I got lost. After a long struggle in denial and endlessly hoping for a ray of light to break through, I finally realised this, on a cold, windswept and rainy Cape winter’s morning on my way to work. I had to admit: I got lost somewhere along the way.
14 years ago I packed a huge suitcase and left for London. I wasn’t quite sure why, back then, I am not quite sure now, either – apart from knowing now that it was both the best decision of my life and the worst.
The opportunity to work and live in the United Kingdom opened my vision and my mind to a much bigger world than what we are aware of in South Africa. Years of isolation pre-1994 political change, blunted us to the rest of Western civilization. And because we had only what we knew and loved, we regarded that as the one and only benchmark for our existence as a nation.
That is probably why the loss of it almost crippled us.
Life in London exposed me to a society where achievement and merit were used as guidelines. Where people accepted responsibility. And although, even in 2003, British society started showing the effects of multiculturalism and social-benefits vulturalism, it was still a society where your mail arrived on time (most of the time), where you could plan a trip and know there would be a train or a bus running… It is a society where crime happened, but criminals were caught and punished and did not end up in high-ranking positions. It is a society where you don’t have bars on the inside and outside of your house, where you don’t need to stay in your bedroom between 23:00 and 06:00 in the morning, because if you want to go to the loo, you need to switch off the alarm first. It is a society with a convincing veneer of civilisation, where people were held accountable. It is a country where responsibility is not constantly shifted and accountability has not become a luxury.
Upon returning back home, I instinctively started comparing that society with what remained of the one I knew. And I realised that there was a gap in between the South Africa which I had left behind in 2001 and the one I returned to in 2006. And that gap is ever widening as South Africa is slowing and definitely coming to a grinding halt.
I asked myself the question many times: Do I want to return to England? No. Even having lived there and taken my English Breakfast tea, Pimms and Gin’n-tonic; shopping at Marks & Spencer’s, focussing on my proper Kensington pronunciation and being a loyal Man Utd supporter, I have always felt like a visitor. It was not my language. Afrikaans has no comparison in three things: cursing, making love and telling ghost stories. But apart from cursing, nobody appreciated the other two.
The sun would hide in winter and even when you stepped outside to catch the warmth of a ray of sunshine, the London winter sun was cold. In South Africa the sun is always warm, even in winter. The sky over London would be grey, as were the buildings and the streets and the people hiding in their raincoats rushing past each other with their black “brollies” opened like shields against each other, eyes cast downwards. You could always recognise a Saffa in London…they would be looking at the horizon, into a farther distance. London life revolves around what is immediately in front of you.
In London employment applications also asked questions about race and ethnicity, but it was intended to equalise the opportunity of the minority in an unsteady multiculturalism. Therefore it could be overlooked. I was one of a minority there as well – those who lived by the restrictions of a visa.
And thus I remained a visitor. I never felt unwelcome, but I never felt part of the household either…
Which is exactly what I have been experiencing in my country of birth for the last 10 years. I am a visitor now, living by the restrictions of my race. I am subjected to more racially-discriminating legislation than in the entire 46 years of apartheid rule. I am again part of a minority, but the law does not protect me; it is not intended to equalise opportunities for me. It is intended to take it away from me, it is written and executed against those who look like me and speak like me and pray like me.
I have lost my emotional private space in my own country. The facts of an unfortunate political history is thrown in my face day by day; I am charged, prosecuted, found guilty and sentenced within the space of a few seconds for being an Afrikaner.
This is a country of open spaces, that is one thing we have enough of. Living space for all of us, peaceful co-existence, mutual respect, and sufficient opportunity, if not in an artificially created multiculturalist state, at least next to each other – for irreconcilable cultures to exist. But I am not willing to lay down my culture, my religion, my customs and eventually my very right to existence because of a dispensation forced upon me.
What we agreed to in 1994 were basically the positives of my existence in London against the background of the positives of my South African existence. What I received were the opposites.
And thus I also feel like a visitor in my country of birth.
I have become a homeless person. I exist because I have a roof and a blanket and a jacket and a meal and a job… but it is as though I have no sense of belonging anymore. It has become a lonesome existence being a white South African in South Africa.
There is only one solution for this, in my humble opinion, and that is to find a corner of this wide, sunny country, a breath of blue sky and a square of land, which legally belongs to the loneliest of nations and make a home there. Then, God willing, there will dawn upon us a day when I can assume the posture of an Afrikaner again: a man whose gaze is cast into the distant, future horizon.
But when that day will come, in Alan Paton’s words, of our deliverance from the bondage of fear and the fear of bondage, that remains a secret to me…