter of protest to the Parow Municipality. I couldn’t care less if
the government would withdraw my passport or apply any other
punitive measure and I almost invited the folk at the municipality
to pass the information I had sent in the letter on to the authorities
in Pretoria.
Sadly, the protest letter did not have any visible effect. A few
months after writing it, whilst I was still in Germany, my family
was forced to leave our home. My parents moved to the mission
station Elim, which was at that time the southern-most village
on the African continent. My father became a sort of ‘migrant
labourer’, going home to Elim to be with his wife one weekend per
month. This, combined with the stress of losing our property for
which he had worked so hard, became too much for him. It affected
his heart and he had to go into early retirement.
When my parents moved to Elim, fewer visible reminders and
bits of news about me reached the Tiervlei community where they
had lived. With this, the support from the prayer warriors there
began to lessen. During this time of the move to Elim, and in my
bitterness surrounding that situation, much of my initial missionary
zeal petered out. Instead, I became almost reckless in my opposition
to the South African government. I was very critical of the regime,
and did not withhold my opinion in public utterances. I justified
the strong resentment I felt and implied that I had every right to
feel that way. The only constraint with regard to the content of my
speeches on South Africa was a moral and religious one. I did want
to act responsibly as a follower of Jesus in everything I did.

C H A P T E R 4
I had just turned twenty-three when I left South Africa.
Romances started to play a bigger role in my life as all around me my
peers were now getting married. Yet I was quite determined not to
fall in love in Germany. I firmly intended to return to South Africa
to make a meaningful contribution to racial reconciliation in one
way or another. Because of the prevalent laws, marrying a German
would have meant not being able to return to my home country.
I felt committed to a task and commission which I deemed to be
waiting for me in South Africa, feeling that I could make a greater
contribution there than anywhere else. As a result, I did not want to
remain in Europe too long.
I regarded my stay in Europe primarily as an opportunity to
study, but it was also combined with missionary zeal. At almost every
occasion when I was asked to speak, I would talk about the role of the
SCA in my life, citing their motto ‘Make Jesus King’. Some Germans
were quite shocked by this notion. How could their ‘Christian’
country appear to be in need of missionaries from Africa? I immersed
myself whole-heartedly in ministry, embracing all opportunities I was
given to speak at various events.
My resolve not to fall in love with any German girl was
strengthened after a few weeks in Europe when I visited the village
of Selbitz for an event at a Protestant institution which had all the
hallmarks of a monastery. The lifestyle of these Christians challenged
me to consider a celibate life, something with which I had not been
confronted before. However, I knew myself too well. I didn’t want
to stay single for the rest of my life, so I settled for a compromise:
I dedicated my ‘youth’ to the Lord, intending to stay a bachelor until
the age of thirty. But alas! God’s ways are not our ways.
In May 1970 a dark-haired beauty by the name of Rosemarie
walked into my life. I fell in love as never before. I first set my eyes
on Rosemarie when she came to the Christian Encounter youth
group with her student colleague and close friend Elke Maier. I had
been frequenting the Wednesday evening youth group for some
time. Being a first-time visitor, she stood up and introduced herself
to the group as “Rosemarie Göbel from Mühlacker”. Her beauty
immediately made an impression on me. There was something special
about her, and something comfortingly familiar in that long black
hair which was a rarity amongst German girls. I was intrigued.
As soon as the formalities of the evening were over, I darted over
to the mysterious girl from Mühlacker and started to make small talk.
My interest in her only grew when I discovered that her personality
perfectly matched her outer beauty. When I came home that evening,
I bubbled over in excitement, immediately wanting to tell my two
roommates in Stuttgart about this Rosemarie Göbel from Mühlacker.
On my side, this was as close to ‘love at first sight’ as it could get.
Rosemarie had stayed over with Elke in Stuttgart that night as
she was planning to attend the big ‘Ludwig Hofacker Konferenz’ the
next day. Incidentally I, too, was planning to attend the conference
with a group of student colleagues. It seemed more than mere coincidence
that we entered at the same entrance of the huge Killesberg
auditorium at just the same moment amidst hundreds of people.
In child-like fashion, I abandoned the group of student colleagues
I had entered with to take my chance of getting to know Rosemarie
a little bit better. Without too much thought, I accompanied her
and Elke to their seats and remained there for the first half of the
conference. This gave us the chance to converse amiably.
I was dismayed when Rosemarie did not return to her seat next
to me after the lunch break. As we had not had an opportunity to
exchange addresses or telephone numbers, Rosemarie stepped out of
my life again as quickly as she had entered it.
I later learned that Elke was not so pleased with the fact that
Rosemarie was talking to me so much during the conference,
almost ignoring her entirely in the process. Out of allegiance to her
friend, Rosemarie chose not to return to her seat next to me, and
sat somewhere else with Elke instead. Because of this, Rosemarie
and I lost contact with each other after the conference. During the
European summer holidays, Rosemarie again attended the Christian
Encounter youth group in Stuttgart where we had met the first time,
but this happened to fall on a day on which I was not present.
At this time, Rosemarie had a choice of two centres where she
could do the practical part of her training. The difference between
the two institutions was stark. At the Ludwigsburger Höhe, she
could have had a brand new ultra-modern flat at her disposal, but in
Stuttgart at the School for the Blind, she would be confronted with
difficult work and a tiny room. After praying about it, she knew she
had to take the latter option although the conditions would be clearly
inferior. How happy I am that she opted to stay in Stuttgart.
Months later, almost simultaneously with my Greek exam which
took place two weeks before my scheduled return to South Africa,
Rosemarie entered into my life once more. To my delight she joined
the Christian Encounter youth group again that evening, when we
were attending an evangelistic campaign in a marquee in another
suburb. I immediately spotted her coming in with others who had
not been aware of the change of venue that evening. The meeting had
already started at this point.
Our youth leader asked us to meet briefly after the end of the
meeting to discuss an outreach event the following Saturday. As
I sat there listening to the announcements and discussion, she was
sitting in the row in front of me. I resolved not to lose contact with
her again. Fearing I might never see her again, I resorted to a rather
unconventional method; I scribbled my number onto a piece of paper
and quietly passed it to her. Rosemarie was, however, not impressed
by this gesture! She was to call him? This was not exactly her idea of
gentlemanly behaviour!
As it turned out, my second-rate action had actually been rather
unnecessary. Rosemarie had gotten a lift to the event with the
leader of the Christian Encounter group and I noticed her standing
outside waiting for him after the meeting. I shouted out her name
and offered her a ride. There were already three other people in the
Volkswagen Beetle I was in, but of course there was still plenty of
space for that particular young lady!
My assertive roommate was also in the car with us on the way
home and he chatted with Rosemarie in a manner that made me
suspect that he, too, might be interested in her. As we were walking
to our college the next day, this particular roommate of mine boasted
that the beautiful Rosemarie Göbel had waved at him when they
had dropped her off at the school for the blind. I may have burst his
bubble a little when I simply asked him whether he knew for sure
that it was him she was waving at.
The answer to that question came the next day, when Rosemarie
called me as per my request. It turned out that this had not been
an easy decision for her. She felt a little put off by my forward
manner, asking her to call me, but she had thoroughly enjoyed my
conversation at the conference in May, and eventually decided to give
me the benefit of the doubt. We chatted quite a bit over the phone
that day and we seemed to have a real connection. I invited her to
attend an event hosted by the Wycliffe Bible Translators due to take
place that very evening. Her reaction was astounding; “I’ve wanted to
become a missionary since my childhood!” To me this was the clear
confirmation that I wanted nobody else as my future wife.
Rosemarie, though keen to attend, was unsure about whether
she would be able to make it. She had a late shift at the School for
the Blind that day, and wasn’t sure if she’d be able to get someone to
stand in for her. I assumed that this had to have been the case when
I could not spot her at the event that evening. When things started to
drag on a bit towards the end, I signaled to my roommate, who had
taken a seat on the stage as a volunteer (he enjoyed the limelight),
that I was going to head back to our room, implying that he should
make his own way back.
Hours later, when I was already in bed, he eagerly told me about
the exciting evening he had just had. From the stage, he had spotted
Rosemarie coming in late and after the meeting they had talked. Not
only did they apparently talk “for ages”, but they then walked to the
tram station together. The tram didn’t arrive as promptly as usual, so
they spent quite some time waiting.
I struggled to get back to sleep after that! The picture of the two
of them spending hours together late into the night kept playing
over and over in my mind. I was so confused. Just that morning
she seemed to have shown such interest in me when we spoke over
the phone. And now she had spent so much time with my ‘player’
roommate? Had I been wrong about her?
The next day I resolved to find out once and for all what was
going on. I knew that I was in love with her, this much was sure.
How she felt about me, however, remained a mystery. I gave her a
call to ask her if I could meet her at the train station that afternoon.
I knew that she was due to go home to her parents in Mühlacker that
weekend. I was thankful when she agreed.
We met at the Schlosspark, a romantic park close to the station,
and spent some time together in conversation. I was overcome by
how much I admired Rosemarie to the point where I could no longer
keep my feelings to myself. I verbally confessed to Rosemarie right
then; “Ich liebe dich” [I love you].
Rosemarie responded by laying her head on my shoulder. With a
deep sigh she said, “Oh, Ashley”. Her body language conceded that
the feelings were mutual.
However, with a heavy heart, she went on to tell me that her
parents would not be happy with us entering into a relationship.
That same Friday evening, she went to a symphony concert with
her mother. During the interval Rosemarie told her mother about
her love for me, an African student. The concerned Mrs Göbel knew
that the situation could cause a crisis at home. Fearing an explosion
from her husband, she immediately opposed the relationship and
requested Rosemarie not to meet me again. In her heart, Rosemarie
was unhappy about this development, but her mom persisted and
my darling was more or less forced to agree. Under no circumstance
should her father hear about our relationship. He had made his
opinion clear to her in the past. Had he not warned her never to get
involved with a foreigner or a pastor? And there I was pursuing his
daughter - an African, in training to become a pastor.
Rosemarie respected her mother’s wish not to meet up with me
before my return to South Africa. Thankfully, Mrs Göbel did allow us
to phone each other. Her reasoning was that with me leaving so soon,
it was unlikely that things would get serious enough for her husband
to ever have to find out. Because Rosemarie was now no longer
staying at home, she was able to phone me without anyone knowing.
We spoke on the phone almost every day during those two weeks.
All local calls were charged one unit, irrespective of the duration,
so we made the most of it with very lengthy phone calls and we
got to know each other fairly well. In fact, we spent so much time
on the phone that the fellow students at my boarding house soon
complained that I was blocking the line!
Rosemarie was not permitted to attend my farewell at the
Christian Encounter group. That evening I taught the young
Germans two choruses, ‘My Lord can do anything’ and ‘By u is daar
niks onmoontlik Heer’ [Nothing is impossible with you, Lord].
