Retired Newport Beach Cardiac Surgeon’s Book Reflects on Youth in Apartheid South Africa

Himmet Dajee

“A Boy Named Courage” is Himmet Dajee’s engaging new memoir, co-written with Patrice Apodaca, about growing up as the son of a domineering Indian immigrant father in South Africa. The memoir twines historical events—the Sharpeville massacre in 1960, Robert F. Kennedy’s “Ripple of Hope” speech at the University of Cape Town, the Soweto uprising in 1976—with the Orange County surgeon’s life story, a triumph of grit and talent over institutional racism.

ON EARLY REACTIONS TO THE BOOK

Himmet Dajee’s book, “A Boy Named Courage”

One (reader) told me she just bought the book and couldn’t put it down. She wasn’t aware how deeply the apartheid regime had affected all the other ethnic groups. She was under the impression that only blacks were disenfranchised. And she only realized (after) reading the book that there were Indians and Chinese and Malaysians and other people who were treated and affected by discriminatory practices in South Africa.

ON GROWING UP UNDER APARTHEID
We were brought up from childhood to think we were uneducable. This was more toward blacks particularly, so that they should be left as subservient so they could serve the white regime. I said to myself, “How can this be?”

ON SEGREGATED SOCIETY’S “DUAL WORLD”
You go to school, you come home, and you don’t mix with anybody but your own kind. When you meet people of different cultural backgrounds, it expands your horizons. But we were ostracized from the white society, subjected to taunting, and considered inferior. Everywhere you went, you were segregated, whether it was the beach, the cinema, the post office, even churches. To live in this dual world, your mind isn’t cohesive. That duality,
it didn’t work in my head. I was very angry at that.

ON RETURNING TO SOUTH AFRICA
When my sister was married (in 1985), she wanted me to come, and
I said, “You know what, I’ll go down for the wedding and nothing more.” But when I was there, I gave a talk on cardiac surgery at the University of Cape Town. I said, “This is interesting. I am now giving a talk at the very university that didn’t want to admit me into medical school, which is really ironic.” When I go back, the family and friends I left behind all sympathize with me as to all the tumult I went through but they say, “At least you succeeded.”

I took my wife and two girls on a safari and introduced them to my family and friends, and they enjoyed it thoroughly. And they keep asking, “When are we going back?” Things have changed markedly from when I was growing up. Over time, there is a softening of the heart.

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