MY LIFE IN SALDANHA – HESTER (TOSSIE) BASSON
Hester Basson is a true native of Saldanha Bay. She was born on the 11th of October 1929. We all “fondly know her as “Aunt Tos’’. She was born in Klippiesdorp (directly translated it is town of small stones) and grew up in the same place.
The name Klippiesdorp was the name the locals called the area as most of the residents worked in the local canning factory. Today Klippiesdorp is know as Hoedjies kop and she recalls how in 1961 and 1962 the residents were forced to move to White City, an unpopular move as the houses were very much smaller. Her grandmother reared her, as was the case with most of her grandmothers friends as poverty meant the childrens mothers had to seek work elsewhere.
She recalls only going to school for a few years and never learnt to read or write and adds at her ripe age that her memory also disapears from time to time.
As 10 year olds, she and her friends started working in the Saldanha Bay Canning Company as casual labour. She recalls cleaning fish such as Snoek, Mackerel and packing crayfish into tins. There was no alarm to wake them in the mornings and they relied on the roosters crow to awaken them, grandmother to chase them on to be ready before the siren of the factory went off. From their home against the hill, they could see heavily laden boats coming in and once the boats were tide, their work started.
Work entailed the cleaning and packaging of fish (mackerel, sardines and crayfish). A machine was used to cut off the head and tail of the fish, but they manually packed the fish into the tins. The tins came in two sizes, a pound and ½ pound tin. 48 tins had to be packed on each tray. A piece of paper was placed in each tin prior to placing the fish neatly into the tin and crayfish had to be cleaned before canning them. She recalls it as being hard work that ruined their hands, and shows her arthritic hands to me. Hands used to bleed en they used candle fat to rub into their hands and bandaged it in cloth dosed in parafin. There was no money to seek medical attention and they took care of themselves.
She recalls earning almost nothing for her labour, earning old English money, penneys, tiekkies and Shillings. At 16 years of age they could seek a permanent position, but the bosses, the Silvermans never signed them as the girls were unaware that they had to directly request a permanent position. The óu Lap’ (money) they recieved could at least buy them food but it was a hard life. She worked for the Silvermans in the factory for 62 years. Mothers brough their children to the factory and while they worked, the older ones would take care of the younger ones and on occasion on late shifts, sleeping childern were then carried home.
The factory was build of wood and Zinc and could be very cold inside. Approximately 2 years before the factory closed down for business she stopped working. She continued to work as long as possible as there was no provision made for pensions and she says they weren’t treated very well.
She talks about the Silverman family, how Robert Silverman, as a young man, got them to work barefoot in the factory. They were shocked by is death which they learnt from the Weslander (newspaper) and remembers he completed schooling, tertiary education and then joined the army and much later worked in the factory. He was the son of Jackie Silverman.
I show Aunt Tos an old photo of the Bay and she excitedly shows me the Canning Factory on the photo. She points to the shop owned my Mr Jaffe and Kaasnag. They were 2 Jews that worked in the fishing industry. Their shop was at the edge of the water, they had their own jetty and boats with which they caught fish. They sold fresh fish on the day it was caught and anything left over was salted and sold as that.
She recalls seeing the War ships the Transvaal and the Natal as they lay in Bay during the war years.
She also recall the stone building in town which was a general dealer who sold everything and anything.
She also mentioned the Vingerhoed huisie (nimble house – referring to the shape of it) which used to be a home and the later different shops as well as a dairy belonging to the Tolken Family who had two cows to sell milk.
She also mentioned a place called “Kanarie dorp” which was not far from “Klippies dorp”. Nobody konws about these places today. It was the area around the Anglian church in town.
An interresting fact is that the people of those days called a town a place which had 5 to 10 houses. Saldanha Had 5 of these little towns which was Parkers dorp, Cemetrary View, Kanarie dorp, Klippiesdorp and Saldanha. In the later years they also estalish White City. These little towns over the years grew into each other to form the bigger Saldanha as what we know today.