Margaret as a young womanPicture copyright
Nathan Romburgh

When a health emergency triggered Nathan Romburgh and his sisters to head looking out for into their family historic previous, a protracted time after the tip of apartheid, they uncovered a carefully guarded secret that made them quiz their bear identity.

Cape City, 29 September 1969 – at 10pm town is rocked by a immense earthquake. Margaret Buirski is working as a First Support nurse in the Alhambra cinema and, for as soon as, her clinical skills are surely compulsory. A girl has fallen from the balcony and Margaret is tending to her injuries in the chaos.

A young man walks previous, very drunk, and notices the nurse’s graceful legs. Despite his inebriation, he presents to power the girls to sanatorium. This is the start up of the romance between Margaret and Derek Romburgh.

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Nathan Romburgh

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Margaret in her nurse’s uniform in front of a St John’s ambulance

„We steadily affirm that they met towards an earthquake and from there worked as a lot as a crescendo,“ says Nathan Romburgh, 42, their youngest child. He describes his mom as „a persona“. „She will be able to be able to also talk herself into any job, after which straight befriend out again,“ he says.

The wedding became no longer a gay one. Derek persisted to drink, and so they’d minute or no money. Margaret dealt with it by creating a sage world, telling the children that they had been too rich to need a mortgage, and that they had been going to install a purchase in their home. The children never knew what to factor in.

„She became a fantasist,“ says Nathan. „I ponder it is segment of how you cope with a worrying existence, you hold tales in your mind – and we moral grew to bargain those.“

„She became a bit of a compulsive liar,“ agrees Bernadette, Nathan’s oldest sister. „We never knew if any of it became moral – I’m no longer obvious she even knew.“

The children – Bernadette, Shereen and Nathan – knew minute or no about their mom’s previous and never met her adoptive family. She had been adopted as a toddler by devout Orthodox Jews, who had died when she became a teen. The remainder of the family disowned her when she married Derek, a non-Jew.

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Nathan Romburgh

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Margaret’s adoptive father died when she became a teen

Despite this, Margaret had steadily clung proudly to her Jewish identity.

„We had a bit of an abnormal existence, rising up, resulting from my mom became Jewish and my father became no longer,“ says Nathan. „For Passover we’d be fasting and no longer allowed to eat the rest leavened, and in the center of it my father would lift home hot-unpleasant buns.“

Nathan had a worrying relationship along with his mom and when their oldsters divorced in 1991, he chose no longer to are residing with her, transferring in along with his paternal grandparents instead.

„There isn’t any sugarcoating it – she became a horrible mom,“ he says.

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Nathan Romburgh

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Bernadette, Nathan and Shereen with their oldsters at a family wedding

Three years later, as Margaret became demise of breast most cancers, she made an announcement: she had a sister. Her children brushed off it as moral one other of her made-up tales.

Years passed, then, in 2008, Bernadette got breast most cancers, too.

Genetic assessments confirmed that Bernadette’s most cancers became the the same style as her mom’s, even though the mutations did no longer take a seat on the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes – an aggressive fabricate of inherited most cancers that happens extra steadily in the Ashkenazi Jewish community than in the rest of the inhabitants.

„It skittish us plenty,“ says Nathan. „We decided that we surely must know a bit extra about our publicity to things from my mom’s genes.“

So, whereas Bernadette centered on getting by remedy, Nathan and his sister Shereen location out to discover extra about their family historic previous.

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Nathan Romburgh

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Bernadette, Nathan and Shereen at Nathan’s wedding

The major factor they did became to interrogate of Margaret’s birth certificate. This took several months to arrive – however when it did, it contained a immense shock: they learned that their mom’s mom became known as Mary Magdalena Francis, a title that can also in most cases be extra Catholic.

„We realised that my grandmother wasn’t Jewish,“ says Nathan.

It became a thriller, and triggered them to delve extra.

Nathan became residing in London by then, so he asked his sister Shereen to phone every Francis in the Cape City phonebook.