I chose these two songs without thinking much about the content.
Yet these two choruses would go on to mean such a lot to Rosemarie
and myself in the months that followed. We made an audio recording
of the valedictory youth meeting by means of a recent technological
advance; the cassette tape. I promptly sent Rosemarie the recording
of the evening’s proceedings. In this way she could also learn the
two choruses that I had taught the youth group. The two choruses
contained the same message: For our Lord, who can do anything -
nothing is impossible.
From an objective perspective, the future development of our
intense mutual love seemed hopeless. I was about to head back to my
country of origin for good, and besides that, Rosemarie’s father would
have prohibited the relationship in any case. We had no option but to
stick to our faith that our Lord can do anything.
A foretaste of the miracle that was still to happen occurred
just prior to my departure. When Rosemarie went home again
the next weekend, her mom gave her permission to see me once
more. Rosemarie joined me at a performance of Händel’s Oratorio
‘Messiah’. We were thoroughly blessed when we listened to the words
from the prophet Isaiah almost at the outset: “Every valley shall be
exalted...” We looked at each other eagerly and lovingly, applying
the promise to our personal circumstances. How we longed for a
fulfilment of the verse from Scripture in our situation!
Mrs Göbel allowed Rosemarie to accompany me to Stuttgart
airport with my roommates. But we were not happy when our
scheduled time together at the airport was cut short, because I was
required to take an earlier flight to get to Frankfurt. The flight from
Stuttgart to Frankfurt was the very first time I experienced the inside
of an aircraft.
From Frankfurt, I phoned Rosemarie one last time. We prayed
together on the phone, concluding the two special weeks by singing
and encouraging each other. The words ‘My Lord can do anything’
and ‘By u is daar niks onmoontlik Heer’ gave us a sense of hope when
our circumstances seemed to be so heavily against us. Yes, in faith
we trusted that God would deal with our two major hindrances:
The objection of her parents to our relationship as well as the legal
prohibition of it in my home country of South Africa.

C H A P T E R 5
L O V E G R O W S , W H E R E M Y
When I returned to South Africa in October 1970, I had no doubt
that Rosemarie Göbel was the girl I wanted to marry. My resolve and
determination not to get involved in a relationship that could lead
to marriage whilst in Germany were thus effectively dashed. A new
resolve grew in my heart. I wanted to fight the law that prevented her
from coming to join me in South Africa.
During this time, I was starting to get ready to attend the
Moravian Seminary as a full-time student from the beginning of the
next year. In the meantime, I took up a teaching post at Alexander
Sinton High School in Athlone, substituting for a teacher who was in
hospital during the last school quarter of 1970.
I was so excited about my new-found romantic relationship that
I latched onto every opportunity to narrate our special story. Even
many a learner at school had to hear it. When one of them pointed
out to me that there was a pop song doing the rounds with the words
Love grows where my Rosemary goes, my heart resonated in agreement.
In the first few weeks, our airmail letters flew to-and-fro between
Cape Town and Stuttgart in quick succession. I wrote about almost
everything that I was doing, writing at railway stations and on trains,
reading and re-reading her letters in all sorts of places.
But it was also not long before I was swept along by the race
politics of the day. How eager I was to get going with the task of
working towards racial reconciliation in my dearly beloved home
country. Already in Germany I had decided that, once back in South
Africa, one of the first things I would do was to join the Christian
Institute (CI). This was an organisation which stood up against
apartheid by uniting Christians of different races.
Influenced by my intensive reading about the experiences of
Martin Luther King in his battle for racial equality in the southern
states of the USA, I had a plan of action ready. I believed that
we should demonstrate our unity in Christ as people of different
races visibly, and be prepared to suffer the consequences, if needed.
In concrete terms, that meant being ready to be arrested in
contravention of immoral racist laws.
At the CI in Mowbray I linked up with Paul Joemat, my
fellow Moravian rebel soulmate. There we hoped to connect with
other young people who shared our vision of actively opposing the
unchristian apartheid policies. At the very first meeting with other
young people linked to the CI, I suggested that we could take a
train ride jointly, entering into a ‘non-White’ carriage and then walk
through to the White side together. This rebellious gesture could
very well have led to imprisonment, but we were ready to embarrass
the government in that way. Unfortunately, the White compatriots
disagreed, pointing out that it was CI policy to stay within the limits
of the laws of the country.
Paul and I had been rather naïve to expect that other young
people would also be prepared to be arrested. I was disillusioned,
because the basic tenet of my reasoning fell away: I believed fervently
that doing things together as believers from different races would be
the most effective opposition to apartheid. It was also my conviction
that our united opposition had to be visible, and that it would include
the contravention of the deplorable race laws. I discovered that I was
probably expecting too much for the bulk of middle-class Whites in
1970. Even in the ‘Coloured’ society of the day, landing in prison -
even for a good cause - still had too much of a stigma attached to it.
Paul and I subsequently stopped attending the CI youth meetings.
Though I was not at all ready to give up the fight against
apartheid, emotionally I was preoccupied with my intercontinental
romantic relationship. For quite a while I was not actively involved
in trying to bring about racial reconciliation. In fact, I was so much
ablaze in my love for Rosemarie that I was already planning my
return to Germany to see her again as soon as possible.
I caused self-inflicted problems over in Germany, as I had been
quite outspoken there about my desire to return to South Africa
to serve my people. In a newsletter to friends in Germany dated
22 December 1970, I wrote from my parents’ new home after their
relocation to the mission station Elim:
I can already hear your question: You always asserted that you see your
duty in South Africa and now you have fallen in love with a German?
I defended myself in the same newsletter with some clever semantics:
It is not so much that I fell in love, but that GOD granted us this
exceptional love.
I pointed out in that newsletter that if I had had my own way,
I would have returned to South Africa much earlier and then we
would not have met each other again two weeks before my return in
October 1970, after we had initially lost contact with each other.
During that same December visit to Elim, I divulged my romance
with Rosemarie to my cousin John Ulster. He was the minister and
superintendent of the mission station at the time and it was he who
pointed out the obvious to me; I would have to choose between
South Africa and Rosemarie. However, I was adamant that I wanted
both. This must have sounded really stupid and naïve. Marriage
between a White and someone from another race was completely
out of the question in our country. I was, however, too much in love
to give her up that easily. I was determined to fight to get Rosemarie
into South Africa though the idea sounded crazy to everybody else.
As Rosemarie was still residing at the School for the Blind in
Stuttgart at this time, we could correspond without her parents getting
upset about it. Rosemarie initially kept the promise to withhold the
information from her father but she did share it with Waltraud, her
only sister. Waltraud was engaged to Dieter Braun at that point and
everything was set for their wedding a few months later.
Many acquaintances on either side of the equator were rather
sceptical about our relationship, waiting for the novelty of our newfound
love to wear off as time would go by. For my part, I did not
feel a need to prove anything, though. I was so sure of our strong
love. Rosemarie, however, experienced intense loneliness. Besides her
friend Elke, nobody seemed to show any understanding. She wrote in
one of her letters:
Yes, Schatz, I have experienced so many disappointments from people
from whom I had expected it the least. I could even say that everybody
to whom I have spoken about you reacted in a negative way, believers
and non-believers alike. Often it is very difficult because they use
arguments which I can’t counter... Often I have to hear, “Your love will
cease, especially when the physical circumstances will wear you down.”
Had Rosemarie’s friends read my letters to her, those sentiments
would have been confirmed. I gave Rosemarie heartaches with my
naïve ‘honesty’, for example writing about girls in Cape Town that
I liked, but who could never match up to my darling in Germany.
When she received interest from local young men, who also
hoped that she would forget about the African young man as time
would go by, she gave me the same bitter medicine. I was, however,
too naïve to sense any danger. With the money I was earning through
my teaching, I wanted to visit her as soon as possible. I knew that
the advice of my cousin John Ulster was realistic; I had to choose.
I could not have both the girl and the country I loved. Nevertheless,
I somehow still hoped to bring Rosemarie into my beloved fatherland.
There was, of course, also that other rather large snag: Rosemarie’s
father still didn’t know about our relationship. The secrecy became
almost unbearable to my darling. We so much desired to live as
children of the Light. She knew that sooner or later, she would have to
tell her father the truth. On Christmas Day 1970, Rosemarie wrote:
I had thought I’d wait to tell my father about us until certain things
would have changed in his life. However, I can’t wait any longer
because I can’t bear this responsibility. I know how he thinks. It could
very well be that he will forbid me to write to you.
There was a foretaste of the possible reaction from her father a
few days later, when Rosemarie was all set to leave for a week long
youth conference in the village of Liebenzell taking place at the end
of 1970. The village, situated in the Black Forest, is well known in
Southern Germany because of the mission agency located there. Her
father warned her; “Just see to it that you don’t fall in love with a
missionary. Otherwise you may still end up in Africa or who knows
where, just to be thrown out by the native inhabitants.”
She expected him to explode if he heard that his daughter was
already in love with someone interested in missionary work, and one
who is in fact a native African! My darling was in complete desperation
as she left for the conference. At the conference itself, her desperation
worsened. My ‘Schatz’ [darling] thought that she had no choice but to
let go of me. The last day at the short conference in Liebenzell was a
red-letter day for her. On the 5th of January, 1971 she wrote:
There are many letters which I had started to write but tore up again,
because I discovered that I wasn’t being honest. Then I started to pray,
but I somehow couldn’t get further than “Lord, you see how I love him.
Surely you can’t expect me to release him?” But I knew that this was
exactly what God wanted from me; to be prepared to let go of you. In
the night, I couldn’t sleep because I was completely frustrated. The mere
idea of a sacrifice almost drove me to insanity. And yet I knew, to find
peace again, I had to get through all this.
Then she went on to write victoriously:
… I sensed the power of Jesus so that at last I could say: “Yes, Lord,
I want to be completely obedient to you. I will give Ashley back to you
if you require this from me.” Thereafter I found inner peace and I knew
that I would tell my father about you the same day.
With this sense of peace at heart, Rosemarie returned to their home
in Mühlacker, determined to tell her father about our relationship
that same day. As much as the thought of possibly losing me hurt
her, she knew that choosing her own ways over those of God was
ultimately going to hurt her even more. But somehow, she could not
bring herself to act on her intention to tell her father about her love
for me, an African theological student, right away.

C H A P T E R 6
In January of 1971, I bumped into my former Afrikaans teacher, Mr
Adam Pick. He was now the principal of Elswood High School. My
reputation as an ‘above average’ Mathematics teacher had somehow
done the rounds and he promptly asked me to come and teach at his
school. This came as a bit of an unexpected temptation, as prior to this
I had already made the decision to resign from the teaching profession
to pursue theological studies. Being a Moravian himself, however, he
knew that the seminary I intended to attend had just moved to Cape
Town after the Group Areas expropriation of the church’s property in
Port Elizabeth. He sowed seed into my heart, suggesting that I could
also study theology part-time. This is exactly what I decided to do.
