Archive

Archive for the ‘Realisation’ Category

Germinating As A Pacifist

August 1st, 2009 1 comment

I was never one of those physical boys. Sure, I went through stages of flexing my arms to make “muscles bulge, and stuff like that, but on the whole I avoided physical confrontations if possible (except in cases where some poor kid was being bullied, and so on). My little explosions in that context I would prefer to leave out of this equation. Maybe I was plain and simple a coward. But no, I don’t think that was it. After all, through my friendships with my Zulu peers I had made myself into a more than adequate stickfighter, was able to kill a running rabbit with a whirling thrown stick, and quite a few really macho things. I just preferred to avoid receiving or inflicting pain. But this was all very ad-hoc. I hadn’t formed any particular opinions on violence, militarism and things like that. Things before matric were just personal feelings.

Read more…

Categories: Realisation Tags:

Mullets And Patriotism

July 31st, 2009 2 comments

South African a multi-cultural society much like the US actually the original people here were bushmen which, much like native Americans, were screwed by the immigrants, both whites coming from Europe and Africans coming from the North.

I have never seen South African patriotism, other than in beer commercials, and lets be honest who doesn’t love everyone after knocking back a couple of drinks. Or the odd government commercial telling us all to love each other or love our country but I find these are more for tourists, attracting holidaymakers.

Read more…

Categories: Realisation Tags: ,

Inspiration And The People

July 30th, 2009 6 comments

A while back there used to be an advert for “Proudly South African” (when Tokyo Sexwale and the lads were serious about being South African), that went something like “today I woke up in a place filled with joy, laughter and drums that beat, children singing, a place where opportunities are in abundance”. Those are not the exact words but it’s that message they were rallying across which had a significant impact on boosting the economy as well as how people felt about being South African and gave hope to the nation that they were part of something great and that they had opportunities, whether equal or not that would be another topic on it’s own.

Read more…

Categories: Realisation Tags:

Citizen Of A Bygone Era

July 30th, 2009 29 comments

gardenrouteAlmost everything in this country is defined according to what happened prior to 1994. The big news at the moment is transformation in the judiciary. Candidates to the highest bench in the country are being screened according to what they did prior to 1994. Affirmative action, Black Economic Empowerment, poverty, education and many other issues that are a staple for South African conversation are about pre-1994 events.

I was born in 1988. I was not even two years of when Mandela walked out of prison. I have no recollection of the CODESA negotiations, nor the riots of 1993, nor even of the 1994 elections. For me, that pivotal year was only so in the sense that it was my first year at school. The earliest recollection of a major event that I have is that of the death of Princess Diana. I have no familiarity with the events that continue to define us as a country. And yes – I too have been guilty of apathy when it comes to our history and heritage, like so many of my generation.

At the same time, the sense of belonging to South Africa is very strong. I sing as loudly as anyone when the national anthem is sung, and my chest swells with as much pride as anybody’s when the Springbokke, Proteas and Bafana Bafana are victorious in sport. I engage in raucous debates with foreigners about the virtues of South Africa. I look down upon at Chinese products, and beam happily when biltong is served. But is that what being South African is all about?

bafanaThe truth is, I have yet to fully appreciate what being a citizen of this amazing country means. I have only recently been introduced to the writings of South Africans, having grown up on a stiff diet of British literature. South African film is another aspect that I have only recently encountered. I have never been to places like Limpopo Province and the Garden Route. There is still so much to see, hear and talk about! I am young and in love with this land! To those who have gone before me, teach me what it is to be a South African. Give me that sense of familiarity and belonging. Tell me what happened in Soweto, Sharpeville and all the other townships where blood was spilled in the name of freedom. Cry as you recount the horrors of political imprisonment. Let us laugh together as you describe your first pair of school shoes. Break open that six-pack and remind me of how we won the 1995 rugby world cup. Describe for me the back breaking labours that your fathers faced as they crossed the mighty Drakensberg in ox wagons. Paint for me a picture of old Johannesburg – I want to feel the excitement of that place, when it was still a true mining town. Teach me how to make pap en vleis. What goes into a potjiekos, I want to know?! How does one sing the praises of mighty Zulu kings of yore? I want to know all these things. It is no longer enough for me to be a citizen of a bygone era.

I want to know and fully belong to this country.

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: , , ,

Bokke, Boerewors and Beer

July 27th, 2009 19 comments

worsThe 24th of June, 1995 started out like that of any other. The crowd sardined themselves into a packed stadium at Ellis Park in Johannesburg. The rest of us less fortunate souls tuned in on our televisions. South Africans of all ages and sizes were firmly focused on the match that was about to unfold between the Springboks and the All Blacks. Today was the 1995 World Cup final!

