I need to write about South Africa. But I feel strangely unqualified to do so, even though I have spent forty-five of my forty-six years living here. My experience of South Africa is vastly different to the rest of the population’s. South Africa has recently been ranked by the World Bank as the most unequal country in the world. We have the fourth highest crime rate in the world. We are one of the least happy countries in the world. This is due to many things but, mainly, a system of colonisation and, later, Apartheid which entrenched inequality based on the colour of one’s skin. This resulted in the majority of South Africans experiencing discrimination and violence, daily.
I grew up in the deep Apartheid days. There were bomb detectors at the entrance of every shopping mall. There were prayer evenings when we used to go and pray for South Africa and say the prayer Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika. We were headed for a civil war in those days- most people knew that. Many of the boys I dated were conscripted to the South African army, where, if they were lucky, they had an administrative job and, if they were unlucky, they were sent to the Angolan border where many atrocities took place. I know men who have never recovered from what they saw there.
I went to a whites only school in primary school and a, predominantly, white, private school in high school. Did I benefit from Apartheid? Without any doubt the answer is yes. I had better education and better living conditions than the majority of South Africans. My parents raised us to believe that the apartheid system was morally reprehensible. They did what they could do to protest the system. And yet, I benefited and continue to benefit from Apartheid because I am white.
I probably will never leave South Africa. I tried to leave, back in 2008, just before Jacob Zuma became President. I was burned out and full of despair about my country. But South Africa is my home. It’s in my blood. I feel a passion for this country and its people that constantly surprises me. One of my best friends at school told a story about her father: She had been crying about South Africa, after one of the prayer evenings at St Luke’s church in Norwood. Her father said to her, “There are enough good people in this country to save it.” I believe that, strongly. South Africans are a lot nicer than their politicians, who, for the most part, are a strange bunch.
On Sunday, I went to a community dialogue near Bezuidenhout Valley. The topic of the dialogue was “What makes South Africa great?” There were people of all races and from all walks of life there. We agreed on the following:
South Africans have a great sense of humour – give us load shedding, violent crime, corruption, discrimination or e-tolls and we will find some way to laugh about it.
South Africans are tolerant- Not all, certainly. Spend an afternoon on Twitter and you will see the worst side of South African intolerance. Generally, though, we are polite to each other and try to help each other.
South Africa is beautiful- we have some of the most breath-taking landscapes in the world.
South Africans are activists- we take to the streets when we are not happy with our government or other issues and we always have done so.
South Africans are friendly- I picked up a friend from overseas at the airport once. The ticket guard greeted me with “How are you my darling?” My friend said, “Do you know her?”. I didn’t.
Above all else, I believe in the dream of my country. The dream of a country, torn apart by racism, coming together and standing united. I believe, with my whole heart, that we can. In the words of Alan Paton, in Cry, The Beloved Country, “But I have learned that kindness and love can pay for pain and suffering.” We can get this right; we can make individual differences in our areas of influence. We can choose not to perpetuate past mistakes. We can learn about kindness and love.
Whether we will, or not, remains to be seen. We have our work cut out for us that’s for sure. Stranger things have happened though. I’m betting on us.