the muiz

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

I am haunted:

There’s a landscape behind my eyes.
It’s the backdrop to everything I see.
A longing, emotional landscape...

While looking out at inner city squalor, bleak buildings, traffic and cement...
I am also looking inward, at mountains, forest walks, beaches of whitest sand.

One, my current neighbourhood in Sydney, Australia - the present.

The other, one of the most beautiful corners of the world, the Western Cape in South Africa.

The past.

Aside from missing friends and family in the beautiful country of my birth, I always knew I would miss the spectacular beauty of the place we called home for over 3 years.

But other priorities, other considerations, of which I have written in many of my previous blog posts, caused us to make this move – back to Australia, where we have citizenship and lived for many years before too.

We have good reasons to be here. And we won’t always live in this inner city suburb. Sydney, and Australia, has many beautiful places too... 
We are still just finding our feet.

But knowing all that doesn’t make it any easier...

Anyone who has moved countries will know there is a period of adjustment to the new place and culture, which can sometimes even result in periods of doubting the reasons one had for moving in the first place.

Even, perhaps especially, when you have lived there before, the adjustment and ‘letting go’ of what had become familiar and comfortable, while rediscovering what one had once experienced as ‘home’ surprisingly unsettling at times.

I have now done this in both countries. And both times the feelings of strangeness – of being disconnected and ‘alien’...have surprised me.

Of course not everyone thinks about it ‘too much’. I am an analytical sort, and my studies and research have often revolved around the concepts of ‘culture’, ‘belonging’ and ‘identity’. Probably because I have moved so so so so so much in my life! So being in the midst of this journey (again), I can’t help watching it all from an intellectual distance at the same time.

On a much deeper level though, as the South American saying goes: ‘the heart has its reasons the mind knows nothing of’ – and my heart simply will not explain or justify its longing for a country I was really quite eager to leave.

And then there is the feeling of ‘limbo’ – I am still floating somewhere between ‘there’ and ‘here’:

Disconnected from friends ‘there’ – now so far away they may as well be on a different planet: different time zones, different news, different daily concerns...

Not quite reconnected with our many friends here - reconnecting is a slow and surprisingly difficult process, and having a small child means much less freedom or social energy of course...

Even when we have managed a dinner here and there with friends, I end up in a bedroom somewhere trying to settle the bubs, or only half able to join conversations because I am trying to stop her from dismantling the place, or toppling down stairs...

On the way home, beloved husband says: ‘wasn’t that a lovely evening’, and I say ‘hmmm...’ - wondering how he didn’t notice I wasn’t really fully there... and my heart sinks a bit, realising that sometimes even our closeness cannot bridge the 


Hopefully at least my friends (the women) will understand.

Of course being a new mum (and intentionally staying home to raise her myself) can be very isolating sometimes, and adds to the difficulties of adjustment, reconnection and generally finding one’ s feet in a ‘new’ place.  

It’s hard to explain, but even though I love this child more than life itself, and the joy of this season is greater than any other I have experienced in life so far, it’s still mostly a very lonely time for me.

While husband goes to work and interacts with myriads of people on the way there and back too, I can go for days without any adult interaction aside from our (now fractured) conversations in the evenings.

Another example of our different (gendered) experiences of life after having a baby: while husband was flying to Canada to speak at a week-long conference on Sunday; I was at home with bubs, still in my pyjamas (no, I don’t usually stay in them!) and watching Sesame street.

I knew the week ahead held almost no external interaction for me – even if I went to the shops or tried to meet friends at a cafe – it felt like such a bleak prospect, in this place where I haven’t yet fully reconnected... (hence the pyjamas – but don’t worry it was only a one day ‘slump’)

People I know and love spending time with are actually all around me now – unlike in Cape Town where I had many acquaintances but few very good friends. Yet it’s like there is this invisible force field surrounding me, keeping me at home and still

in my own little ‘bubble’.

Some reading this may fear I have some form of delayed-onset postnatal depression... It has certainly been a concern of mine at times. But no, I think it’s just tiredness -lack of sleep, and the aftermath of (two) big moves.

I am sure, given a bit more time, that things will start to fall into place again. Like the photos on my phone when I flick between them too quickly, my new world and life ahead needs a bit of time to come into focus.

At the moment it’s all a bit blurred, and my eyes are straining - almost to the point of nausea - to see what I am looking at.