I remember it like it was yesterday. Up until that point in my life, I had never been a fan of rugby, as I much preferred the drama of WWF. Even the Springboks did not capture much of my attention for that matter but today was different. Today was more than just a game of rugby. I felt compelled by curiosity to switch on the TV, as I had heard the media hype and wanted to see what all the fuss was about. I must be blatantly honest and admit that I was on the edge of my seat from the moment the whistle blew. Each time the Bokke scored, I erupted from my seat like Mount Etna during a volcanic splurge. This was so unlike me I thought.

South Africa was leading 9-6 by half time. The stadium was buzzing with excitement as everyone clung to the hope that today would be the turning point in rugby history. The buzz was soon drowned out by the mighty All Blacks who levelled the score with a penalty goal in the second half. The crowd fell silent, fixated on the celebration unfolding in front of them as the team in ominous black celebrated their comeback. They had levelled the playing field. What would the Bokke do now? I rose from my seat only to be brought crashing down as Andrew Mehrtens failed to kick a late drop goal. The score remained unchanged forcing the game into extra time.

How much more could I take? How much more could any of us take? We were all united by one dream, one passion, and one lingering glimmer of hope that; today South Africa would show the world we could be victorious in the face of darkness, or in this case the towering shadow of Jonah Lomu.

bokkeAs time whittled away, both teams gave it their all, scoring penalty goals in the first half of extra time. Would this never end? Were the rugby gods toying with us? Finally…breakthrough! Victory presented itself in the form of Joel Stransky who sealed the deal and landed a drop goal to win the final.

The crowd roared and cheered as the siren went. I danced around my living room energetically. We had won the Rugby World Cup! South Africa had done it! I sat on my couch and watched the festivities unfold and felt overcome with emotion and a sense of pride. The same pride and emotion you feel when your child or niece/nephew walks for the first time. Yesterday our team had crawled and today they were walking before my very eyes. It was extraordinary.

Nelson Mandela, wearing a Springbok Rugby shirt and cap presented the trophy to South African captain Francois Pienaar to the delight of the capacity crowd. We all shared in the glory of what it meant to be victorious. We shared in what it meant to be South African on a new dawn of democracy for all. In that defining moment years of bitterness, racial divide and strife suddenly seemed petty and insignificant. People of all colour celebrated the monumentous occasion and for the first time in my life I cried as our new National Anthem “Nkosi Sikelela” ran out around the grounds and echoed through the speakers of my television.

That day marked the first day that I realised I was a South African and would always be South African. Our country had become united and I had forged a bond that will never be broken.

Fly, South African

July 26th, 2009 16 comments

When you leave home, you never leave in one go. By the time you’ve decided to leave you’re already one foot out of the door. Then you say good-bye over and over until you actually go. I’d been saying good-bye for days.

saaI started packing the night before I left. Textbooks and trinkets disappeared into deep cardboard boxes. The packing tape strained and squawked, their fates sealed. Wiping my hair from my eyes I turned to my backpack gaping hungrily on the floor. I pushed up my sleeves, again, and studied the checklist stuck to my cupboard door. Rolling and folding became squashing and squeezing and within minutes I’d reduced my life to 75 litres. The night-time hours crept.

In the morning I was left with a quiet house and time to soak up the familiar. I wandered from room to room, to smell, touch and remember. By the afternoon I fidgeted, held captive by my departure time.

One by one, my parents arrived home and I teetered downstairs, blood racing, stomach churning, careful not to crush anything with my load. As we waited for my brother, I passed a South African flag to my mom to sew onto my pack—to be attached. My passport secretly tucked, it declared to the world that I belonged. My mom stitched, my dad paced. I sat.

packingThe telephone’s rings pierced the waiting room. My brother’s car had been stolen from campus! South Africa: your legacy, my heritage. Dad made plans to fetch Roger from UCT and meet us at the airport. Mom cut the thread. Good-bye dog-log, good-bye house, good-bye street.

I stood in the SAA check-in queue, fumbling and staggering under the weight of my bag. Eyes wide, voice small I asked for a window seat. My family huddled on the other side of the stanchions, smiling encouragements, waiting patiently. We sat at a coffee shop until it was time to go. Time to go. And the tears came thick and fast, hot on my already-flushed cheeks, tumbling into crumbled tissues. A girl divided, I wiped my nose on my sleeve.

I bear-hugged them, shaking in my Docs. Good-bye mom, dad, Rog. I slung my daypack onto my shoulder and shuffled forward with a syncopated heart. I wanted to go but I wanted to stay for just a little longer. The guard, cloaked in indifference, thumbed my passport. I smiled bravely and sniffed, and wondered whether he’d ever left home, his country.

I looked back one last time. There they were, waving, grinning and blowing kisses. I returned them all, smiled and turned the corner. Good-bye Cape Town. Good-bye South Africa.