I soon took up a full-time teaching post at Elswood High School in
Elsies River, making it clear that I would only be teaching for a year.
Thereafter I wanted to study theology full-time.
My parents were now living in Elim and my sister and her family
resided quite far from the school in Elsies River where I would teach.
I needed accommodation in that vicinity. Mr Pick introduced me to
a family that owned a 3 by 3 metre outside room with one double
bed that I would share with my brother Windsor. On the inside of
the door I hung my most important possession, a photograph of
my beloved Rosemarie. I especially made use of the picture for our
regular Sunday 10 p.m. rendezvous. We had set this time aside to
pray for each other exclusively. What special times we experienced in
divine union although we were so many miles apart.
On the occasional Sunday night I engaged in the prayer
rendezvous with my darling while I was travelling back to Elsies
River in the train after the Sunday evening symphony concert at the
City Hall. I had frequently utilized my monthly train ticket to get
there during my teacher training years, and still enjoyed attending
occasionally after my return to South Africa. The event started at
8.45pm and was advertised as ‘admission free’. What this really meant
was that one could be a seat-filler at the back of the auditorium for
no charge. Those ‘free’ seats were often empty, barring a handful of
‘Coloureds’ and a lone Black man who attended regularly. I never
experienced a single White person sitting there.
Back in Germany, Rosemarie deemed it wise to go home to
see her parents in Mühlacker less frequently. The secrecy of our
relationship was starting to take its toll, particularly on her mother,
who was deeply torn between her love for her husband and the
allegiance to her daughter and her ‘wayward’ choice of a boyfriend.
She reckoned with the possibility that I would return to Europe in
the future. In a letter to Rosemarie she wrote very wisely:
... I feel that if Ashley were to come to Europe one day, should you still
think about it as at present, it would be the opportunity to get to know
him. Think about how many people have had to experience a time of
parting. Sometimes God requires a time of testing of us.
In the meantime, you can learn some additional things for His service.
Should you serve Him together one day, He will surely make your way
Rosemarie’s father was, however, still clueless as to what was going
on. After a few months, the secrecy of our relationship so much
affected Mrs Göbel that she eventually landed in hospital with a
serious gall ailment. Rosemarie herself was also coming close to a
nervous breakdown. The tension in the family became unbearable.
Rosemarie had to face the fact that our relationship was the reason
for all of this. She knew that she could no longer withhold the
truth from her father whom she loved so dearly. On one of the rare
weekends at home, she eventually plucked up the courage to tell him
about me. She knew full-well that it would hurt him tremendously.
As expected, Papa Göbel was shattered. All his ideas about
his daughter’s future seemed to have taken a deep plunge. He
cried excessively and uncontrollably like a deprived child, and said
things a responsible parent should never say to their children -
hurtful things, shameful things. The years of indoctrination while
growing up had taken its toll. His ideological world of Aryan
racial supremacy crumbled. Deeply hurt by her father’s reaction,
Rosemarie took her bag and ran out in tears. This also brought
her into a spiritual crisis, thinking that the termination of our
relationship would be the only way out.
At the train station in Stuttgart, Rosemarie wrote me a letter.
Two young Kriegdienstverweigerer2 [conscientious objectors], who
were doing the substitute for military service at the School of the
Blind where she was doing her internship, came to the station to
pick her up after her weekend trip to see her parents. But she was
so distraught about what had happened in the interaction with her
father that she tearfully disappeared into the ladies’ room at the
station. In the letter to me she stated:
I never thought that our relationship would end in this way. Yes,
my darling, I have given up all hope that we will ever see each other
again. Why? Because I can’t take it anymore. The responsibility
towards my parents is too big.
I deemed it appropriate to write a formal letter of apology to
Mr Göbel. But rather than leaving it at an apology, I requested
insensitively to correspond again with his daughter, yet not secretly.
He replied equally formally, naming the reasons why I should
terminate my relationship with his daughter. Ultimately it came down
to this: He had nothing against me personally, but he didn’t want
Rosemarie to marry someone from any nation other than Germany.
I probably should have left it at that. Instead, I stubbornly
requested him to allow me to continue the correspondence with
Rosemarie at festive occasions. Ethically, this was deplorable. I more
2. Literal translation: Someone who refuses ‘war service’
or less attempted to twist Mr Göbel’s arm. In the same letter,
I insolently suggested that if I did not get a reply from him, I would
assume that he had agreed to my proposal. I still had to learn that
one could aggravate a problematic situation by forcing an issue. Mr
Göbel was too angry to reply, and instructed Rosemarie to write me
one final letter terminating the relationship! As a result, the tension
at the Göbel home in Mühlacker increased to breaking point and
Rosemarie decided to stop going home over the weekends.
The Göbel family was soon very busy preparing for the pending
wedding of Rosemarie’s sister Waltraud. When no reply came from
Mr Göbel, I uttered a totally uncalled-for sigh of relief. I deduced
that I could now go ahead with the writing of my thick epistle for
Easter. Via this letter Rosemarie would have enough material to read
and to re-read until Pentecost!
Easter 1971 would have been the first occasion for our mutual
exchange of letters. I sent mine, but her letter didn’t come at the
expected time. After some delay, a letter from her did eventually
arrive. Had I not been so ignorant, the contents of this letter should
have alarmed me excessively.

C H A P T E R 7
Prior to receiving her letter, I had confessed in one of my
letters to Rosemarie that I had kissed another girl. I believed in
transparency. This behaviour was of course absolutely unacceptable
in every way. I was claiming to be so deeply smitten with Rosemarie
(which I was!), yet somehow I managed to rationalize kissing another
girl. I really did make some foolish mistakes in the span of my youth!
However, I had no notion what a world of cultural difference there
existed in this regard. I hardly suspected what consequences my
confession could evoke.
Upon reading my disclosure, Rosemarie’s world almost broke
down. Her initial reaction was anger, which quickly turned into a
deep lingering sense of disappointment. A flood of questions about
my character entered Rosemarie’s mind. Had she misjudged me?
Just at that vulnerable moment, a young man by the name of
Günther3 who had been interested in her for some time, started
courting her. When he asked her if she would like to go on a date
with him, she agreed. She was confused and hurt by my actions, and
felt that one date couldn’t do much harm.
3. This is not his real name.
In her Easter letter to me she wrote on pages 7-11 about going
out with Günther. The rest of the letter (through to page 18) was,
however, full of so much love for me that I had no great difficulty to
accept the fact that she had gone on a date with another man. I was
under the impression that this was some sort of episode which was
now over. I was too much in love to consider that I could have a
serious rival. Not alarmed by her letter whatsoever, I saw in her reply
only an honest response, at most some revenge for my confession.
However, Günther was interested in more than just a single date.
An internal wrestle in Rosemarie’s heart began to unfold. Her father
had so clearly instructed her to write me one final letter, breaking off
the relationship for good. She so much wanted to be obedient to her
father. Was Günther perhaps God’s answer for her?
Rosemarie’s relationship with her parents became so tense that
she was earnestly considering entering into a serious relationship with
Günther. In her heart, Rosemarie was nevertheless still hoping for
some miracle to happen so that she could marry her ‘first choice’ in
Africa. More and more this began to look like a pipe-dream.
On the South African side of the ocean, there was of course the
ominous ‘Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act’ that prevented any
marital union between a White and someone from another race. The
circumstances were just not in our favour.
Instead of waiting on God’s intervention to enable our marital
bond, I decided to ‘assist Him’. I had read in a local newspaper about
someone who had been racially reclassified; something like that
could of course only transpire in the apartheid era! This seemed to
be my big chance. I would not accept the ‘realistic’ choice of either
Rosemarie or South Africa that my cousin John had put to me.
Getting Rosemarie reclassified was a possible way out of the culde-
sac. Theoretically, there was also another possibility to beat the
legislation, if ‘non-White blood’ could be traced in her ancestry. But
research which had already been done for Rosemarie’s family tree
showed just the opposite. Rosemarie has European ancestry as far as
could be traced!
I wrote to Mr Vorster, the Prime Minister, inquiring about the
procedure to get someone reclassified. Reservations of one of my
lecturers that I would give recognition to the immoral racial laws
of the country by doing so could not deter me. I was too much in
love. I wanted to get married to Rosemarie, and I was willing to do
whatever it might take.
Despite my active pursuit in trying to figure out a way to bring
Rosemarie to South Africa, Rosemarie herself was still far from ready
to make such a move. The inevitable objections of her family at the
idea of releasing their daughter to go to the African continent were
too much of a hindrance. In one of her letters she actually asked me
to pray for inner freedom from the inhibitions she felt in this regard.
I had no problem with this request, trusting God to change her views
in His time. Had she not told me that she had always dreamed of
going to the mission field when I invited her to the evening with the
Wycliffe Bible Translators?
I just pushed ahead with my ideas. I had completely forgotten the
lesson that His ways are higher than our own. Completely oblivious to
what Rosemarie had intimated in her Easter letter, I continued writing
my next epistle that was intended to arrive at Pentecost. I had elevated
this church feast to the next ‘big occasion’. I was of course just looking
for an opportunity and an excuse to write a letter to my ‘Schatz’.
Pentecost came and went, but no letter arrived from my bonny
over the ocean. I was sure that the South African government had
intervened. Our post had to have been intercepted. I surmised that
my enquiry after the procedure to get someone reclassified might
have alarmed the government. This became a conviction to me, much
more than merely an assumption or deduction. Practices like this
belonged to the day-to-day occurrences of apartheid South Africa.
If the powers that be could stop our contact in this way, they would
definitely not have hesitated. Mixing across the colour bar, especially
interaction between the sexes, was resented.
Nevertheless, I was also very worried that something could have
happened to Rosemarie. In unrealistic naivety I still did not even
consider the possibility that my darling could be involved in another
romantic relationship. If ever there was any proof needed that love
could blind someone, I was definitely a perfect example.
Very soon Rosemarie informed Günther of her long-distance
relationship with me. She knew that he was very serious about her
and thus did not want to mislead him. The confusion in her heart
grew rapidly. She knew that Günther was just the kind of man that
her parents would have wished for as a son in-law. He was German to
the bone, intelligent and cultured, a prim-and-proper gentleman.
She was teetering on the horns of an immense dilemma when
the mother of the handsome young friend became critically ill. He
had stated innocently to Rosemarie that he would not be able to take
it if he would lose both Rosemarie and his mother. A few days after
Günther’s mother passed away, my darling made the decision that
she would choose Günther over me. She just could not see a realistic
future with me, and overwhelmed with sympathy for Günther, she
made the choice that seemed to be the right thing to do. I was of
course completely oblivious to all of this and continued to impatiently
await Rosemarie’s Pentecost letter.
