Author Archive

The P.A. System

August 31st, 2009 29 comments

whitesonlyPetty Apartheid.
Age 8.
“Non-whites may not (insert list of basic human rights).”
How could ANYONE ever have thought this was a good idea?
Where were my parents?
Why didn’t they speak up?
What were they thinking?

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Afrikaans: Alles Is Mos Reg

August 27th, 2009 12 comments

evitaAfrikaans. Jong, you either love it or you blerry hate it.

The mere mention of the word conjures up images of my school classmates wincing in dismay as our Afrikaans teacher announced that the following week’s homework was to prepare a “mondeling” on some relevant topic. Kids would go to truly staggering lengths to get out of those classes. Even more remarkable was the number of suburban dogs that were partial to the taste of Afrikaans homework…
Personally, my allegiance falls on the love side of things. But then, I did get a lucky break when it comes to being “tweetalig”.

In the December of 1981, my family emigrated from Zimbabwe to South Africa. I was seven years old and had never heard a single word of Afrikaans. As fate would have it, we moved directly to Sasolburg in the Orange Free State. Afrikaans heaven, ne?.

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Categories: Afrikaans Tags: , ,

Saved By The Braai

July 28th, 2009 10 comments

snow“When I first realised that I was South African.” Boy, did this topic grab me by the neck and shake me.
I leapt at my computer, fingers a blur on the keys, so eager was I to express my South African-ness. To any outsiders witnessing the event I may have seemed mildly rabid. You see, I have lived in Norway for a year now and have wanted to talk about South Africa to South Africans for about 11 months of that year. This was my chance.

I should probably level with you and admit that at that point in time I had not experienced a “moment of realisation” , as such, with regard to my South African identity. However, I had so many reasons why I felt I was South African, I was smugness itself.

I typed furiously all evening and laid down all sorts of heartfelt, passionate claims. It was a great article, sure to render the cynics weak with emotion. Heck, upon rereading I even made my callous self cry.
Until I realised it was all bollocks.

That moment came when, article finished, I had collapsed on the couch to contemplate my genius. It occurred to me that the things I had so energetically listed as South African-flavoured, and thus the making of who I am today, are actually not unique to South Africa at all.

I had talked, complete with grand poetic gestures, about being part of a nation that is capable of developing tolerance and understanding between different cultures. How we, modern South Africans, have had the good fortune to witness the power and grace of a peaceful transformation from an oppressive regime to democracy. How we should be (and often are) world leaders in dealing with peaceful change.

I had rambled on about a nation so accustomed to violent crime that we have evolved and now project a supreme confidence in dealing with the effects of hi-jacking and armed robbery. Your average Joburger is so tough these days, we make the famously hardened New Yorkers look positively tame. Having had my jewellery (and my sanity) unceremoniously removed from my person at gunpoint qualifies me to write this bit. The jewellery was gone forever; the sanity eventually crawled back home.

Naturally, my article had covered the notion that South Africans are so partial to warm climates that we miserably wither and fade in colder climes. Or freeze solid, as was my experience in -25 degrees Celsius during the unforgiving Norwegian winter. Do you know that at that temperature your nostril hairs freeze instantly? For a South African, this is an entirely bizarre experience. Shove a spoonful of beach sand up your nose and walk around like that for the day: that’s roughly how it feels.

Having expressed all that and more, my smugness turned to biting disappointment as my couch-time-reflection suggested that while all these attributes are certainly a feature of South African life, they are also a feature of the lives of other nations. Thus, they are not the ingredients that make me uniquely South African. It was a rather sorry moment of un-realisation, if you like.

Before the fierce patriots among you start loading your weapons, let me explain. My travels of the last few years have taken me all over the world. In each place I have tested my sense of identity against the cultures I encountered, trying to see where I might fit in (a luxury afforded to self-aware, spoiled brats like me). I harbored a great deal of misplaced anger towards South Africa at the time and I wanted to see whether I felt more at home amongst other nations.

braai2What I learned was that there are other countries in the world that also have a history of peaceful political transformation; that crime is certainly not unique to South Africa; and that there are many other nations who have, and appreciate, a warm climate. So, pertinent as these points are to my overall identity, they do not provide me with a sense of South African distinctiveness.

Needless to say, this sudden awareness of the dangerously thin ice on which my identity as a South African rested, made me feel decidedly uneasy. For a few long moments, still lying prostrate on the couch, I reasoned that perhaps I was just a citizen of the world. A nomad of sorts who did not need a nationality to feel okay about myself. What a bummer. I had so badly wanted to write something noble and brilliant about being South African, but I was determined to stick to the brief of writing “the truth”. In that vein, my integrity would not allow me to fabricate something just for the sake of an article.

I spent the next few days going about my business, rather sullenly mulling over the fact that I didn’t feel especially South African. The lack of identity made me quite grumpy, actually. And then, as life often has it, something tiny happened that changed everything…

At a social gathering on a warm summer day, while surrounded mostly by French and Norwegian friends, I discovered (with laugh-out-loud delight) what it really is that makes me South African. It is a minute thing that is so unique to South Africans, it’s undeniable: no matter where I travel to or who I happen to be with, I am completely and utterly incapable of saying the word barbeque. My brain cannot process it, nor can my mouth form the word.

Enter my magical moment of realisation! The joys and sorrows of daily life in South Africa are mirrored in many countries of the world, but our language is unique. Nowhere else on the planet will people understand me when I call something makulu or refer to the boerewors as lekker. South African language runs only in the blood of its people, regardless of colour, creed or geographical location. That is arguably the most refreshing, comforting thought I’ve had in a moerse long time.

Who would have thought that the 5 simple letters in the word braai could make the difference between identity crisis and a sense of complete belonging?

Ja well no fine.

Categories: Realisation Tags: , , ,