Categories: Realisation Tags: , , ,

A World In A Small Town

July 23rd, 2009 6 comments

My memories of growing up in South Africa are mixed. I grew up in a smallish mining town about an hour’s drive from Johannesburg and it was a very Afrikaans with a small immigrant population. We immigrants tended to stick together as a defense mechanism against the “Boertjies” and their, sometimes, belligerent attitude of superiority.

JulukaAt school things were fine as we were all in the same boat of being at the only English school in the town. There was a real conglomeration of people in that little school, we came from all over the world especially Europe, there were Italians, Portuguese, Greeks, Dutch and English folk besides the regular South African English kids. There was also a substantial community of Jewish people – we loved the Jewish holidays as the school was half empty and we couldn’t do any work so it was essentially a free day.

The strange thing was that we all kept out nationalities, almost like badges of honour. We used to share out lunches as there was always something different on offer. We had pretty cosmopolitan palates for little kids, tzadziki, lasagna, matzo and cheese sandwiches got traded with relish. So we never seemed to consider ourselves as South African even though we all grew up in this little Highveld town we had our own little United Nations.

As I got older I still considered myself to be an English immigrant, and this was entrenched when directly after Matric I went back to the UK to visit my Grandparents. When I came back home to South Africa I had picked up a long buried English accent which has stayed with me to this day.

globeThe first time I really felt truly South African was probably when I went to my first Johnny Clegg concert held at the Market Theatre in about 1983. A group of us piled into my old skedonk of a car, I vividly remember one very tall chap was behind the back seats in the boot area as it was the only place we could fit him. Anyway, off we drove to JHB, with a good supply of red wine and beer of course. The vibe at the concert was absolutely mind blowing and Johnny and Juluka had us dancing like maniacs. We danced and drank and danced some more, we sang along to every single song at the tops of our voices, we acted like people possessed and in a way I suppose we were. The times were troubled and this was a celebration of being young adults in an uncertain world.

It was a moment to savour, I did not go to many concerts and I relished the occasion. It was the music that spoke to me, it screamed to me that this is South Africa and I understood every beat of it. At that moment I knew, I WAS a South African, it didn’t matter where I was born, or where I had grown up. This was what I was and nothing could change that or take it away from me. South Africa had gotten into my very bones and I was a child of this land no matter what happened in the future.

Categories: Realisation Tags:

Awakening

July 21st, 2009 8 comments

whitesonlyA distant hum was approaching him from the land beyond dreams. He started feeling the gentle bumps of the road being transmitted to his body, and opened his eyes, looking around half-confused at the carpeted inside of the station wagon: luggage, food, and beddings tightly packed round him haphazardly. He felt a shiver of cold run through his body and once again pulled the duvet tight around himself, now sitting up on the folded seat backs.

“Mommy, are we in Cape Town yet?”

“Oh look who’s awake! No dear, we’re almost there. Will we see who can
spot the sea first?”

“Yes! I will!…. Which way is it?”

Mom threw her head back as she laughed and looked over at dad sitting in the driving seat, head still cocked back..

“We’re not there yet, you’ll have to wait a bit.”

He sat silently, observing for the first time how the world outside the car had changed. He saw lush greenery, they were on a mountain pass of some kind, looking down on farmlands as far as the eye could see. Suddenly the world seemed more vast than he had taken in previously. He’d never been to Cape Town, he wondered what it must be like… the other side of this immense country. The other side of the world. A fresh, unknown smell was perceptible.

A long time passed, he spent it playing games with mom and dad, singing, at times being bored and just staring out the window daydreaming. Eventually they did reach the sea, and mom had beaten him to seeing it, but it seemed not to matter, or dampen his enthusiasm for the vast blueish black expanse he saw now for the first time.

“Are we going to the beach now?”
“No honey, we’re going to grandpa’s flat…”
“Oh please! I want to play in the sand!”

He looked at the bright red sandcastle bucket he had received as a gift just the previous day. The yellow handle of a plastic spade sticking out from the top.

“Okay, we’ll stop on the way, but only for a short while, we should be there soon”.

What seemed like an eternity passed until they finally pulled over into a parking lot, the fresh smell of sea salt hanging in the air and the sound of waves…… Oh! What a marvelous new sound!

However, a new apprehension struck him as mom picked him up and placed him outside car. These new surroundings were rough, and bulky. The space around him, beyond the sound and sight of the breaking waves, was immense. Only broken by rough stone-laden pavement pressing into his soft soles. Steel bars suspended in air by concrete pillars, acting as a low fencing to the beach beyond….. and huge inhospitable rocks laying to the sides of the beach. It was cloudy. Another shiver ran through his spine, it hadn’t really warmed up yet, suddenly he wasn’t so sure the beach was a good idea. But dad was already removing his new found toys from the car, and a yellow-brown striped camping chair.