Months before this, I had formally resigned from teaching to
go into full-time pastoral work. Just at this point in time, I received
a cheque from the government as repayment of money that I had
paid into the State Pension Fund. The amount of the cheque was
more or less just what I needed for the cheapest return air ticket to
Luxembourg. After some intense prayer, I expediently perceived the
government cheque to be divine provision to fly to Europe in the
June vacation of 1971.
When I hadn’t heard from my darling for weeks, I became really
worried that something might have happened to her. I wrote to
her parents in dire frustration, mentioning that I hoped to come to
Germany in the June school holidays. I did not hear back from them,
and with that my worries continued to grow.
Any doubts about the correctness of such a drastic step as going
to Germany were dispelled when I heard from Trek Airways that the
flight just after the start of the school holidays was fully booked and
I was wait-listed. This, in my opinion, was a very convenient way of
testing to see if it was right to use my pension cheque in this way.
Two-hundred-and-sixty odd Rand meant a lot of money in those
days. I argued that, “if it is the will of the Lord that I should go, then
he has to get a place for me on that flight”.
When I received a phone call only a few days before the
departure date that one seat was free, I saw this as a clear indication
that I should go. I had considered the venture prayerfully enough!
C H A P T E R 8
A F I N A L F A R E W E L L ?
The moment Rosemarie had verbally chosen Günther over me,
a deep sense of guilt overtook her. Was she being dishonest to
Günther? Or unfair to me? The thought of breaking the news to me
plagued her. She knew that she now had no choice but to write me
that final letter as she had been instructed. She also knew that writing
this letter may be one of the hardest things she would ever have to do.
Her heart was broken, yet she saw no other way out.
When she stayed over at her friend Elke’s house a few days
later, she opened up about her feelings. She bravely told Elke that
she could not get over me, no matter how hard she tried. The next
day, Rosemarie and Elke went for a walk in Zavelstein, the village
where Elke was doing her internship. From a distance, she saw the
Van Niekerks, a South African family who she had met through me.
Feelings of love for me rushed in with great force, confirming that
she indeed still possessed an intense love for me.
That night, Rosemarie started to fall ill as the emotional turmoil
was starting to manifest itself physically. She lay in bed that night
wrestling with God. Her future had been sealed. She had made a
promise to Günther and felt that she could not go back on that.
Whilst lying in bed with a flu, Rosemarie cried out to God in her
heart, “I cannot go back on my promise to Günther. If You want
Ashley and me to be together, then You must do the miracle because
I can’t do anything now. It would be the greatest miracle in my life
if I would ever still marry Ashley Cloete.” After that prayer, she was
overwhelmed with a sense of complete peace. She had given it over to
God again and left it at that.
Günther came to visit Rosemarie at her parents’ home in
Mühlacker while she was still sick with what had now developed
into a severe case of tonsillitis. This was the first time her parents met
Günther and they were impressed.
Rosemarie returned to the School for the Blind in Stuttgart,
when she recovered and continued to see Günther on weekends.
Waltraud had married her Dieter in the meantime, meaning that
Rosemarie was alone with her parents on those weekends. The
relief at the parental home had become almost tangible every time
she pitched up with the likable Günther. Peace returned to their
Mühlacker home.
Immediately after her return to Stuttgart, Rosemarie wrote that
consequential final farewell letter. She showed the letter to Günther
who approved of its content with much relief. If ever there was a
competition for such letters, this one surely would have won a prize.
Dearest Ashley,
I know that it sounds empty and mundane to start this letter with an
apology. I can imagine very well how much you must have suffered
not to hear from me for such a long time and to be kept in such a state
of uncertainty. It is quite clear to me that you may have come to all
sorts of conclusions when you didn’t hear from me at Pentecost and in
the weeks thereafter. This has distressed me greatly over these last few
weeks, because through your letters, I have also become very conscious of
my guilt (for not having written to you).
I must also tell you that I was emotionally not able to write to you
before Pentecost. In the time after Pentecost I was ill with high fever.
Only now I am really able to tell you about my inward, emotional and
spiritual experiences. That it is no longer so difficult, is only possible
1) I trust, and I also know, that God will guide me to find the right
words and way of expression; or to put it differently, without God’s
help I would not want to write this letter at all.
2) During the past few days I have experienced His presence in a
special way (during my illness I had much time to be completely ‘quiet’
before the Lord), so that I can still be at rest - for the first time after a
long time.
Mind you, it looked to me almost impossible to write this letter to you,
especially because I also want to mention that this will be the last letter
(or at least one of the last letters) which you will receive from me...
There is also something else I want to tell you, Ashley, before you read
further. You wrote once that you had great trust in God and that you
are sure that He will guide you on the road that will be good for you.
I wanted to remind you of this, Ashley, because this is very much my
wish. You should know that I pray that you may adhere steadfastly
to this.
Especially when you experience such a drastic change in your life and
dreams, you should know that God never makes a mistake. But we
must also trust Him firmly. You know, precisely this is what I have
really had to learn. I, too, wanted to lead my life as I wanted to. I could
not understand why my ideas of my future life with you were taken
away one after the other. Yes, Ashley, I believe now that much of what
we thought about in our dreams was really our wishful thinking. You
know how every part of me has lived in this dream. It went so far that
I could not imagine my life in Germany, and especially my life without
you, anymore. But you also know that I wished for God’s blessing for
our future life together above all else. No, I simply don’t want to do
anything without His blessing. I know that such a bond could only be
proper when there would be a conscious blessing on it. Therefore I clung
ever more to our motto (when the doubts came) of which you always
I really wanted to believe that God would bring us together despite all
the problems.
That’s why I was so disappointed that God gave us so few
confirmations. I often asked, “Why does God allow so much strife in our
family because of this matter if we belong together?” Only when my
mother became so ill - the doctor said that it resulted solely from stress,
i.e. because of the tensions - I started to doubt whether our plan really
had God’s blessing. Thereafter, this doubt never left me... Nevertheless,
I could not give up everything. I noticed how my prayers increasingly
became claims. You should know even now that I can’t be happy
because I sense that God’s ways may be different from ours and that
He might want to lead us (as you once said) into new ways. I was so
very conscious of it when the letter, in which you had written about the
correspondence prohibition, came. That morning I had to listen to the
words of Job from the watchword for the day: “The Lord gave, and the
Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord!” (Perhaps you
can still remember that I was reading the book of Job some time ago.)
Today it is even clearer to me that these words apply to us. At that
time I could not understand Job. How could he still praise God after
everything which had been dear to him and everything which he had
possessed was taken away from him?
But, Ashley, today I can understand. I discovered that it is exactly
in this where the absolute trust in God lies. I can say to you now -
and I wish that you may also experience it likewise - that all my
experiences since Easter have been guidance from God. Especially
through my doubts, uncertainties and trials, I was driven closer to
God. I know, however, that I would never have been able to give up
what I had built up in my dream world independently. To enable this,
God had to intervene.
Such intervention started when I got to know Günther at a time
when I was full of doubts. Initially (especially in the first two or three
weeks), I resisted the idea that God perhaps wanted to make a new
way with this. And yet I remember that I wrote to you already at that
time that I was starting to love Günther. Thereafter there followed a
time in which I was full of uncertainty. Yet, just at that time God came
so near to me. Eventually he brought me to the point where I could
give up my own will. I could only pray, “Lord, please let me only go the
way which will bring me closest to you.” Through all of this I became so
dependent upon communion with God. Then I wished for myself that it
would never be different again; because only then I can be really free.
When God gave me more guidance to show me His will, I deduced
that He had heard my prayers. One of the clearest signals was when
Günther’s mother died a few weeks ago. Four days after this occurrence
I opted for Günther. You should know that it wasn’t an ‘act of
sympathy’. I know that one can’t build a life-long marital relation on
such a basis. To me, it was recognition of God’s will.
Dear Ashley, I know very well that all this will be very painful
to you, but you should never think that I want to hurt you. What
I do want is for you to feel that I was honest with you. Perhaps it is
simply the wish that you can understand me and also acknowledge
that the way God has led us is good... I want to remind you of
another word from Job 1: “… only upon himself do not put forth
your hand”. (God gave this command to Satan, because Job was a
child of God and he could thus not fall out of God’s hand - even when
everything had been taken from him.)
In closing, you should know that I want to accompany this letter with
my prayers, because I know only too well that it is only God’s Spirit
which can determine how you react to this letter.
Be cordially greeted,
Your Rosemarie
Rosemarie never posted the letter; not because she did not mean to –
the intention was always there! It was simply a delay for practical
reasons, as there was no post box in the section of Stuttgart where
she stayed. The intention was to send it as soon as she was able to get
into town. For about two weeks, the letter lay on her desk, inducing
feelings of guilt every time she saw it. She knew that, to be fair to
Günther, she would have to send the letter as soon as possible.
I had no clue of what had occurred in Germany, though. Day
after day, I was hoping for an airmail envelope with the familiar
handwriting to arrive. Those few weeks seemed to me like an
eternity. I was now convinced that the South African government
had abused the letter in which I had asked for information about
racial reclassification. I firmly believed that ‘they’ wanted to stop our
love affair in this way. So I finalised the booking, and headed for
Luxembourg in June 1971.
I caused some alarm bells when I informed the Van Niekerks, my
South African friends in Germany, of my pending departure and asked
them if I could stay with them for a few days. I mentioned my date of
arrival, without mentioning that I would be coming via Luxembourg.
When Rosemarie’s mother came to hear of my intention, she
duly relayed the news to my ‘Schatz’. Rosemarie immediately phoned
the airport in Stuttgart to find out at what time the only connecting
flight from South Africa was due to land. She went to the airport
at the designated time, but I did not appear in the arrivals terminal.
Rosemarie deduced that God had intervened somehow. With a sigh
of relief, she thought that she could sleep in peace.
The surprise to Rosemarie was thus fairly complete when
I phoned from Trier, the border town in Germany. There, I boarded
the train to Stuttgart. When Rosemarie’s mother heard that I was in
the country, she was terribly worried for her daughter. The general
sense of mistrust towards foreigners that was so deep-seated in
Rosemarie’s father had rubbed off on her and she even feared that
I might have harmful intentions towards her precious daughter. Up to
that point, the only communication they had had with me were the
letters I had written to Rosemarie’s father. And those letters did not
exactly shed the best light on my character.
Hoping to prevent the tragedy that was imminent upon my
hearing of Rosemarie’s new relationship, she phoned Rosemarie’s
colleagues in utter desperation, asking them to follow Rosemarie to
the airport. Essentially, they were being asked to spy on Rosemarie
and myself. When Rosemarie discovered this, she was horrified.
