The Disowned - My search for my missing step-aunt

Charlie ElsCharlie Els, 8 February 2020
Since Biblical times those suffering from leprosy were spurned and ejected from the community. The general belief was that the disease was God’s punishment for one’s sins. Consequently, among religious-minded Afrikaners leprosy in their families held a stigma that they attempted to hide as best they could. The name of a relative with leprosy was simply not mentioned.
Charlie Els in his well-researched article, “Die Verstotelinge” (The Disowned), deals with such a case in his own family. A cousin alerted him almost by chance that a daughter of his grandmother had been admitted to Pretoria’s Leprosy institute, whose existence no one in the family ever spoke about. This daughter, Dina Margaretha van der Merwe (1887-1915), had been totally rejected by the family; she was disowned and forgotten. In his research Charlie also came upon similar details of other family members no one spoke about.
Such people are not mentioned in the family registers, and where they are listed, the place of death is not indicated or on purpose incorrectly shown as the person’s usual abode. If the cause of death is shown, it is usually false.
With this article Charlie Els received GSSA’s award for Best Familia Article for 2018 (published in Familia No. 55/2) – not the first time this award comes his way.