Meanwhile, there it is, behind my eyes still – 
as I wake; 
as I feed bubs in our dark terrace; 
as I walk around the semi-industrial neighbourhood; 
as I play with the dogs in the (pretty) park across the road; 
as I gaze up into my beloved fig trees all around (my one consolation); 
as I clean the house or  read the paper while bubs sleeps; 
as I search online for houses (we are hoping to buy soon); 
as I go to bed (waking many times to feed bubs still); 
and in my (snatched) dreams...

...the landscape that captured my heart and soul in ways I cannot fully explain (or mentally/intellectually undo); 
the backdrop to my days; 
the background music of my heart:

Mountains, long white beaches, big African skies...

Wednesday, 15 May 2013


"I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear." - Nelson Mandela

That quote from the much-respected Mandela is all well and good, but if you can conquer that fear by moving somewhere else, for your own safety, and for the sake of your child’s future...then I don’t see why you wouldn’t grab that opportunity.

We left South Africa at the end of 2012, for a variety of reasons (already explained in previous blog posts). However, the escalating crime rates in the country, and the alarming degree of violence and cruelty, especially towards women, children and animals, were a huge factor in my own decision not to raise our daughter in our so-called ‘home’ country.

Instead, we returned to Australia, to Sydney – a large city with many issues of its own, and of course crime is still a fact of life for people living here, as it is in cities anywhere in the world. I am definitely not saying Sydney or Australia are perfect, and the adjustment required after moving countries often make one doubt one’s original reasons for making the move.

In the last 6 months, my longing for family, friends and the beauty of South Africa has made me wonder if I was completely mad to leave. I also have a few friends who returned to South Africa after many years overseas, and they appear to be still in that ‘honeymoon’ phase – e.g. posting rave reviews of life in South Africa on facebook...again, making me feel a bit bleak about having left ‘all that’.

However, when I remind myself again of our gorgeous daughter’s future opportunities and safety, all other considerations fade away into mere background noise.  I am certainly not one to support one-dimensional evaluations of what is important in life. But with regard to NOT wanting to ‘live in fear’ anymore, I will let the statistics below speak for themselves in explaining where I would rather live...

These figures are from:
- the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC); 
- South African police figures compiled by Crime Stats SA, which can be viewed in detail at; and 

Crime statistics: Murder
Nearly 16,000 people were murdered in South Africa (SA) in the twelve months between 2011/2012. Over 161,000 people have been murdered in SA since 2004 – in other words, since the majority, black, ANC government took over from the much-hated minority, white, ‘apartheid’ government.  That’s over 43 people murdered on average everyday in South Africa. Sound like a ‘dream come true’ for the people of this long troubled nation?

In Australia it’s less than 1, or roughly 1 murder every second day.

Ahh, you might say, but South Africa has more than double Australia’s population. (South Africa’s population was last recorded to be 50.6 million in 2011. Australia’s population has only recently reached 23 million) Okay, but the murder rate in South Africa is 31.8 per 100,000 people. The world average murder rate is 7.6 per 100,000 people. Australia’s murder rate: 1 per 100,000 people.

Crime statistics: Sexual Assault
Now here is a surprising one – SA recorded 64,419 sexual assaults in 2012. In Australia, the 2010–11 ABS survey estimated that 54,900 (0.3%) of Australians aged 18 years and over were the victims of at least one sexual assault in the previous 12 months prior to interview. 

This is a very high number. Taking into account the well known fact that not all sexual assaults are reported, especially in a country like South Africa – with an unpopular, inept and even corrupt police force... still doesn’t seem to fully explain why Australia’s sexual assault figures are so high (when adjusting for their population size in comparison to SA).

Crime statistics: Kidnapping
SA has alarming kidnapping figures - in 2012 there were 3,935. In Australia the most recent statistics showed a rate of 2.7 victims per 100,000 persons was recorded in 2010. Since the population that year was recorded as 22,342,000, this must mean about 83 kidnappings that year? Even doubling that figure, to attempt to reflect the population differences between the two countries, it’s still quite a huge difference.

Life expectancy:
The good news is that the life expectancy of an average South African has increased to 60 in 2012 from 54 in 2009, according to The Lancet Health Journal. Even better news (for us anyway) is that in Australia the average life expectancy is 81.