Rosemarie was not the only one to be surprised upon my arrival
in Germany. During our telephonic conversation she hinted, without
providing any details, that I was in for a disappointment. For the
first time I had to come to terms with the possibility that there
might be someone else in Rosemarie’s life. The long train journey of
approximately four hours felt like ages. My incomprehensible naivety
had left me completely flabbergasted and confused.
Rosemarie met me at the train station. Seeing her again, I was
engulfed by an enormous mix of emotions. Never before had I been
in love with anyone the way I was in love with Rosemarie; nobody
even came close and, in my opinion, nobody ever would. Yet now, all
of a sudden, my dreams were under severe threat. Rosemarie drove
me to her home at the School for the Blind and began to explain
everything. My fears were confirmed.
I had many questions. I could not understand a thing. Was all this
necessary? Had I not considered the trip prayerfully enough? How
could God allow me to come all this way for such a calamity?
My unexpected arrival in Germany ruffled feathers, to say the
least. Rosemarie regarded herself as all but formally engaged to get
married to Günther in due course. Upon seeing me again, she now
knew in her innermost that she could not proceed with a marriage of
compromise to Günther.
Understandably, Günther, too, was shaken by the news of my
arrival. He had read and approved the letter Rosemarie had written
to me in which she informed me of her decision to terminate our
relationship. However, what he did not know was that she had never
posted the letter. The next day, I met the generally pleasant young
man who, by entering Rosemarie’s life, had started a chain of events
leading to my sudden overseas trip without me knowing. I met him at
the open evening organised by the same group of young people that
had organized the memorable evening with the Wycliffe Translators
just prior to my departure for South Africa the previous year.
I really pitied my rival when I saw how mislead he felt. However,
between the three of us, it was surely Rosemarie who experienced the
excruciating pain most severely. Her failure to post the letter had an
explanation, but nonetheless it was a grave mistake with far-reaching
consequences. With me appearing so suddenly, she now knew whom
of the two suitors she loved most.
About this time she later wrote to me:
If God has really led us together again, and given us a new love, then
I can’t do anything other than to believe that I belong to you.
She knew full well that the problems at home would flare up again.
After an intense struggle in prayer, Rosemarie decided to part with
both of us. Everybody had understanding for her decision, even her
I had complete empathy for her, but my own faith was tested to
the full. I truly could not comprehend why God would allow me to
come all the way to Germany only to experience all of this.
The last time Rosemarie and I were together towards the end
of those intensive two weeks, the Lord comforted us in a special
way. Although we had the inner conviction as never before that we
belonged to each other, we hesitantly agreed to part completely. We
committed our future into God’s hands. During our last occasion
of praying together, we more or less put the ball ‘into God’s court’.
He would have to re-unite us if it was His will that we should marry
one day. One of the important signs would be that the attitude of her
parents towards our relationship had to change.
I discerned that it had been wrong of me to try and assist Him
through letters to the South African authorities or the like. For the
moment, my only consolation was knowing now that we adored each
other as always.
The next few days, I still had a lot of trouble releasing Rosemarie
completely. I flew back to South Africa very much in the doldrums,
emotionally shattered and perplexed. I might have known that it was
unsound to blame God, but I simply could not understand why he
would’ve allowed all this. Mistakes had been made, of course. Still,
I wondered why He had not stopped my plans.
Looking back later, I was able to discern a glimpse of the puzzling
but beautiful mosaic that God was shaping with us. If I had not flown
to Germany and seen her in person, Rosemarie would have become
formally engaged soon thereafter and that would have ushered in the
end of our relationship. I also returned to Cape Town with an added
maturity, though I still had quite a few more things to learn.
Rosemarie had finished her internship at the School for the
Blind by now. Retrospectively we could recognize God’s hand in her
subsequent appointment as kindergarten teacher for the children
of a hospital in Tübingen. This hospital was linked to the famous
university town where my former roommates from my student days
in Stuttgart were now continuing their theological studies.
Via Hermann Beck, one of the former roommates whom
I had given the nickname Harry, I could still read of Rosemarie’s
whereabouts. She frequently visited the Bengelhaus, the residence for
evangelical theological students, to hear from him how I was doing
in Cape Town. What a faithful letter writer Harry was during this
critical period! Rosemarie and I owe much to him, as we were able to
hear about each other through him.
Rosemarie’s work in the children’s cancer ward of the hospital
where she worked with terminally ill children was physically and
emotionally very demanding. In spite of that, she loved her job as it
was immensely fulfilling. The kids were living very intensely because
they knew that their life expectancy was very short. They were so
open for the Gospel and Rosemarie had the privilege of leading some
of them to the Lord before they died.
The relationship to her landlady was, however, not a happy one.
This woman objected fiercely when she saw my photo on the wall of
Rosemarie’s room. Even though we had parted ‘completely’, we still
kept to our weekly rendezvous when we prayed for each other every
Sunday evening. Rosemarie’s photo behind the door of the tiny three
by three meter room in Elsies River had a similar central place in this
regard. What glorious hours of supernatural ‘fellowship’ we enjoyed as
we continued to pray for each other!
My darling always found new excuses to visit the Bengelhaus. The
real reason was of course to be updated about my whereabouts.
In South Africa, almost all my acquaintances seemed to expect
my feelings for Rosemarie to peter out in due course. There was
nevertheless general sympathy for me after the calamitous two-week
trip to Germany.
Although we had parted formally, I still had a lot of trouble
releasing Rosemarie completely. I made it very difficult for her
and I even tried to keep contact with the family. When I had met
Rosemarie’s mother and sister during my unexpected short stay
during the June holidays, they were fairly clear in their rejection of
me as a partner for Rosemarie. I thus made it even more difficult
for my ‘Schatz’ by writing a letter to her parents. In my letter
I mentioned that my own mother was also not so happy with my
ideas. Referring to my letter, Mama Göbel was emotionally charged
when she responded on 21 October 1971:
Initially I wanted to return your letter, but then I opened it to
reply only one more time. Further letters will have to be returned
unopened... When it arrived, my husband was so angry! He accused
me for not making it clear enough to you that we can never agree to
contact between you and Rosemarie. I came very close to a physical
and nervous breakdown. I really fear that our marriage could break
down because of this conflict, which has been going on for so long
now. You know very well that I gave you no hope whatsoever in our
Rosemarie has reassured us that for the time being there will be no
correspondence. Why we cannot take responsibility for it, I have
explained to you thoroughly, haven’t I! I don’t understand why you
persevere with such stubbornness to make contact. Do you believe
that it could be God’s will that you pluck a girl from her family
and fatherland and put her into a life where she would be exposed
to grave dangers, mistrust and hatred from all sides? Rosemarie
would then have to take responsibility for her own downfall and for
the unhappy, embittered old age of her parents. Could it not rather
be God’s will that you commit yourself to the task of non-violent
resistance in your country, but with a partner who grew up in your
country by your side? Would you please think prayerfully about these
questions and give an honest answer to God? I would like to request
you very urgently not to send any post whatsoever to our address, as
well as not to write to Rosemarie as you have promised. I have been
suffering a lot from pain of the gall and the stomach lately and I can’t
take any more agitation. I hope that you can respect this. Please listen
to your mother who thinks just as I, according to your own words.
I am still praying that God might bless you.
Erika Göbel
God intervened in Rosemarie’s life when it became clear to her
that she loved me too much - her love for me was competing
for first place with her love for God. She deemed it necessary to
release me emotionally, as the first release during my sudden visit in
Germany was more an outward release. It came as quite a shock to
me when I received a letter from Rosemarie not long after the one
from her mother:
Tübingen, 7th November 1971
... You must know that it was not only the love for, but also the trust
in our Lord which has led me to write this letter to you to tell you of
my decision. Precisely because I want to love Jesus above everything.
I want to be absolutely obedient to Him. You know, out of a genuine
love there must also grow complete trust. Out of this trust I want to
take a step in faith which will lead both of us into a genuine inner
freedom. Yes, Ashley, I know now clearly that it is God’s will that we
part. Anything more I cannot and shouldn’t tell you now. You may
expect more details via Harry. May you experience the compassionate
love of God.
Your Rosemarie
She felt that her love for me was obstructing her relationship to God.
Later she described it as her Isaac experience, comparing it with the
Bible narrative where Abraham had to sacrifice his beloved only son.
Rosemarie felt that she had to sacrifice me completely – outwardly, as
well as in her heart.
Somehow the Lord started preparing me for this shock. Just prior
to these lines, I received a letter from the South African government’s
Department of Home Affairs, informing me that the minister could
only consider reclassifying Rosemarie if she was in South Africa.
Did this now mean that I would have to give up all hope of a life
with the person I loved like no one before? I felt forced to release
Rosemarie, trying hereafter to get over the emotional pain as soon
as possible. I even became emotionally involved in new superficial
relationships. This was unfortunate for the females concerned - all
this did was intensify my burning love and longing for Rosemarie.
C H A P T E R 9
Rosemarie’s friends seemed to be happy with her decision to break
off her relationship with me once and for all. Many of her friends had
not approved of her romance with an African to begin with. Only her
friend Elke was sympathetic, as she knew me when both of us had
been regulars at the Christian Encounter group in Stuttgart.
In January 1972, my sister suspected that my heart was still
yearning for Rosemarie when a letter arrived from Hermann (Harry)
in which he wrote, “I think Rosemarie still loves you”.
I moved into the Moravian Seminary complex in District Six as
a full-time student at the end of that month. Henning Schlimm, our
director, became my confidant and counselor. I shared the content of
all letters from Hermann with him and his wife Anne.
I was one of three full-time students at the seminary. A big dose
of cross-cultural pollination was administered to us as students during
our time in District Six. Not only the formal theological studies,
but also the extramural activities, with which our German lecturers
brought us into contact, enriched our lives tremendously.
I became quite immersed in the race politics of the day. The banned
and other literature that I had been reading overseas had stimulated
activism in me. My interest was now more than merely aroused by
the inequalities and injustice I was seeing all around us. I more or less
expected to land in prison because of non-violent protest.
The Seminary already had a bad name with the government
because people of all races were meeting there. Even students from
the renowned Stellenbosch University with their conspicuous
maroon-striped blazers visited us. In those days, racial mixing was
regarded as a subversive activity. Influenced by the emerging Black
Theology, I was fond of wearing my ‘Black is Beautiful’ t-shirt
defiantly, especially after I heard that its sale had been banned. With
a felt tip marker I wrote ‘Civil Rights’ on the back of another t-shirt
and ‘Reg en Geregtigheid’ [Rights and Justice] on the front. (This
meant of course that I couldn’t wash this t-shirt for many weeks, but
this didn’t trouble me much, as long as I could display these risky
In church politics we gave the denominational leadership a rough
time. Some of the older ministers seemed to emulate the government
in their dealings with opposition to traditionalism in the church, e.g.
by banning young preachers.