„The fourth name hit paydirt – they knew my biological grandmother,“ he says.

After several extra phone calls to doubtless family participants all over the realm, Nathan spoke to Alan Francis, then residing in Spain.

„Um, I ponder we are in a position to also per chance be related,“ he began.

„We steadily knew there became a scandal!“ became Alan’s rapid reply.

„All my existence, I knew there became a skeleton in the cupboard, however no person would affirm the rest,“ says Alan, 77.

„Aunt Mary steadily stated to me: ‚I’ll articulate you on my deathbed.‘ Nevertheless she never did, bless her.“

Mary Magdalena Francis had died of stomach most cancers in 1998 – four years after her daughter had died of breast most cancers.

And Nathan stumbled on that his mom had been telling the truth as a minimal, she did hold a sister. Her title became Norma. Nevertheless she, too, had died – of bowel most cancers – in 2006.

Alan stuffed Nathan in on what he knew.

Mary and her toddler Norma had moved in with Alan’s family in 1949, when he became seven, he stated. Mary had misplaced her job and her oldsters had been now no longer alive, so she took refuge with her brother, Alan’s father.

Alan knew that Mary had turn into pregnant by her boss, a married doctor with babies of his bear, however he steadily felt there became extra to the account – he remembers hushed conversations in the befriend of closed doors.

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Alan Francis

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Norma with Alan Francis’s oldsters

For Nathan it became disappointing to seem at this when it became already too gradual, especially because it modified into out he had lived moral down the avenue from his aunt Norma in London.

Mary had moved to the UK and married later in existence. Now, armed with her married title, Nathan searched UK records for Mary’s death certificate, and also Norma’s.

That became when he made a surprising discovery: his aunt Norma and his mom shared a birthday.

Some of the critical Mary had taken to her grave became that she’d given birth to twins – however saved handiest one.

„Then there became this immense quiz – what would fabricate somebody give away handiest one of her twins? It moral didn’t fabricate sense,“ says Nathan.

He quickly fashioned a belief – it became in step with pictures Alan had shared, which confirmed that Margaret became fairer than her sister Norma.

„My mom had olive skin, however she passed for white in apartheid South Africa,“ says Nathan. „I procure no longer ponder Norma might per chance hold.“

Although Mary Francis, Nathan’s grandmother, became registered as „European“, she became surely mixed-flee. Mary’s father, James Francis, became British, and her mom, Christina, became of Malaysian starting put, from the island of St Helena. Mary became the youngest of their six children.

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Alan Francis

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James Francis, along with his wife Christina Leonora and three of their children – perchance Nora, Percival and Mary (on Christina’s lap)

Since the major arrival of early colonisers, mixed-flee relationships had came about in South Africa – Dutch settlers had families with local Khoisan and Xhosa girls, as neatly as with girls from Malaysia or St Helena, about a of whom had been introduced over as slaves.

Nevertheless after the Nationwide Event came to energy in 1948, felony guidelines had been passed that made such relationships unlawful.

The Prohibition of Blended Marriages Act forbade marriage between „Europeans“ and „non-Europeans“ and grew to turn into law on 8 July 1949 – a month before the twins had been born.

The Population Registration and Immorality Acts of 1950 went extra, prohibiting sexual relationships between of us of different races and requiring everybody to register as a member of three flee lessons: „Shaded“ (African), „White“ (European), „Coloured“. Later, a fourth, „Indian“, became added.

These racial classifications had been basically selected the basis of pictures or superficial observations, in conjunction with the horrible „pencil test“ by which a pencil became assign in somebody’s hair – in the occasion that they shook their head and the pencil fell out, they had been labeled as white, however if it stayed in, they had been no longer.

Nevertheless of us of mixed descent can also search for terribly different, even towards the the same family.

„A Cape Coloured particular person might per chance be the rest from very pale with inexperienced eyes to somebody who’s fairly black,“ says Nathan.

