Denny man who witnessed apartheid in South Africa writes first book aged 78

Witnessing the effects of apartheid in South Africa would have a profound impact on most nine-year-olds.

By Jonathon Reilly
Thursday, 6th February 2020, 9:41 am
Tom Moffat wrote, published and bound his first-ever book, detailing his life story, all on his own. Picture: Michael Gillen
Tom Moffat wrote, published and bound his first-ever book, detailing his life story, all on his own. Picture: Michael Gillen

To then be brought back to Scotland only to return to the racially segregated nation within a few years would represent a significant chapter in anyone’s childhood.

It shouldn’t come as a shock, then, that an author whose formative years played out exactly that way has decided to pen an autobiography.

What may raise a few eyebrows, though, is the fact the man behind the book, 78-year-old Tom Moffat, had no prior writing experience.

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The idea for ‘Snowflakes in the River — My life from Denny to Durban’ came to Tom while he was putting together a family tree and realised his parents, Sadie and Harry, didn’t know who their grandparents were.

Troubled by the thought of his grandchildren never learning about their grandfather’s colourful past, the Cumbernauld-born man took the plunge and began work on his autobiography, which would take him five years to complete. His hard work paid off last year when staff at Denny Library took an interest in the text and agreed to keep a copy on their shelves.

Denny resident Tom, who left South Africa to live in Dunipace aged 20, now hopes others will be keen to read about his many quirky, emotional and humorous tales, which cover everything from sailing into the middle of the apartheid regime, growing up in Denny, starting a family with wife Mary (76) and setting up his own wedding videography business — despite having never filmed a wedding before!

Having written, published and bound the book all by himself, with some help from online explanation videos on YouTube, Tom takes great pride in the final product.

Recalling how it all came to be, he said: “I didn’t want to not let my family know who we were.

“That prompted me to say to myself, ‘I’ve had quite an interesting life, I think I’ll write a book!’”

The Moffats first emigrated to South Africa in 1950 when Tom’s dad was offered a job there through his employment with stove and cooker manufacturer Smith and Wellstood in Bonnybridge.

Former Denny High pupil Tom was forced to learn Afrikaans as an overseas schoolboy, yet it was acclimatising to a new life which proved to be the biggest hurdle for him to get over.

Though he freely admits to having had “a lot of happy times in South Africa”, he always felt an obligation to return to Scotland.

A holiday to Durban after 44 years spent back on home soil would confirm Tom’s suspicions he made the right choice to move back.

He is keen to stress, though, that his book is about so much more than his experiences on foreign shores.

Taking the good with the bad in life has always been his mantra and it was an attitude which served him well when putting his memories onto paper.

Reflecting on all his book stands for, he said: “Make the most of life while you’ve got it.

“This is not a rehearsal.”