THABIE Chasakara left her homeland just one day before the police came for her and her brother.
Under South Africa’s apartheid system, coloureds and blacks were non-persons without the right to travel or hold a passport. It was a nerve-racking experience obtaining a false passport in one of the homelands, then catching the train to Zimbabwe with her brother.
“I can still see my father waving his white handkerchief as the train pulled out,” she says. “He was accosted by the police the next day and blamed for his two children leaving. He was deported back to Zimbabwe, which he had left as a teenager.”
The fact that her mother was from Kimberley, South Africa, made no difference. The apartheid regulations governed everything that people could do, everywhere they could live or go. All public spaces were designated areas: they were for whites, coloureds or blacks. There was no mixing. You sat or swam on the part of the beach designated for your colour. Everybody had to know their place and there were signs everywhere to make sure you did.
Thabie often felt homesick during the three years she spent in Zimbabwe. Like most others in a similar situation, she listened to South African music and cooked South African food to ease the pain. When the US offered university scholarships to South African refugees, Thabie obtained one to Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland, where she studied computer science and electrical engineering.
She lived in the US for 16 years, searching for what she needed and not finding it. “Life in its entirety didn’t make sense to me,” she says. “I saw everyone around me get an education, get a job, get married. But I was troubled by the thoughts, ‘What is the point of it all?’, ‘Why are we here?’”
She tried various meditations in the hope of getting an answer, but it wasn’t until she came across Jyoti meditation that she felt satisfied. Jyoti meditation is for people of all faiths and religions and it is conducted in silence. Thabie had found the peace she had been seeking. “It was the best thing I’ve ever done,” she says.
In 1998, she met Sant Rajinder Singh who teaches this method of meditation. She had found the teacher she was looking for. Every second weekend, she drove 15 hours each way from Washington DC to Chicago just to be in his presence and feel the peace and love. Her anger receded. She forgave and forgot those who had practised apartheid against her family and people.
In 1999, she was asked if she minded if an Australian got a lift with her to Chicago. His name was Robert Arnold and he came from Koonwarra. When they got to Chicago he asked her out for a coffee, but she declined. He took the hint.
In 2000, six years after South Africa’s first multiracial elections, she finally returned to live in the land of her birth. In 2001, she attended a Global Conference on Mysticism at Kirpal Ashram, in India, conducted by Sant Rajinder Singh. There she met Robert again and asked him to help her in a currency transaction. He in return asked for her address as he knew someone who practised the same meditation in South Africa.
For six years, they corresponded in letters, emails, phone calls and SMSs . During this time Robert sent pictures of his home in Koonwarra and asked her to visit. She finally came in 2007, stayed a year, came back in 2009 to live, and became an Australian citizen in 2013.
She and Robert now hold meditation classes in Koonwarra and at community houses at Wonthaggi, Inverloch and Leongatha. They say they are deeply grateful for the support those institutions have given them.
Thabie says she now feels at home in Australia. “The people are warm and welcoming. It is unique in the world. I am now truly accepted as a real person.”
Recently, when she left her full purse in a shopping trolley, it was returned. She shakes her head in amazement. Australians are probably unaware how unusual that is, she says.