Now, comparing our specific little corner of South Africa with our new neighbourhood in Sydney –
We lived in Muizenberg, a beachside suburb in Cape Town, Western Cape province. A comparable suburb in Sydney might be somewhere like Bondi Beach in the Eastern suburbs – both have a mix of people from different racial and socio-economic backgrounds, and they are not the most affluent suburbs in their respective cities, yet also not struggling as much as some others.

More people were murdered in Nyanga (Western Cape) than anywhere else in SA – 233 in 2012.

Also, 47% of all drug related crime in SA occurs in the Western Cape.

Mitchells Plain in the Western Cape (a suburb very near to us in Muizenberg) reports more crime than any other police precinct in SA.

A survey conducted on the top 10 most dangerous neighbourhoods in the world found that Nyanga-Cape Town came second! (see )

Our old neighbourhood, Muizenberg alone had 26 murders in 2012!

Compared with Bondi in Sydney, NSW – the whole Eastern suburbs area recorded 0 murders in 2012; the worst area in Sydney that year was Canterbury-Bankstown, with 8 murders; and in all of Australia there were 229.

I rest my case.

Some further crime statistics just to confuse things:
However, for the sake of fairness, I must include these rather surprising statistics too!!

In Muizenberg, sexual assaults in 2012: 78; whereas again in this one area, figures are apparently worse for Bondi/Eastern suburbs: 92 (the worst area in NSW was Newcastle: 446) – see my previous comments on this subject, above;

Muizenberg house burglaries in 2012: 649 (in all of SA: 245,113 that year!); while in Bondi (well, actually the whole Eastern suburbs, which is a much larger and more populous area than one suburb) there were 1,347 break-ins; and all of Australia: around 335,700 break-ins were recorded (according to the Federal government) in 2009-10.

WOW!!! That is much higher than South Africa’s figures, especially when you adjust for population sizes. I thought I was going mad, but I then saw elsewhere that Australia is said to have the second highest rate of household burglaries in the world! Very surprising indeed.

However, here’s the key difference: in SA, the burglaries are far more violent and scary – usually resulting in rape and murder of the occupants, not just simple theft, as people living in countries like Australia would picture (and therefore they would not be anywhere near as frightened of being ‘burgled’).

Finally, in Muizenberg car theft in 2012: 123 (all of SA: 59,120 in total for the same year);while for  Bondi/Eastern suburbs this was 567: and all of Australia had almost 60,000 cars stolen in 2011-12 - a rate of 164 vehicles a day (The National Motor Vehicle Theft Reduction Council study). Again, this is much higher than South Africa’s number when you adjust for population sizes.

I value personal safety much more than cars or household goods of course, so these strangely high figures do not influence my thoughts on which country is ‘safer’ overall. But still, who would have suspected that Australia had so much theft and sexual assault – so out of proportion to its population size?

Some important closing thoughts:
Of course, it would be remiss of me not to conclude by reminding everyone (including any family or friends who may be offended by my blog post) - that South Africa’s situation today is the result of its troubled and complex history.

As Archbishop Desmond Tutu explained in a recent television interview (by Sir David Frost, broadcast on Al Jazeera English, Dec 2012), "We are a wounded people.” Tutu recalled painful testimonies he heard as chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee (TRC) hearings.

"Things could have been a great deal worse but I still have this sense that they could have been a great deal better," he said of South Africa's political transition in 1994.

Elsewhere, Tutu has been an outspoken critic of South Africa’s crime situation today, admonishing those who are robbing the ‘rainbow nation’ of its dreams and potential.

On the other hand, though, the causes of this sky-rocketing crime are obvious – I will let Tutu say what is frequently dismissed when I say it: "I think we have let the people down, in so far as you have an elite that has done very, very well for themselves, who have got quite quite rich, and the bulk of the people are still where they were, or sometimes worse off" (Frost interview, 2012).

So, while I have ‘voted with my feet’ and left South Africa, I am still painfully aware that most do not have this option, and many do not even want to leave a country they are very, very loyal to.

This blog post is intended to stir people up just enough to ask ‘what can we do about this?’ and ‘how can we ensure a brighter future for all South Africans?’ – since (this, and other of my blog posts would assert) uplifting all of ‘them’ is likely to improve everyone’s safety ...and turn a culture of fear into a culture of hope!