Or no longer it is very no longer going to know the plot the turmoil of early apartheid influenced Mary, on the other hand it is doubtless that it had some relating what took place to her infants. She saved the twin who would were labeled as „Coloured“, and gave away the twin who regarded „White“.

She might per chance hold had no different in the topic – perchance the Jewish family that adopted Margaret rejected Norma resulting from they didn’t need a toddler who regarded different from them. Or even they handiest wanted one child, no longer two.

Nevertheless Nathan believes Mary belief she became offering Margaret the chance of a better existence.

„Whenever you occur to had been a colored girl and you had two infants, one of whom became white, I’m in a position to also mediate that it is fully doubtless and surely fairly doubtless that if you occur to gave up your white toddler you would be doing it for altruistic causes,“ he says.

„If truth be told it appears like a bit of a Sophie’s Alternative scenario. I’m in a position to also factor in no different reason you might per chance well quit one twin and no longer different.“

Under apartheid, existence grew to turn into an increasing number of worrying for folks of mixed descent, such because the Francis family.

Racial classifications ruled all aspects of day by day existence – where of us can are also residing, what public transport they might be able to also exercise and what faculties or hospitals they might be able to also exercise.

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Transport became segregated

As a consequence, apartheid basically nick up families where oldsters or siblings had been labeled as different races.

Alan Francis remembers this neatly. He became black-skinned, with sad curly hair, whereas his sister became gorgeous-skinned with brown hair.

„For the time being I’d no longer be in a position to lunge down the avenue with my sister, I’d no longer be in a position to take a seat on the the same park bench or depart to the the same cinema, depart on the the same bus – nothing,“ he says.

Nor can also they assign as mighty money as white of us.

So in the 1950s Alan’s oldsters emigrated to the UK, and so a lot of participants of the Francis family adopted. Alongside with, in 1956, Mary Francis and seven-year-used Norma.

Mary got a job with London Transport, where she met her husband, an engineer. Mother and daughter remained shut and lived together for many of their lives.

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Crispin Belcher

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Mary and her husband George on a London bus (third row befriend)

Nevertheless did Norma ever know she had a twin sister in South Africa?

It appears that in the previous couple of years of her existence Margaret tried over and over to contact participants of her birth family, however no person replied.

And yet some of us knew about her existence.

Roy Francis, one other cousin who emigrated to Canada in the 1970s, remembers visiting a family supreme friend in Cape City in 1985, who asked after Mary’s „different daughter“. Roy became fully vastly surprised by the quiz.

„Via the total years, no person in the Francis family clan ever spoke about one other child in Mary’s existence,“ says Roy. „I felt that I’d no longer start a can of worms so I made a decision no longer to keep in touch about this with someone.“

He remembered that unfamiliar dialog even though, in 1992 or 1993, when his cousin Nora, who also lived in Canada, bought a letter from a girl in Cape City who became shopping for her birth mom, Mary Francis. She wrote that she had terminal breast most cancers and became fervent to manufacture contact.

Nora became astonished to gaze that this girl’s date of birth became exactly the equivalent to Norma’s. Nevertheless when she asked her bear mom [Mary’s sister] about it, her mom brushed off the letter, asserting it became from a „loopy girl“.

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Crispin Belcher

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Norma Francis, Mary’s husband George, and Mary

Norma herself never fairly knew the corpulent account, in accordance with a shut family supreme friend, Crispin Belcher, who sorted her when she had most cancers. For the length of a hospice search advice from Norma confided in him that she had as soon as picked up the phone in her mom’s flat to listen to a girl affirm, „I ponder you’re my aunt.“

Norma passed the phone to her mom, who listened, then stated, „I procure no longer need you to name to any extent extra,“ and assign the phone down.

That became all Norma knew about it, says Crispin. He is surprised that Mary reacted that plot. „She became steadily a truly jolly particular person, however smitten by what I do know now, that can also were a bit of a façade,“ he says.

Alan Francis can’t are aware of it both. „It became uncharacteristic resulting from Aunt Mary became the kindest, nicest particular person,“ he says.

