Tea and Biltong with the Queen: No, it is not the same as Beef Jerky!
I’ve written in previous columns about the distinct feeling of isolation I’ve experienced as a legal alien in the UK, and I’m starting to believe that it’s not so much the addition of a new feeling (isolation) but the removal of a feeling I had at home (belonging). This may seem like a strange thing to say as a South African, but at home I felt part of something – both a movement and a people – and it’s weird to think that I identify more with South Africans from a multitude of cultures, than I do with the British (my ancestral home).
Recently, with the floods in England, I felt an increase of national spirit from the locals here in the UK – sometimes a little adversity will do that. And it reminded me, firstly, that I am not at home here, and, secondly, how great it is to feel like you’re contributing, that you belong and are part of a greater whole. If press coverage of SA is to be believed, there seems to be a similar process happening at home.
It has been thirteen years since the first democratic election in SA. Thirteen years is actually not a long time. The problems we have in SA are going to take generations (yes, generations! Plural!) to fix but we must acknowledge how far we have come, and above all, not cease to strive. This means vote, protest, and foster equal opportunities.
There used to be a feeling of “jump ship” when faced with crime and unemployment in South Africa, now it’s more of a “dig in and get your hands dirty” vibe. Don’t believe me? How about the increase in websites like “SA Good News”, “Homecoming Revolution” and “Crimeline”? How about increased coverage of crime against the poorer sectors of our communities? People worry that more crime stories mean more crime, but often they mean more effective police work and increased awareness. This reflects a change in our collective attitude as South Africans.
It is a very exciting time for South Africa. The afro-pessimists will scream that its scary, sad, chaotic, but I see a full generation of people who attended integrated schools, who know of Mandela as a free man, who’ve escaped the economic isolation of the 80’s, who can travel and compete in international sport. We’re a people who have won the begrudging respect of our international peers, whose constitution is often lauded as the best in the world, who aren’t travelling just to escape, but for travel’s sake.
Yesterday I ran into the members of the Soweto Gospel Choir just walking down the street in Edinburgh. They’ve arrived for the Edinburgh Arts Festival, I guess, and although I was rushing in the opposite direction, and don’t know any of them from Adam, I couldn’t help myself yelling “Molweni” as I passed, to which they happily responded, and those few quick phrases exchanged in Xhosa made me happier than I’d been all week. I felt like I had met people I could identify with for the first time in months.
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