Thursday, 17 January 2013

What I loved about living in South Africa, pt2

Following from my previous two blog posts in this mini-series about my recent decision to leave South Africa, country of my birth, and return to Australia where I had lived for many years... Here is the list of the main things I loved about living in South Africa (again).

The first three are also the reasons we decided to move back there in the first place....

1. Family and friends

Of course. It goes without saying that it’s much nicer to be closer to family and friends and have the opportunity to see them more often. The opportunities I had to reconnect after 10 years living out of the country I grew up in were much treasured, and I have so many happy memories – including our wedding on Noordhoek beach; my best friend from school days flying down to help before my wedding, and again to meet my newborn daughter a year and a half later (this could not have happened if I was still living overseas); my surprise baby shower with family in the Eastern Cape; a Christmas in our rambling Muizenberg house with my in-laws and my mom (closest thing to a real family gathering I have had at Christmas time since I was about 10); and a number of lovely visits back and forth between Cape Town, Durban and the Eastern Cape.

However, as those of you who know the country will have noticed – those are not exactly in close proximity to each other. Cape Town is quite far from the rest of the country, in a sense, and flights within South Africa are very expensive. Bus journeys of about 24 hours or more are almost too horrendous to contemplate, and anyway this eats into the amount of leave or time you have to visit... So. Again, not as many opportunities as I would have liked, to see my now far-flung family. And when I did see them, it was often for just a day, before dashing back to Cape Town. Ahh well, such is modern day life it seems.

     2. Contribution

One can ‘contribute’ anywhere of course – everywhere in the world there is need of some sort. However, in South Africa there are needs right on your doorstep and just around the corner, and on your way to work, and just about everywhere you go. In other words, you have the opportunity to do something every single day, even small, to make a difference in other people’s lives.

In many other countries, the ‘needy’ are so far removed from people’s comfortable lives, their clean and respectable neighbourhoods, that it’s easy to think everyone in the world lives like you do. Those who do give, do so via international charities to ‘those poor people’ (out theeeeeeere somewhere)... Suffering or poverty or inequality don’t even seem real to most people.

In South Africa, much as the privileged would like to deny it, they cannot really truthfully say they do not know about suffering and poverty in their very own city. Which of course means they are responsible to do something about it – if they have any conscience at all, or even just want others to believe they are good people. This sort of challenge to one’s conscience is good – good for our own personal growth, good for the growth of community, good for the people who need help.

I am not saying everyone responds positively to this challenge, but it is at least there, and doing something about it is an immediate possibility. Even small things like giving away from our own excess can be immensely rewarding when people sleeping in your local park will benefit before your very eyes. This is living and giving in true community – being able to give to ‘THESE people’, right HERE. It often demands a lot more of us than giving money in a faceless transaction via an international charity (important too) – but again, soooooooooo good for us to be stretched beyond ourselves, beyond our comfort zones. Daily.

This is one of the things I miss (and yes, feel relieved not having to face daily) as soon as I leave South Africa. No one here in New Zealand has yet approached me to beg, or tried to sell me something I really don’t need, or followed me down the street haggling over this thing I really don’t need... I have not had to cross the street to avoid an awkward conversation with a drunk/ ‘ice’-d up person; and I no longer size everyone up as they approach me, wondering if they might try to mug (or rape) me, and if so can I run faster than them...?

But I also haven’t had any of those beautiful moments that sometimes randomly transpire between you and (after all) just another human being – the car guard, the homeless beggar always at your local station, the public toilet cleaner, whoever... when just a few kind words, or a generous tip, makes a visible difference to their day, their world. And all it cost you was what you would have spent on a cup of coffee... Even better when there is a simple exchange between you and someone from a completely different ‘strata’ of life, yet your shared humanity shines through, and forces you to pay attention to this fact.

3. Afrikaans roots

Ouch. It hurts even to try to write about this. Yes, I am bilingual, and spoke Afrikaans first actually. I grew up in a very sleepy, conservative part of the world – with mostly farmers’ children in my girls-only private (English) boarding school. I was so very happy when we moved away to the coast in my teenage years, to a co-ed school (surfers, what trouble they were!) and a somewhat more liberal community.