In spite of my activism on more than one front, my heart was
still aching about the fact that I couldn’t write to Rosemarie. This
was quite prominent in my prayers. But mentally I was almost
completely caught up in the race problems of the country. Coming
from the teaching profession, the unchanged racial discrimination
in educational funding and facilities was something for which I felt
protesting publicly was worthwhile. We as seminarians joined a
protest march organized by the predominantly White students from
the University of Cape Town. This was in defiance of police orders to
the contrary and I reveled in this sort of activism.
On that particular day, I had a letter to Hermann in my pocket
which I wanted to post before joining the protest. In this letter to
Hermann, I stated that we expected to be arrested. However, we
came away ‘unscathed’ as tear gas won the day and the demonstration
was scattered.
Returning from the protest to the Seminary in Ashley
Street, there was a letter from Germany. It had come completely
unexpectedly, directly from my darling! I could hardly believe what
I saw there in black and white. Her mother had given us permission
to resume our correspondence.
Rosemarie’s mother had been challenged by the Old Testament
Watchword on her own birthday: “…love the stranger in your
gates.” On Rosemarie’s 21st birthday, the Lord had spoken to Mama
Göbel through another word from Scripture: “Love your neighbour
as yourself.” She knew that it meant for her that she had to accept
me. She reacted positively, giving Rosemarie permission to write to
me again! This was very courageous of Mrs Göbel who knew that
this was definitely not the wish of her husband. Wasn’t it one of
the pivotal signs we had prayed for, that the attitude of her parents
towards our relationship would change?
I spent the last part of the June holidays of 1972 with my
parents in Elim and there I had a frank discussion with them about
my political activism. The direct cause of the discussion had been
my request to have my personal copy of ‘Pro Veritate’, the organ of
the Christian Institute, sent to Elim (at the Seminary we already
had access to the controversial Christian magazine). With some
satisfaction I noticed that my father, by reading this material, became
more enlightened on some issues. In earlier years all of us had been
influenced to some degree by the SABC (South African Broadcasting
Corporation) distortion of what was happening in our country, even
though we were aware that much of the current affairs programming
was a propaganda perversion of the truth.
I also discussed the issue of my love for Rosemarie at length with
my parents for the first time. I spoke of my hope to get her to South
Africa via racial reclassification. In response, they stated clearly that
they would be prepared to sacrifice me if I went to Europe, rather
than seeing me bring Rosemarie into the humiliations and injustices
of an apartheid-permeated South Africa. I was too much in love to
appreciate how generous their gesture was, though. They knew what
they were talking about. My cousin, who had got married to a British
naval officer in the early 1950s, had not been allowed to visit her
parents, even after about 20 years.
Still, I insisted stubbornly that I would do whatever it might take
to have both my Rosemarie and South Africa. I disregarded my parents’
discouragement from bringing her to the country. At the same time, we
were oblivious to the fact that, back in Mühlacker, Rosemarie’s mother
had not only written her daughter the letter in which she granted us
permission to continue our correspondence. Evidently, she also wanted
her husband to give his consent and blessing to our union. We were not
even aware of the fact that she was trying to win Mr Göbel over.
A letter that Rosemarie had received from Anne Schlimm, the
wife of our Seminary director, made a significant impact on her
mother. Many years later we discovered the draft of a letter which
Mama Göbel had written to Henning Schlimm, my mentor and
confidant in Cape Town, in which she referred to me as A.C.:
... When A.C. came here unexpectedly, my husband unfortunately
refused to meet him because he thought that A.C. should have refrained
from further contact with our daughter after the explanations in his
I utilized the occasion to meet A.C. at the house of our married
daughter. I thought that I had to warn them against such a marriage
because of the conditions in Africa. I told him that Rosemarie could
be isolated there and rejected by the Whites as well as the Coloured
population, yes, even despised and hated. We simply fear for our
daughter, that she would be exposed to such a life.
A.C. confirmed to me on that occasion that he saw his future role in
Africa. You will - I trust - not be affronted by the fact that we here in
Mühlacker had put our hopes in Rosemarie becoming betrothed to a
reliable, believing young man when A.C. came here.
After having spoken to various other people who had a connection with
Africa, the contact with A.C. looked so hopeless. That’s why his sudden
arrival was such a shock to us. Now I do not want our daughter
to marry someone else just because of us, because that would also be
dishonest to such a partner. Just as much, we do not want her to remain
single. I am convinced - and I know this from my own experience -
that God will lead A.C. and our daughter in the right way according
to His eternal purposes, because they want to surrender themselves to
His will. They and I pray towards this end.
Unfortunately my husband cannot be consoled by this and he has
no trust in prayer to God. Thus he suffers a lot, worrying about
our daughter. His nerves are already very frayed because of overexhaustion.
He thinks that it is a case of romantic fanaticism with
them. Time and again he tries to persuade Rosemarie because he foresees
so many grave dangers and risks in a marriage with A.C. Of course
I am suffering under this estrangement between father and daughter.
When we celebrated Rosemarie’s 21st birthday in July, she gave me
the letter from your wife. Later Rosemarie told me how she saw this
letter as an answer to prayer. The evening prior to this, she had prayed
to God for clarity regarding His plan. I then went through a similar
process. I had a sleepless night after this day, with the embitterment
and disappointment of my husband clearly playing a role. I asked God
again and again for help and discernment of His will. The next day,
when I felt so terrible, I got clear Scriptural guidance from the daily
Text Book: “Love the stranger as yourself.”
I want to do this with all my heart. Should A.C. become my sonin-
law according to God’s will, I shall surely learn to love him like
the husband of my other daughter. But I also wish so much that my
husband would not have such fear and worry about Rosemarie’s
future, that he will gradually come out of his bitterness towards the
two young people...
Encouraged by the development, my mentor, Reverend Henning
Schlimm, facilitated a teaching post for Rosemarie at the
kindergarten of St. Martini, the German Lutheran Church in Cape
Town. I was unaware of the great courage Pastor Osterwald, the
local German minister, had displayed to appoint her. The racist
attitude of some of his congregation members would have been very
disheartening. He initially asked Rosemarie not to mention anything
about the appointment in her letters to me. The authorities could very
well open the letters, which was quite common in apartheid South
Africa. This could have resulted in the iron hand of the law coming
down on Pastor Osterwald.
Early one morning in October 1972, while I was on my knees
praying for the country, I felt compelled to write a letter to the
Prime Minister. In this letter, I addressed him with the word ‘liewe’
[dearest], which was definitely a little extraordinary. My natural
inclinations towards him were definitely not charitable. In that letter
I challenged Mr. Vorster to let himself be used by God like US
President Lincoln to lead the nation in the ways of God. Basically,
it was a letter of criticism, which could have landed me in hot water.
But I only received a reprimand, the standard reply to people who
objected to the racial policies of the country on religious grounds. In
this letter, the Prime Minister implied that I was involved in politics
under the guise of religion. It was a typical government ploy to
encourage church folk to make a sharp distinction between faith and
politics. And indeed, many Afrikaner eyes in particular were blind to
the apartheid heresies because of this.
I was also far from careful in other matters. In a newsletter to
friends in Germany, I stated openly that Rosemarie would come and
work in Cape Town the following year. That was looking for trouble.
At times I was just so naïve and irresponsible!
C H A P T E R 1 0
In those days it was normally easy for a European to get a visa for
South Africa. Not only that, but the government in fact encouraged
immigration from Europe; so much so that the South African
government often even paid for their flights. In expectation of her
visa application being granted without any problems, Rosemarie
resigned at the children’s hospital in Tübingen. She also sent ahead a
wooden box with her books and other belongings to Cape Town.
As Rosemarie was preparing to leave for South Africa, her
friends at the independent evangelistic church in Tübingen which she
attended gave her a hard time, though. She had been baptised among
them and had grown tremendously on a spiritual level. Her friends,
however, did not support her decision to resume her relationship with
me. And to be fair, they had a genuine point. In their eyes, Rosemarie
had hardly had the opportunity to get to know me properly during
my stay in Germany in 1970.
Rosemarie was pleasantly surprised when a ‘Coloured’ South
African from Athlone in Cape Town pitched up in her residential
area. My darling thought this was the perfect opportunity to
send me a cassette tape via this gentleman. On this recording she
included Pastor Osterwald’s advice: “I have to tell you that your
decision to start on this daring venture will lead you into many a
conscientious conflict...”
She had no reason whatsoever to suspect that this man could
have been linked to the South African security network. But in those
days BOSS (the Bureau of Social Security - in many ways the South
African version of Hitler’s Gestapo) was also tasked with keeping
‘problems’ like our romantic relationship across the colour bar out of
the country.
The link between this gentleman or his landlady to the South
African authorities became quite clear when a certain ‘Kommissar’
[detective] assured Rosemarie soon hereafter that she might not get
a visa or work permit to enter South Africa. It was evident that this
‘detective’ knew the content of the cassette tape and the tape never
made its way to me in South Africa. Further enquiry brought to light
that the BOSS agent who had introduced himself to Rosemarie was
not actually known to the local police in Reutlingen4.
Completely unaware of what was going on in southern Germany,
I was still counting the days to the beginning of March 1973 when
Rosemarie was due to arrive. How disappointing it was when the
first of March came and went without any news of her visa and work
permit! I was completely stunned when my darling phoned me on
the direct line from Germany which had just come into operation.
4. The town where Rosemarie and Elke were doing a training course for children
with disabilities
She had received a letter from the South African consulate. The
content, which confirmed what the detective had said, was shattering:
I regret to have to inform you that your application for permanent
residence in the Republic of South Africa has
been declined...
No reason was given, although it was fairly obvious to those who
knew the country’s racial policies. Rosemarie was also refused a work
permit without any reason given.
The disappointment we experienced at that time was immense.
After all our relationship had been through, and the great battle
Rosemarie had gone through with her parents, this sudden turn of
events came as quite a shock. It seemed inevitable that I would have
to leave the country if I wanted to marry her.
Looking back, we discerned that the Lord had been very gracious
to us. Our brittle love would have been put under extreme pressure
by the sphere of secrecy that would have been necessary to maintain
our relationship in apartheid South Africa. Theologically, we were
also miles apart at that time. I had become rather liberal under the
influence of Black Theology and the teaching at the seminary. At the
same time, the spiritual environment in which Rosemarie was moving
in Tübingen was very intense and she grew tremendously over this
time. It is doubtful whether our sensitive relationship would have
survived the double tension of politics and theology if Rosemarie had
been able to come to South Africa in March 1973.
Despite the work permit rejection, we thought it would be
important for Rosemarie to at least get acquainted with South Africa
and my family. So she applied again, this time for a tourist visa.
However, this was also refused.
Instead of coming to South Africa, Rosemarie went to Israel with
Elke Maier and other Christian friends to work in a children’s home
in Migdal. During this time in Israel, her love for the Jewish nation
deepened and she also gained a much deeper understanding of the
Hebrew Scriptures, notably God’s purposes and plans.