Mom had been applying judicious amounts of sun cream to his face. Not that this stopped him from gaping at the wonders around him. His gaze stopped for a moment on a set of signs just inside the beach area. He squinted against the sun and tried to decipher their meaning…. One stood out from the rest, it wasn’t pictorial, but large. An ominous green sign with bold white lettering…

“Mommy?”
“Yes?”
“What does that sign say mommy?”

She looked around, he now held a hand up to shield his eyes, frowning, lifting the corners of his mouth… as if this gesture would increase his concentration and help him tease some meaning from the bold white lettering…

“Oh, that just means black people can’t come here.”
“Mommy? What happens if the black people come to the beach?”
“The policeman comes and takes them away…”
“Are the police going to come take us away mommy?”

A slight tone of fear had entered his voice. Dad let out a chuckle, but mom came closer with a amused smile and a reassuring touch…

“Oh no honey, the beaches are for white people, the police aren’t going to take you away…”

He didn’t feel so sure about that. The railing between him and the beach suddenly looked even more ominous. The beyond was sacred, and he would have to tread on it. Could he get in trouble for it?

Mom and dad walked first, boldly stepping onto the sand, not looking fearful. They had his toys. This is what he’d been waiting for, after all. The sudden safety of the parking lot had to be left.

“Come on!” dad egged him on.

He walked up to the opening in the railings, stopped for a slight moment, then stepped out onto the sand, looking around to see if any police were in the vicinity….. he walked forward. A new sense of belonging was filling up inside of him. He had never felt it before. He’d never known police could take people away from the beach. That simple railing was so powerful, but he could beat it.

The pride swelled inside him: “I’m one of the good people. Not one of the bad people who could get in trouble…”. No, he was special, he belonged here….he could face this obstacle, fear was for the other people, not him.

Now he was walking on air. He didn’t need to worry, He was white, this is what it felt like to be South African…. He ran to catch up with his parents…….

Categories: Realisation Tags: , ,

The Old Man And The Stransky

July 20th, 2009 4 comments

It turns out that being an eight year old isn’t something you do when you’re eight. It’s what you do when you’re twenty-seven and trying like hell to think of your childhood.

mandelaI don’t have a good memory. By my reckoning, I remember roughly half of my life. That’s not to say I don’t have a timeline fixed in my head – it’s just that the memories are more of a thin veneer and kind of like those infomercial products that look so good but really don’t stand up to close scrutiny.

There are two vivid memories that fit this category and coincidentally are the two events that proved to me, without a shadow of a doubt, that I was a South African.

The first took place in front of a small TV set in 1990 in a small Eastern Cape town.

I remember seeing an old but vital man walking at the head of a crowd of people. Dressed in a quite plain gray suit, he carried himself with a strange dignity. Even so, there are many dignified people in the world and surely it takes more than that to get on TV? I’m a naturally curious person so of course I asked and I distinctly remember having the whole thing explained to me. I knew to some degree about Apartheid and the tragedies that had beset the country but it had always seemed so distant to me, almost unreal. The last thing I remember about that day was the small, quiet feeling of pride I had, an inclusion in something so much bigger than myself, and the fading lyrics of a song.

And the seagull’s name was Nelson,Nelson who came from the sea.

Time passed and South Africans went to the polls to give democracy a chance. I grew up a little and learned more about the country and how we got to where we were. By the time my second memory was being made wherever it is that memories are created, Nelson had moved quite far from his plain gray suit. As President of a country that seemed to have no limit, he had risen into the world spotlight and broken open a stillness that had encased South Africa for far too long.

stranskyThe world had finally recognized us as a sports playing nation and boy, we were glad. I’ve never been a sports fan but this impressed even me. Five years after Nelson had been freed, I sat with millions of South Africans as the world took our measure. We waited, eyes fixed on the television, barely breathing, to see if we’d be found worthy.

I think it’s quite possible that the collective concentration of South Africa has never been as galvanised, so centred as it was on that day. I often wonder what would have happened if the ball had gone the other way. If New Zealand had scored one more time or if Joel Stransky’s foot had slipped on his approach. Would South Africa be as collected as it is now? Would we be in the same position, would so much have been expected of us? Would I and countless others feel like we were part of something bigger – even just for a day?

Because man, when Joel Stransky’s magic foot landed that final drop goal, I all but exploded with pride. I’m sure millions of South Africans agree that on that day, in that hour we were untouchable. South Africa’s future spread out bright and golden into the horizon and for the first time ever, I really felt like I belonged here.

I may not have a good memory and I may be missing half my life but I’ll be damned if I ever forget that.

Afrigator