Too liberal, I would say in retrospect – wife-swopping and ‘swingers’ parties were some of the favoured local activities... Whereas the Afrikaans family values I had left, and the salt-of-the-earth people in those much-mocked ‘conservative’ communities, are the sort of people I would now prefer to have my child grow up around...

Of course I am very much going out on a limb saying this – since unadulterated ‘liberalism’ is so trendy these days, no one questions the links to our disintegrated family units and the general dysfunction of our society. I am NOT conservative, in general (or to use the Afrikaans term, I am NOT ‘verkrampt’). But I do believe in the ‘old fashioned’ values of commitment, fidelity, modesty, hard work, saving (not wasting, nor living beyond your means), hospitality and being part of a community of faith (accountable, teachable, contributing). 

These are the sort of values my Ouma, amongst others, imparted to me and my cousins along the way – and I see the joy and fruit of these values in their lives already. (Not to say these are not upheld in many other communities and cultures!)

South Africans may not realise this, but there is still a much stronger sense of what is now called ‘family values’ compared with other Westernised countries today. I don’t think many would disagree that this is a result of the strong Christian and mostly Afrikaans roots of the country. However, there are sadly the negative aspects of this, which led to ‘apartheid’ and other obviously undesirable outcomes! 

I just wish people could see there is a LOT more to Afrikaans (and Christian) culture than this. It should go without saying that all Afrikaners/ Christians/ South Africans are NOT racist. And even those that are, are no more so than many Americans/ Australians and others I have encountered worldwide. People are just people. Everywhere.

[For any of my readers who may be feeling quite nauseous by now, just consider for a moment how often everyone has to listen to what you believe - or rather, the long list of what ‘shouldn’t be believed in anymore’... and try to read this, alternative perspective for a change, too.]

Sadly, most of the people I interacted with in Cape Town were English, so I didn’t get to speak as much Afrikaans as I have been yearning for while away. However, Afrikaans music and literature have come such a long way since I grew up in South Africa! No longer just for our parents and grandparents generations – there is a lot of great music now and cutting edge literature, poetry and intellectual commentary (e.g. Antjie Krog – read her poems or critiques of SA if you can, even in English).

I feasted upon all of this – feeding that part of me that simply cannot exist or express itself properly outside of Afrikaans. Bilingual people will understand what I mean...

4. African ‘vibe’

Cape Town doesn’t really feel very African. Go to places like Durban (and Johannesburg, of course, but I am loathe to ever tell anyone to go there!) and you will experience a ‘vibe’ that is hard to explain or define, but undeniably AFRICAN. And I love it. I mean I don’t love it so much when it is the taxi driver trying to kill us on the road with his dreadful driving and aggressiveness; or when it’s the street urchins who would as soon steal your bag as throw a well-meaning sandwich in your face because they want MONEY! But there is that something magical and lively about Africa that gets under your skin, into your blood (hopefully not literally! Watch out for that HIV, that bilharzia, that malaria...)

I won’t carry on too much more about this here, but those who have visited or lived in Africa will know what I mean. Many find returning to other countries a bit ‘vanilla’, a bit dull and sterile, in comparison. I must say, I actually enjoy living in a place where ‘stuff WORKS’ (e.g. public transport, hospitals, local government...); I enjoy safety, a reasonable amount of peace and quiet, and even (god forbid!) cleanliness; I crave European literature, intellectual critique and culture, and love the Scandinavian mindset more than most; but even I really enjoy and miss the chaotic, colourful, crazy African vibe. Sometimes.

5. Beauty

Cape Town, and the rest of the Western Cape, is one of the most beautiful places in the world. It is also one of those rare places where you can live in a city, yet have very easy access to mountains, ocean, forests and winelands – all within the city limits! You can hike, walk, climb, swim, dive, sail... surrounded by breathtaking views at all times. 

It is impossible not to fall in love with Cape Town, or nearby Stellenbosch and Franschhoek, among many other picturesque towns nestled in highly fertile wine and fruit yielding valleys at the feet of yet more majestic mountains... And this is just a small sampling of the variety of beautiful landscapes to be found in the Western Cape, let alone in the rest of South Africa! It really is ‘a world in one country’, as the tourism marketing slogan used to say...

This beauty feeds my soul, my poetry, my writing... It was very, very, very difficult to say goodbye to. There are many other beautiful places in the world of course, but for some reason we humans tend to respond in a deep way to some places – they become our ‘emotional landscapes’ (to use Bjork’s term slightly differently). 