As for me, after Rosemarie’s second visa refusal, I had to face
the fact that my resolve to have both Rosemarie and the country
I loved and felt so strongly called to serve in, was nothing more
than an unrealistic dream. I had to choose. I wavered for some time,
incredibly unsure of what to do. However, our Church Board cooperated
optimally. They suggested that I could go and work with the
Moravian Church in Germany at the end of the year.
The Lord was evidently also working in my life, chiselling away
many a rough edge. My student colleague Fritz Faro had strong
interaction with the Jesus People, a group of young men and women
with links to the hippy movement. We appreciated their radicalism,
but we seminarians had problems with their apolitical stance. We
could not accept, for example, that people from the different races
were sitting apart in their church services. We could not leave their
stance unchallenged and we invited one of them, a young fellow
from Zimbabwe, to join us in a public demonstration of our unity
in Christ. He immediately agreed to join us in playing choruses on
our instruments at Muizenberg beach. This could have led to arrests,
as this beach was racially designated ‘for Whites only’ but we were
quite prepared to take this risk. To our great dismay, the brother
from Zimbabwe later phoned, opting out of the plan with a flimsy
excuse. We learnt that other believers had advised him not to come
along with us.
I felt similar tension within me when we invited a Black speaker
to our youth service in District Six. The South African Council
of Churches had declared the month of August as the month of
compassion and member churches were challenged to do something
practical. As our contribution in August 1973, we ask one of our
CI friends, the Congregational Church minister Claude Goba to
speak. But this was possibly one of the first occasions that there
was a Black South African on the pulpit of Moravian Hill Chapel.
It was not surprising that an honest congregant left the sanctuary
demonstratively the very moment Claude Goba walked to the pulpit.
(Admittedly, we three seminarians had done something similar,
leaving another church service when a local pastor persisted with
segregated seating for visiting Germans.) Claude Goba’s sermon
caused me to do some deep soul searching and my inner tussle came
to a head. Was I not like Jonah, running away from the problems of
our revolution-ripe country? To cop out cowardly was the very last
thing that I wanted to do! The result was an intense inner struggle
between the love for my country and my love for a foreign girl who
could turn me into an exile.
I so much wanted to make a contribution towards racial
reconciliation in South Africa. I thought, perhaps a touch too selfassured,
“I can be of better service here in my native country than
anywhere else.” I would yet have to be brought down from that
presumptuous pedestal. I started praying that God would let me fall
in love with a ‘Coloured’ girl who could be the ‘equal’ of Rosemarie.
I did not feel that my job in contributing towards racial reconciliation
in South Africa had been completed. Yet in the end, I could not face
the idea of a life without Rosemarie. So, after much deliberation and
many discussions with Henning Schlimm, I finally decided to join
Rosemarie in Germany.
I was booked to leave fairly soon after completing my theological
exams, not only because I wanted to get to my beloved Rosemarie
as soon as possible. Almost just as important was the fact that my
passport would expire soon thereafter. I considered that I could
perhaps get peace at heart by applying in time for an extension of my
expiring passport. Yet I simply couldn’t muster the courage (or faith?)
to apply for the extension in South Africa! I just couldn’t bear the
real possibility of a negative response to my application. I feared that
my low-key political involvement of the previous months, such as the
public display of my opposition, for example by wearing my defiant
t-shirts, could have jeopardized such an extension. So following in
the footsteps of my cousin who had married an Englishman around
1950, all of us expected this to be my final farewell to South Africa.
After the many youth camps and the like which I had attended
over the years, I regarded myself accustomed to occasions of parting.
This time, however, it was almost unbearable to think of bidding
farewell to relatives and friends. The finality of leaving behind my
family was the hardest of all. Five years before this, I had cried on
the deck of the steamship the Pendennis Castle as I watched Table
Mountain gradually disappear into the distance. But back then I was
determined to return to the country. This time I would have to expect,
to all intents and purposes, never to return. And then there was also
that gnawing uncertainty: Was this God’s will or was it my own way?
In the months prior to their departure from South Africa, various
leaders of the Christian Institute had their passports confiscated
at Jan Smuts Airport, Johannesburg, as they were about to leave
the country. Although I was only a very inconspicuous member of
this organization, one could never know. The presence of Dr Beyers
Naudé at our youth rally did not augur well for me. His passport had
also been seized. Would the passport official let me through or would
he be tipped off to my detriment? Although I was never directly
involved in overt opposition politics, there were a few semi-political
reasons for fearing the seizure of my passport. On the day when
I was to fly to Germany, I was nevertheless quite composed, knowing
my future to be in God’s hands. The uncertainty about where I was
supposed to be in order to be in the centre of His will - in Germany
or South Africa - perhaps also helped me to relax somewhat.
I had written to Rosemarie that I would phone her from
Johannesburg if they had confiscated my passport. So on the day of
my departure from South Africa, Rosemarie waited tensely at the
Karl Heim Haus in Tübingen, where Hermann resided. He had
closely observed how Rosemarie had initially made preparations to
go to South Africa. She had also told him of the difficulties she had
experienced with the Christians in her church fellowship who could
not accept the possibility that it could be God’s will that she should
marry me, an African. For many of them the refusal of the visas had
been a sure sign that we were not meant for each other. But Hermann
had stood with us through it all. He knew that we considered every
step prayerfully, desiring to obey God in everything. Together they
were hoping that there would be no call from South Africa, as this
would have meant that I had not been allowed to leave the country.
C H A P T E R 1 1
My anxiety with regard to leaving the country turned out to be
unnecessary. After hearing that I intended to be involved in churchrelated
ministry in Germany, the customs official merely advised me
not to go and learn to drink wine over there! How much I would
have liked Rosemarie to share in the sigh of relief. She was, of course,
still waiting nervously, hoping that no phone call would come from
South Africa.
Early the next morning, in weather almost amounting to a snow
storm, Rosemarie, Hermann and another student friend took off by
car to fetch me in Luxemburg. There had been no phone call from
Johannesburg. Under normal circumstances the trip from Tübingen
would have meant a four-hour drive. What a sacrifice it must have
meant for them to fetch me in those harsh wintry traffic conditions.
My own nerves were also strained when I arrived in Luxemburg.
Nobody was waiting for me; no Rosemarie to meet me at Findel
Airport. I phoned Tübingen to ask about their whereabouts.
Fortunately, the airport was still very small according to international
standards and Rosemarie and the two males who accompanied
her spotted me in the telephone booth just as I was phoning the
Karl Heim Haus. Such relief and joy mingled as Rosemarie and
I embraced each other lovingly!
Poor Hermann and his friend had all the trouble in the world
driving in the adverse traffic conditions. On the backseat, Rosemarie
and I enjoyed every minute of being reunited after the years of
involuntary separation.
I was due for my first visit to Rosemarie’s parental home in
Mühlacker soon after my arrival and I met her father for the first time.
Besides making a disapproving remark about the way I was dressed,
our encounter could not be defined as a clash. He was courteous and
polite in his dealings towards me. However, I had no clue of what was
going on in his mind. Agreeing to meet me had been a big deal for
him. And now, upon seeing me in person, he was confronted with the
fact that I was serious about his daughter; serious to the point that
I wanted to marry her. This thought plagued him deeply. He could not
yet accept a foreigner as a possible future son-in-law. In the weeks that
followed, there was once again much stress and debate in the house
over my relationship with Rosemarie. The tension escalated to the
point that my darling’s parents requested her to leave the home. Mama
Göbel still treasured the command from Scripture, but her husband
had such a lot of inculcated hang-ups around the matter that he could
not accept any such guidance from God.
Coming from South Africa with all its racial prejudices, I could
cope with these developments much better than Rosemarie. She
really struggled with the fact that she had been requested to leave
the parental home. Understandably, this was hurtful to her. She did,
however, also know that she was not expelled because her parents
didn’t love her any more. Elke Maier’s parents in Gündelbach
lovingly took care of her, taking them into their home and treating
her like their own daughter.
In the meantime I applied for the extension of my passport. My
anxiety in this regard was eventually dispelled and my passport was
extended for three more years. There was still a glimmer of hope that
I might one day return to South Africa.
We became engaged for marriage in March, 1974 - with no
family from either side present to celebrate the joyous occasion
with us. However, Rosemarie and I were due to part again shortly
thereafter. After a few months of re-orientation in Königsfeld, I was
called to far-away Berlin, to serve there as a ‘Vikar’, an assistant
minister, in the western part of the divided city from April onwards.
On the afternoon of the day I was due to leave for Berlin, I went
to the soccer field where the local team was due to play against a
team of ‘Gastarbeiter’, i.e. immigrant workers from Yugoslavia and
other southern European countries. I had seen an advertisement, and
thought I would kill some time watching the game. While the visitors
were waiting for more players to arrive, I joined in the fun, kicking
the ball around with the other players. When the guests noticed that
I possessed some skill with a football, I was promptly picked to join
the non-Germans.
Just after half time, I heard a click as I stepped into a ditch on the
uneven surface. The pain was so bad that I was immediately forced to
stop playing. But I could fortunately still cycle home and when my
ankle got swollen, I still did not suspect that I had actually fractured
my ankle. My Königsfeld neighbours suggested that I should have
the injury checked. After examination, the local doctor immediately
sent me to the hospital in the neighbouring town of Villingen for an
X-ray. I would spend the night, and quite a few thereafter, in hospital.
Neither Rosemarie nor I was really sad at this turn of events, because
this meant that we would be much nearer to each other a little longer.
C H A P T E R 1 2
In far-away Berlin, the members of the church brass band were all
set to welcome the new ‘Vikar’ [curate] from South Africa the next
morning, on the 1st of April. When they received the news that I had
broken my ankle, everybody thought that it was an April fool’s joke.
They soon learnt that this was not the case; I had indeed fractured
broken my ankle, just a few hours before my scheduled departure. A
few weeks later the West Berlin Moravian congregation enjoyed the
privilege of an inaugural sermon with a difference: I walked to the
pulpit with my leg still in a plaster cast!
At a German Moravian pastors’ conference in May 1974, I shared
the room with Eckhard Buchholz, a missionary from the Transkei
in South Africa. Unlike so many other people, he was not sceptical
at all about the fact that the South African government intended
to grant independence to a ‘homeland’. Transkei was one of the
enclaves by means of which the apartheid regime attempted to
reduce the numbers of ‘Blacks’ in the so called ‘White South Africa’.
Eckhard challenged me to come and work in the Transkei after
the commencement of independence of the ‘homeland’, expected
to follow in 1976. He was confident that Transkei would not take
over the racist prohibition of mixed marriages. I gladly accepted the
challenge, encouraging him to send me audio cassettes so that I could
start learning Xhosa. And so I did.