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Crispin Belcher

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Norma and Mary with Crispin Belcher’s mom and sister standing in their garden in Croydon in the 1980s

Nathan began to feel sorry for his mom, when he stumbled on that her attempts to contact her family had been consistently rebuffed.

Nevertheless he became smitten by getting to know the Francises, and discovering his unexpected mixed-flee heritage came as a sexy shock.

„It moral added a minute bit extra depth to my origins, I became surely fairly blissful with it,“ he says.

He location his hopes on finding family participants on different aspect of the family and decided to hint his biological grandfather, who had employed Mary Francis, and got her pregnant. By this stage he knew he became known as Dr Joshua.

Nora Francis, from the Canadian aspect of the family, remembered the doctor neatly, and he or she told Nathan that he became Jewish. She passe to head looking out for him in the canteen of the Groote Schuur sanatorium, where she worked as a nurse.

„We knew exactly who he became,“ she told Nathan.

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Getty Photography

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Groote Schuur Medical institution (GSH) Cape City, South Africa in 1969

Dr Joshua became belief to hold emigrated, however Nathan can also secure no hint of him for years, despite writing to hospitals in the UK and Canada.

Lastly, last summer, the BBC stumbled on Dr Joshua’s title on an archived passenger list. It confirmed he had travelled to England in the gradual 1950s along with his wife and son, and listed their corpulent names.

Who’s who?

Nathan, Bernadette and Shereen are the children of Margaret Buirski and Derek Romburgh. Margaret became adopted as a toddler. Her biological mom became Mary Francis.

Mary Francis had one other daughter, Norma, Margaret’s twin. Norma became introduced up by Mary and moved with her to London. The twins‘ biological father became a married doctor along with his bear family, Dr Joshua.

Nathan and his siblings stumbled on different family participants from their mom’s family, in conjunction with cousins Alan, Roy and Nora Francis.

Nathan also made contact in the waste with one of Dr Joshua’s sons. He is Nathan’s mom’s half-brother, which makes him Nathan’s half-uncle.

Nathan without delay contacted the son by Facebook, and so they spoke that same evening.

Despite no longer sparkling the rest about Norma and Margaret’s existence, the doctor’s son became no longer fully surprised to listen to his father can also need had illegitimate children.

„His father became, in his words, a ‚girls‘ man‘,“ says Nathan.

He spoke to the man he hoped became his half-uncle at size, each of them finding out a huge deal from different.

„It took a truly long time for him to work out that I became his nephew – I’m in a position to also articulate when it clicked. He had an ‚Aha!‘ 2nd.“

He told Nathan that his father had solid links with the Jewish clinical community in Cape City, and therefore it became very doubtless that he had arranged Margaret’s adoption.

Nonetheless, he explained that Dr Joshua became no longer Jewish himself – he became also from the Cape Coloured community, with roots in St Helena.

His son told Nathan that his oldsters‘ causes for leaving South Africa remained a moderately relaxed subject.

Dr Joshua’s wife became British – they’d met when he accomplished his clinical practising in England. He took her befriend to Cape City, where he location up say in a building that belonged to the Francis family, as neatly as working in the Groote Schuur sanatorium.

As a non-white doctor he had turn into an increasing number of frustrated by the barriers imposed on him by apartheid. He became no longer allowed to feature without the „supervision“ of a white surgeon, and became handiest speculated to treat sufferers from the the same flee classification.

For Dr Joshua and his wife, the excellent straw came when their children had been now no longer allowed to lend a hand their „white“ college. At that point the family decided to leave the nation.

The doctor went on to hold a profitable profession foreign, however he never got over the design apartheid had affected his existence, his son told Nathan – and his background became one thing he did no longer keep in touch about.

Reuniting families of the Cape Coloured community

„The Cape Coloured community became no longer very blissful with their heritage – surely it became frowned upon resulting from it became shameful to be of mixed descent,“ says Jolene Joshua (no relation) who helps of us hint their ancestry by her organisation, Receive Your Roots.