Yet alas, as in any relationship, beauty is not enough. If you were dating a stunningly beautiful woman, who frequently gave you the cold shoulder, wasn’t really interested in getting to know you, blamed you for all the pain inflicted by her previous lovers, chipped away at your self-esteem and identity (sometimes for the sheer fun of it), stole from you, even tried to kill you... You would eventually feel the time had come to break up and go your separate ways.

6. Space

Space! This one is somewhat particular to our situation I think. We lived in a house on the side of the mountain in Muizenberg (a suburb of Cape Town, but slightly removed, on the peninsula) – which meant we had sweeping views across False Bay, with mountains covered with fynbos surrounding us on the other 3 sides. Wonderful. Not over-developed and suffocating as I usually find urban living.

This is especially important to someone like me (I grew up around farms and fields of sunflowers remember!) - and much missed now that we have terribly noisy people living right on top of us, hardly any privacy and the noise of construction nearby all day long. And this in a semi-rural part of New Zealand, 20km out of Auckland!

The ‘space’ I enjoyed in Cape Town was of course the result of the mountains and other natural spaces referred to above, which most cities do not have, or have not preserved. Cape Town has the same greedy property developers and complicit local government as everywhere else; and is overdeveloped in other areas – or underdeveloped, as in the overcrowded ‘informal settlements’; but the mountains form a physical barrier in some places that no one has any choice but to respect!

7. 'Bietjie wyn virrie pyn!’ 
('bit of wine for the pain', a ‘Cape coloured’ saying) 

I cannot tell a lie. I will miss the Western Cape’s ample supply of good quality, affordable wine... a LOT. I have had good wine in Australia and New Zealand, but they are far more expensive... Of course I have also had French and Italian and Californian wines – which everyone raves about. But again, far more expensive.

Honestly, the Western Cape wines are severely underrated. I have no idea why this is. There is such a huge range, and so many world class estates and wines (many consistently winning awards worldwide), so I can’t understand why they are so little known in this part of the world. I especially miss my favourite organic wines, as there is nothing like the range and quality of organic viticulture in Australia or New Zealand yet. Again, I have no idea why?

This is perhaps the most superficial of reasons to miss living in a place, but this is my list, and I think wine (in moderation) is a perfectly legitimate contender in a list of things that make me happy!

And so, in closing, I can only say with the ooooooold Afrikaans song:
“O Kaap, o Kaap, o mooiste Kaap, Jy maak my hart weer baie seer
Jou Ghantang kom mos altyd weer en weer” 
- Waterblommetjies, Laurika Rauch

[Translation really kills this, but it’s along the lines of:
 “Oh Cape, oh beautiful Cape, you make my heart very sore ...with a longing that comes time after time...” 
– see the full song at and risk the (dodgy) google translation if you must]

What I loved about living in South Africa, pt1

After my last blog post, it might seem as if the decision to leave South Africa was an easy one. It seems I have only criticism and scorn for the country of my childhood and family. This really isn’t true. I do believe you should be able to honestly critique your own country, your own background and origins though.

It’s like being able to love your family or friends completely, yet still see them for who they honestly are – imperfect, fallible human beings. Sometimes even downright annoying... as we all are. And yes, sometimes we even need to head out into the world, leaving them behind for time, because we need a bit of ‘space’ to grow (this usually happens after leaving school).

In other words, I am not trying to say that one country is better than another, just different. Since countries are made up of people, it’s not surprising that they will not be perfect either - and anyway finding your way in the world is a constant negotiation between your own needs, and those of others around you.  Often, it’s less about ‘right and wrong’ than it is about finding workable compromises, or about how much you are willing to sacrifice of yourself to please others (most would agree that sacrificing your very identity or sense of ‘self’ may be going a bit too far in any relationship).

My ability to successfully negotiate my way through one country’s culture or systems, yet struggling to do so in another is obviously also a result of the many different worldviews we all have, and of our vastly differing expectations, personalities and preferences.

However, countries are also quite clearly in different stages of growth – and I am not referring to ‘development’ here, in the sense it has come to mean today, although this may be a part of it. I mean in the much broader, deeper sense: a country that enables most of its residents to pursue the best possible life they can live, needs to find that place of balance between the different, often clashing, needs of various groups or types of people. This is about more than building roads, bridges, hospitals and schools (although most countries don’t even do this anymore, thanks to neoliberalism).

