Veronica do Nascimento Sutil (86) and her late husband, João Nunes Sutil, were among hundreds of Portuguese who migrated from Madeira to South Africa during the 1950s. The year they travelled by boat from the island to Cape Town still shines like a beacon in her memory: 1957. Like many other Portuguese who migrated to South Africa before and after them, Veronica and her husband came in search of a better life.
Veronica explained that she had no qualms to join her husband on his adventure because life in Madeira at that time was not easy. Born and raised in the town of Estreito da Calheta, she described how hard her parents worked to support the family. “They worked hard in the ground and planted potatoes and wheat and everything,” she said. Matters were made worse when Veronica’s father passed away when she was only nine years old. Needless to say, the decision to leave the hard life of Madeira behind was not difficult. Another pull factor was the fact that her brothers and a sister had already moved to South Africa.
Initially, Veronica and her husband settled in the East Rand town of Springs, where Veronica’s sister lived. Like many Portuguese at that time, her husband made a living as a greengrocer. Veronica had her hands full as a devoted mother. All six of her children – Dolores Camacho, Luis Sutil, José Sutil, Fatima Ferraris, João Sutil, and Tony Sutil – were born in South Africa. At home Veronica made an effort to teach her children to speak Portuguese.
In 1964, the family moved to Bloemfontein when a business opportunity opened for Veronica’s husband. The family settled in the suburb of Oranjesig to be near their take-away food and fresh produce business in Harvey Road. Bloemfontein, being a predominantly Afrikaans-speaking city at that time, meant that Veronica had to adapt quickly. Speaking no Afrikaans at all and very little English, she still managed to serve the customers whenever she helped in the business. Her friendliness served her well. Veronica remembered that her husband worked long, gruelling hours. It was not unusual for him to arrive home at one o’clock in the morning. “He suffered so much,” Veronica said. Sadly, he passed away when he was only 47 years old. Despite the challenging circumstances that Veronica faced after her husband’s death, she found comfort and strength in her Christian faith.
Thanks to Veronica’s husband’s hard work, the business had prospered. The family became so fond of Bloemfontein that they decided to stay permanently. All six of her children completed their schooling in Bloemfontein and all of them still live in Bloemfontein. For Veronica it is indeed a bonus to have all her children and some grandchildren close by; she cherishes every moment with them. Veronica, who still lives on her own, enjoys fairly good health. She uses her time cooking traditional Portuguese dishes such as Bacalhau (a traditional cod dish), working in the garden (her Madeiran heritage!) and watching Portuguese television.
What other Portuguese tradition does Veronica still uphold? “Working hard and eating well,” she said, with a twinkle in her eye. Sound advice for those who want a long and happy life!
Prof. Derek du Bruyn
Photo: Sutil Family Private Collection