The disgrace attached to being mixed-flee had many layers, she explains.

Derogatory associations attached to Coloured identity incorporated „immorality, sexual promiscuity, illegitimacy, impurity, propensities to criminal activity, gangsterism, drug and alcohol abuse.“

Then there became the basis that Coloured of us had been a constructed from „miscegenation“ – the interbreeding of of us belief to be to be of different racial types.

Jolene says most of us who solution to her for lend a hand procure no longer hold any thought of their racial background. One among her purchasers couldn’t hint her gradual father’s UK birth certificate – however he modified into out no longer to be British the least bit.

„He became a bit of fairer so he can also depart for white,“ says Jolene. „So she grew up in a white community, white background, supposedly white father.“

Jolene is aware of of many „Cape Coloured“ families who had been nick up up thanks to racial segregation and never stumbled on their plot befriend to each different.

„It’s miles unhappy how many of us are demise with unanswered questions,“ she says.

A DNA test has now confirmed that Nathan and Dr Joshua’s son are related, and so they’ve since met for dinner in London.

Nathan is gay to hold made the connection.

„Or no longer it is the last a part of the puzzle, and there might per chance be some completeness,“ he says.

Even so, finding out that neither of his grandparents became Jewish came as a shock.

„I peaceable haven’t worked out the plot in which it impacts my identity,“ he says. „Being Jewish is this form of traditional segment of me that I became rocked by it.“

Having stumbled on no sage of Margaret’s adoption, Nathan can’t be decided that that she underwent a corpulent conversion, however he peaceable considers himself Jewish.

„Or no longer it is cultural, for me,“ he says. „Or no longer it is what you had been taught about your self from an early age.“

Nathan’s sister, Bernadette, wonders whether or no longer her mom’s solid attachment to the Jewish identity had one thing to assemble with her tenuous put as white below the apartheid machine.

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Nathan Romburgh

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Margaret never fitted in, says her daughter Bernadette

„I believe, given the wounds that she carried, that she steadily felt on the surface,“ she says. „She will be able to be able to also and not utilizing a doubt depart for white, and he or she did – however can you factor in spending your complete existence strolling that skinny line?“

Bernadette’s paternal grandmother had warned her, when she expressed curiosity about who her mom’s family became, to „let drowsing canine lie“.

Bernadette suspects her mom’s non-whiteness must were apparent to the adults in the family. Her grandfather, who espoused the nationalist political affairs of the time, did no longer procure on with Margaret.

„He did no longer hold time for my mom,“ she says.

Nonetheless, the die became solid, and Margaret’s children grew up with some good advantages of being white below apartheid – one thing Bernadette, who grew to turn into politically aware as a teen in the 1980s, is acutely responsive to.

„Even supposing my oldsters had been working class of us, the huge amount of privilege we had by being white became astounding,“ she says. „The truth I went to university on basically the most mediocre location of results – and got a bursary – is resulting from I became white, no longer for any different reason.“

Bernadette has long since recovered from the most cancers that location them on this lunge. And even though they’ve stumbled on one thing of a family historic previous of most cancers in the family, any alarm they felt about this has been outweighed by curiosity in their fresh family participants.

Alan Francis especially felt like family without delay, says Nathan.

He has extra sympathy for his mom now that he understands about a of what she went by.

„Her existence became unfair,“ he says. „Norma and her half-siblings had mighty extra different than she did, despite her adoption.

„Or no longer it is made me feel extra kindly towards her.“

That you might per chance additionally per chance be obsessed with:

In April 1997 a girl sporting a nurse’s uniform walked out of a Cape City sanatorium carrying a 3-day-used toddler taken from the maternity ward because the toddler’s mom lay drowsing. It became handiest by likelihood, 17 years later, that the stolen child stumbled on her moral identity.

Learn: ‚The selfie that uncovered I became a stolen toddler‘

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