I was quite determined to return to the African continent as
soon as possible. Taking for granted that Rosemarie wanted to be
a missionary one day, I expected that she would join me as my wife
to the Transkei. During her visit to West Berlin soon thereafter,
I casually communicated my intention to return to Southern Africa.
I was completely taken by surprise to hear that she was not at all
ready to follow me back to ‘Africa’.
Neither of us was prepared for this turn of events. What could
we do now? On the issue of our future abode, we seemed to be miles
apart - both figuratively as well as literally! In our utter despair, we
cried to God for help! We loved each other so dearly. We didn’t want
to part, yet this was a matter we had to agree upon. We knew that it
had to be sorted out immediately. We loved each other far too much.
In complete desperation we prayed together, asking God to guide us
through His Word.
Divine intervention seemed to be the only possibility for saving
our union. Both of us knew that it would not be the ‘proper’ way to
handle Scripture, but we decided to seek God’s will by prayerfully
opening the Bible at random. When the Word of God fell open at the
verse where Ruth said to Naomi, “I shall go where you go,” we were
filled with awe and thankfulness. We were elated as we sensed that
this was God’s special word for us. We could go into the unknown
future together, and that’s what both of us dearly longed for!
Had we discussed the issue further, we would have encountered
a big problem; both of us interpreted the Bible verse in our own way.
I trusted that this meant Rosemarie would join me in going back
to Africa. She thought that I would now stay in Europe at least a
couple of years. Thankfully, we didn’t pursue the matter further. For
that moment, parting was not an issue any more. We were overjoyed
at this confirmation that we would be serving the Lord together,
wherever He would lead us!
In September 1974 I was back in southern Germany. In the tiny
village of Bad Boll, at the headquarters of the European continental
province of the Moravian Church, I joined the ‘Predigerseminar’
[preachers’ seminary] to be prepared for ordination. With three
other ‘Vikare’ [curates] I was now studying there, in preparation for
independent pastoral service.
I expected to work in Germany for three years or so at the
maximum, and then return to South Africa – more specifically the
Transkei – with my future wife Rosemarie. But with time, it became
clear to Rosemarie and myself that living together in Southern Africa
was not quite ‘on’ yet for us as a married couple. We really wanted
Rosemarie to get acquainted with my country and, if at all possible,
get to know my family. For the third time, but with increased hope,
Rosemarie applied for a visa to enter South Africa. Along with the
application she sent an explanatory letter, mentioning the fact that
I was now living in Germany. We reasoned that a major obstacle to
a visa should have been eliminated because of this. The Moravian
Church Board in South Africa cooperated optimally once again.
Rosemarie was invited to come and work as a volunteer at the Elim
Home for children with severe disabilities for a period of two months.
She would thus be serving on the same mission station where my
parents lived. Theoretically, my darling and my parents would thus be
able to get to know each other well over this time.
At the same time, we also started to make plans and preparations
to get married after Rosemarie’s return from South Africa in May the
following year. We were quite encouraged when we were informed
that the Special Branch (of the police) had left a message in Elim:
Rosemarie and I could come to South Africa together, on condition
that we would not alert the press. At that point in time we had no
intention whatsoever of going to South Africa as a couple. Therefore
it really took us by surprise when instead of the requested two
months, Rosemarie received a visa for only two weeks. A ticket for
two weeks would have been much more expensive, however.
We were grateful nonetheless that she managed to get a visa at
last! That was progress in our eyes. And hadn’t the Special Branch
given us an idea? The thought of spending our honeymoon in South
Africa was so enticing! We decided to bring forward our original
wedding date, to be in South Africa for the Easter holidays.
We were not going to passively accept whatever the South
African government decided on our behalf, so we went ahead to
book flights with Luxavia, the cheapest travel option at that time.
The activism which had taken hold of me ever since my return
from Europe in 1970 and which had been substantially fed during
my seminary days, was fuelled anew. I had no idea about the stress
I caused for my darling when prompting her to write the following
Gündelbach, 10th December, 1974
Dear Mr Consul,
I thank you very much for granting me a visa. Thus far I have not been
able to use it, because I have learnt that the cheaper flights are only
applicable from 19 days [stay in South Africa].
My fiancé and I have now decided to undertake the trip after our
marriage. We would like to spend four weeks in South Africa. Could
you please extend the visa to four weeks? If this is not possible, we
would like to hear it soon, so that we can apply timely for visas to other
neighbouring countries within the 19-45 days tariff. I want to make
it clear, however, that we would rather spend the full four weeks in
South Africa.
Yours in high esteem,
Rosemarie Göbel.
Although the Consulate in Munich was notified fairly promptly by
Pretoria to give Rosemarie a conditional visa to enter the country
without me, the details were unclear. Plagued by the uncertainty
of whether the visa would be extended or not, Rosemarie decided
to phone the South African Consulate in Munich directly for
clarification. The lady on the other side of the telephone line
was very impolite in her dealings, deeming it necessary to point
out to Rosemarie very crudely that her fiancé should know the
South African laws.
This phone call led to an adventurous but nerve-wrecking
correspondence with the authorities in Pretoria, which unfortunately
didn’t bring about the desired result. In the end we felt compelled
to get clarity by undertaking the 200 kilometer drive to Munich to
see if we could get the matter sorted out. We did this in February
1975, about a month before our proposed new wedding date. At the
Consulate in Munich we discovered that Pretoria had already notified
the Consulate in January that Rosemarie had been allocated a visa
for four weeks, albeit under the condition that she would “not travel
to South Africa accompanied by [her] future husband.” The lady at
the Consulate warned us not to try and circumvent this condition.
Unwittingly, she gave us an idea.
Initially I didn’t see any problem with the condition. I was so
elated that Rosemarie had received a visa at last to visit my home
country! In her Renault R4 on our way back from Munich, my
darling had an apt but vexing rhetorical question for me: “What sort
of honeymoon is that?” She wasn’t prepared to go to my ‘heimat’
[fatherland] alone any more. All the arrangements for our wedding
had more or less been finalised by this time. Rosemarie’s question
hit me by surprise and I had no answer ready! With a fearful heart
I agreed to travel separately. We would thus defy the warning of the
Consulate official. We knew that I could be arrested. The prospect of
spending my honeymoon in prison was not so enticing, but I agreed
to take the risk.
To ensure that our plans would not be wrecked at Jan Smuts
Airport, Johannesburg, I became untruthful. I gave the impression in
my correspondence to my parents and friends that Rosemarie would
come alone. I felt that the risk would be too great to inform anybody
of our intention to circumvent the condition of the visa. It would
have been quite easy for the government to send one (or both) of us
back with the next flight or to lock me up as I still possessed a South
African passport.
We altered our traveling plans, cancelling the booking with
Luxavia and booked instead on two separate flights to comply with
the condition of the visa. The new 19-75 day tariff had a distinct
advantage which was of special interest to us. One could change any
booking from one international airline to another free of charge.
We would be able to take advantage of the fact that the condition of
Rosemarie’s visa said nothing about leaving the country together.
Our friend and confidant from my seminary days, Reverend
Henning Schlimm, had just returned from South Africa with his
family. He was due to take up a post as minister of the Moravian
Church in Königsfeld (Black Forest), where I had resumed my stay
in Germany, and where I had broken my ankle. It seemed almost
obvious that we should marry there and ask Henning to perform
the ceremony. Unfortunately we could not consider marrying from
Rosemarie’s parental home, although her mother had participated
fully in all the preparations. I had not met her father again since that
day soon after my arrival in November 1973, after which Rosemarie
had to leave her parental home. Nevertheless, we kept on praying,
hoping that a miracle might still happen and that Papa Göbel would
change his mind to attend our wedding.
Rosemarie wrote a loving letter to her father, apologising for the
hurts caused by our relationship and pleading with him to attend
our wedding. Sadly, he was not to be swayed to come to Königsfeld.
We were under the impression that he was stubbornly sticking to
his guns. He did not see his way clear to attend the wedding, having
made plans to visit an uncle that day. We were grateful that he gave
his wife full freedom to act in line with her own convictions.
On Thursday the 20th March 1975 (two days before the church
ceremony), we became husband and wife legally in Rosemarie’s home
town, Mühlacker. We deemed it a special blessing that her mother
agreed to serve as witness, along with Elke Maier, who had such a
big part in the run-up to this moment. Nonetheless, a bit of a cloud
hung over the proceedings because my parents and family were not
represented and Papa Göbel had no liberty as yet to participate.
On the Saturday, the stage was set for our church wedding
ceremony. I was quite content with the simplicity which the German
wedding custom allows. The German custom does not prescribe
bridesmaids and best men, or special clothing for the flower girls
and page boys. That suited our pocket perfectly in the light of our
honeymoon plans.
The wintry conditions in Königsfeld could not mar our joy.
Virtually until the last minute we were busy with preparations
and chores like removing ice from the windows of our wedding
‘limousine’, Rosemarie’s little Renault R4. I also assisted with the
boiling of eggs for the reception.
The Königsfeld church choir rose to the occasion with a splendid
performance of ‘Jesu, Joy of Man’s desiring’, giving the service a
festive touch. The highlight of the church ceremony was undoubtedly
the sermon. Our friend and mentor Reverend Henning Schlimm
understood magnificently to intertwine parts of the thorny road up
to our marriage with the biblical verse that we had requested him
to speak on.
Many a tear was shed; we were overawed by God’s goodness and
grace. Hadn’t we experienced through the years clearly enough how
He bore us on His wings? Our hearts were filled with gratitude and
joy towards the mighty God whom we would serve together, joined
in marriage.
Despite the indescribable joy we experienced that day at finally
uniting in marriage, and the sense of gratitude towards God for his
favour on us, there were still those two issues hanging over us. For
one, Rosemarie’s father did not attend the joyous celebration and
had not given our marriage his official blessing. And then, the laws
in South Africa were still against us. What would happen on our
honeymoon? Was trouble awaiting us? Would I get arrested? Would
we be caught out together?

C H A P T E R 1 3
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.
5. They still had no telephone connection. ‘Coloured’ people usually had to wait very
long after applying for one.
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
6. We had a ‘certificate’ from the South African Consulate, stating that our marriage
would not be recognised by the government (see appendix 4).
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
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 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 seats
behind the rope at the back but on the stage just behind the
orchestra. 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
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 counterpart explained that he
was going in the same direction. The owner of the hotel, aware of the
South African laws and practices, was rather sceptical at first. This
was not surprising due to the time of the night that we arrived there.
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: I was an exile to
all intents and purposes.
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 visited their home was still vivid. After the tragic
occasion one and a half years prior to this, Rosemarie had to leave her
parental home. 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 him 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 treasured Rosemarie’s letter pleading
with him to attend the wedding. 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.”
D E O G L O R I A .
T O G O D B E T H E G L O R Y .


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