To the extent that a country (read: government, culture, civil society, education system...) serves only one or some groups, it is not meeting its primary purpose, its reason for existing in the first place. Everyone should feel a part of the community, the culture, the society, the country. Everyone should have a feeling of ownership, a voice, a stake, a part to play... Everyone should feel they belong, they are valued, they are served by the policies and processes ... and that they can also contribute according to their gifts, resources and personality.

For a more detailed discussion of why I feel this is not the case in South Africa today (and why I personally felt unable to be ‘a part of’), read my previous blog posts – especially my ‘community’ series, and the series after the Marikana massacre, explaining my shock at the indifference of most South Africans to this crazy event (or events, since there was a lot leading up to this, and ongoing violent protests there and around the country still).

If you have read any of my other blog posts, you will know that I really wanted to be a part of the much-needed changes in South Africa. I wanted to be part of the solution - not just perpetuate the problems (by living in a privileged bubble and turning a blind eye). Unfortunately, this desire was not fulfilled in quite the way I had hoped, or of course I would still be there – this was the main reason I left a very comfortable, easy lifestyle in Sydney in the first place.

However, I have since come to feel that perhaps some of these battles are not mine to fight, or that my contribution may be more welcome, even more appropriate, elsewhere. This is not said without some bitterness, I must add, at the message received loud and clear from Africans today – “you are white, therefore you do not belong here. You cannot tell us how to fix things. This is all your fault anyway. We are happy to have your money (give it now!!) - but not you...” If you think I am exaggerating, you haven’t been paying attention to the media, government or speeches by popular African intellectuals.

On a more positive note, I am also now a new mum, with another life to consider – that of my daughter – and doing my best for her future outweighs any ‘responsibility to contribute’ that I once felt for South Africa (especially having been one of the unfairly privileged by the previous socio-political system of the country). Sorry.

(Having said all of that, I still have some ideas I would like to try from overseas – e.g. ways of leveraging the goodwill and resources of a ‘first world’ country and directing them to places like the overlooked ‘coloured’ communities of the Cape winelands. I have not ‘given up’ on South Africa, or on helping if I can – I just don’t want to live there anymore. For now.)

I am still processing a lot of my feelings regarding my time back in South Africa, and little seeds of hope for what I can set my sights on next are only just starting to appear... There is still some ‘unfinished business’ I would like to write about, especially regarding gender equity, what it means to be ‘white’ in Africa, and the African attitude towards animals. However, then I need to ‘move on’ (and start writing about issues other than my ‘angst’ over South Africa). 

Before I do any of that though, I really felt I needed to balance my recent blog post about the decision to move from South Africa with this further explanation, and with the list of things I loved about living there, which follows shortly.

Why share all of this (i.e. ‘who cares’)? Well, I happen to still believe in the potential for growth and learning – in South Africa, and other countries with massive waves of people leaving their shores for a preferred future elsewhere... I may have decided that I cannot stay and continue to fight all of these battles myself (for now), or perhaps to try to contribute in other ways, from a different home base... But that doesn’t mean others can’t or won’t continue to fight the good fight over there (and my challenge to anyone still living in South Africa would be this: there are many wonderful people doing great things...find them, join them...)

My hope is that having these sorts of conversations will contribute towards the learning and growth of those who ‘stay behind’, as well as encouraging or affirming ‘those who have left’...and possibly eventually informing those who have the power to make some of the changes countries like South Africa (post-conflict or traumatised cultures) need to make to build peace, build community, build a preferred future together. All of us have personal stories to share, which can enrich our collective understanding of concepts like ‘belonging’, ‘Nationality’, ‘culture’, ‘ownership’, ‘contribution’, ‘security’ and ‘place’...

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Brick walls, culs-de-sac and closed minds

I can’t say I am sad to see the back of 2012.

One absolutely mind-blowingly amazing thing happened – I gave birth to the most gorgeous little girl in the world (and I am not at all biased, of course).

Other than that, however, and even in part due to that, it was a very difficult year – stressful, tiring, challenging, demanding…all those sorts of words. And at times heart-breaking.

Why? Well, a few reasons – some of which were simply the unsurprising results of being a new mum: adjustments in my own selfish little world, and my marriage (reasonably new, at 2 years); sleep deprivation; various anxieties (big and small) about whether I was doing the right thing; and often feelings of isolation and loneliness (despite having a loving, involved husband to share the journey with).

But we also packed up our lives of over 3 years in Cape Town, South Africa, to move back to Australia, via 3 months in New Zealand. With four animals and all the logistics that involved (quarantine arrangements, import permits, freight companies, millions of vet visits, etc.). With the aforementioned sleep deprivation. With the little whirlwind that was a newly crawling bubs, unpacking everything as fast as I tried to pack it… With numerous frustrations along the way, involving bureaucracy, estate agents and other modern day evils...

And with the completely predictable doubts and sadnesses one feels when deciding to leave the ‘mother’ country… As well as (here’s the really heart-breaking bit) the gnawing feeling that all many people hate you for ‘voting with your feet’ and leaving the country they feel you should have more loyalty and love for – even if it has become an environment so fraught with political and social issues that its hard to understand what one is being judged for, other than being willing and able to ‘seize the day’ elsewhere...

The decision to move countries is never an easy one – there are always trade-offs, nowhere is perfect, and ‘the comfort zone’ (or even just ‘the known’) is always more attractive than change. But in the case of South Africa, there is also a disproportionate and completely unfathomable amount of judgement and guilt-tripping that is experienced by ‘those who have left’. People’s responses usually contain implications (or overt accusations) of racism, of pessimism, of shallowness, of selfishness, of short-sightedness, and my favourite always: a lack of patriotism (what a quaint, 20th century word – terribly useless and even dangerous in today’s world).

Discussing or deciding to leave South Africa always feels like one of those ‘don’t drink the kool-aid’ moments to me. Part of me wants to say ‘so sorry, I just can’t see myself fitting in here anymore - it's probably just me’, while another wants to shout ‘for goodness sake, don’t take it so personally!’ People move countries all the time. This is the 21st century. The fact that we live in a globalised world, with physical and cultural lines completely blurred, and information/ communication networks making distance or location almost meaningless ‘these days’… is so well-known and accepted that it is actually boring to have to say it.

I don’t see myself as South African (nor Australian). My reasons for leaving the country of my birth (again) are many, complex, personal…and tangled in an emotional ball in my stomach that makes it hard to even discuss. With anyone. Even my beloved husband and I have very different ways of explaining or justifying this move. And that’s okay. It’s allowed.

We are all allowed to have different parameters for happiness and security… Different places meet our needs and hopes in wildly different ways. How boring a world if this were not so. And how overcrowded would be that one place everyone wanted to live in.

My experience of South Africa in the last 3 years or so was unfortunately not the sort of place I want to live in anymore. I don’t feel ‘at home’, or as if I ‘belong’ anymore. In fact, I now doubt I ever did really ‘belong’ there, upon re-examining many of my memories of childhood and early adulthood spent unintentionally clashing with the opinions and practices of those I was surrounded by. 

This was clearly summed up for me in the unquestioned and oft-repeated assumption that being South African is about 'braaivleis and rugby' - even the so-called 'heritage' day is now commonly referred to as 'National braai day' (a 'braai' being a barbecue). Well, I don't eat red meat, for ethical reasons mostly based on sustainability; and I can't understand how a bunch of men chasing a ball around the field can be turned into something of a religious experience!

There is a fundamental ‘disconnect’ (a favourite word of peace studies lecturers and writers!) between the mainstream culture of the country today, and my own – both my unconsciously acquired heritage or childhood foundations, the expectations that are the result of my ‘socialisation’; and the intentionally ‘created’ culture I want to live in (as adults, we can choose and modify our cultural inheritance in many ways – through our studies, chosen circles of friends and travels, for example).

Since I only have one life, I see no reason to spend it in a place where I don’t feel connected, understood or valued as an equally legitimate member of the society to those of other political, social, intellectual, racial or ethnic groups. More importantly, my daughter has only one life, and I intend to give her a future filled with hope: basic personal security and freedoms, as many opportunities as possible, and a foundational belief in gender equity!

Whereas in South Africa, personally and professionally, all I experienced on every level, at every turn, were culs-de-sac, brick walls and closed minds.

So, looking forward to 2013 and OPEN DOORS, OPEN MINDS and NEW STARTS!!!