“Indeed mother you are always our helper. For what else are we born?” Alan Paton, Cry The Beloved Country.
ANGEL JONES EXAMINES HER UNPREDICTABLE LOVE/HATE RELATIONSHIP WITH SOUTH AFRICA AND AFTER MUCH OUTRAGE AND SADNESS, SHE FINDS THAT HER HEART AND SOUL ARE FIRMLY ROOTED IN THIS CRAZY, INCREDIBLE COUNTRY.
While listening to John Robbie in the morning on my way to work, I find myself weeping with joy at the good news and crying with frustration at the bad news, wanting to almost rip the radio out of my car. It’s up, down and inside out. It’s impossible not to have an emotional reaction to living in South Africa.
It has been a challenging year for our beloved country with a recent spate of depressing news.
South Africa is currently experiencing a leadership crisis, we’ve had labour issues, the Nkandla scandal, the Eskom blackouts and the Rand is sliding. I anxiously hear about chaos descending in Parliament, but at the same time I find myself feeling a strange sense of relief that we are witnessing the emergence of a robust opposition in action.
In the same breath, Johannesburg has just been named Rough Guides’ top city of 2015, and the New York Times named Cape Town as the number one place to visit in 2014. GDP growth is forecast to advance to 2.3% from a previous estimation of 1.5%, and Cyril Ramaphosa has been put in charge of fixing the airlines, the power and the post office. Almost daily I hear stories of inspiring South Africans who are doing their bit to make a difference in health and education.
Ever year since I was a child, it has appeared that South Africa is “going down the tubes”. This year is no different. Yet again there is an impending sense of doom and so many warnings that the “writing is on the wall” for this country. This rollercoaster ride of good and bad is typical of our our emerging economy that always seems to muddle through
Ten years ago emigration from South Africa peaked, with 45,000 foreign relocations reported during the year.
However, recent surveys not only reveal most South African expatriates are, in fact, positive about their home country, but suggest they are more positive than South African residents of the same economic class.
In our recent major poll of South Africans around the world, only 21% said they had no interest in returning to SA in the future, while 64% said they hoped to move back at some point.
These findings were echoed in a separate survey conducted by a Silicon Valley-based business knowledge network, the SABLE Accelerator, which polled Rhodes University alumni now living abroad.
Of these, 40% considered themselves ambassadors or champions of SA. Only 24% viewed the country’s progress negatively.
A growing number of South Africans are choosing to take a leap of faith and come home. Adcorp figures reveal that 359 000 South African professionals have returned home over the last five years.
There are over 800,000 scarce skill vacancies in this country with opportunities in all sectors especially engineering, construction, information technology, finance, health, education and advisory.
Trade union Solidarity said a few years ago that for every one skilled worker that returns to South Africa, nine new jobs are created in the informal and formal sector.
The ripple effect is enormous, and over 90% of people who return home to South Africa never leave again.
On a personal level, I feel a sense of accomplishment when I see grass under my children’s toes and sun on their faces, when I hear my daughter rattling off in Zulu and Afrikaans. Knowing they have their grandparents close by, and that they are firmly rooted in South African culture far outweighs the angst about needing to put the burglar alarm on.
Many people ask me why a white girl chose to give up her advertising career and devote her life to bringing Africans home. It’s because when I watch my children singing their national anthem proudly, my eyes rain with joy. I grew up never being proud of the colour of my skin, or my anthem or my flag. It was Madiba who set me free and it was him who called me home from London. At home I am able to give my children that sense of patriotism and pride that I so clearly lacked as a child.
For me, I think the sense of history and belonging and knowing you are part of this mad, chaotic society is a massive reason why I am constantly thankful that I made the decision of returning home with the dream of somehow making a difference.
We work with thousands of people around the world who feel the tug of South Africa and want to return home, wanting to make a positive difference and have family close by.
I get phone calls at odd hours, especially from South African in Australia, ranting and raving and seething about the state of this country, about how it is embroiled in absolute chaos and how the lack of leadership almost certainly means it is destined to go in the same direction as Zimbabwe or worse.
I have learnt to hear them out because at the end of the phone call, because 9 out of 10 of these same people will still say that they love South Africa and are thinking about coming home. Their outrage is the proof that they are still emotionally committed to their homeland.
The more you hate, the more you should listen to that passionate flame within yourself that’s calling on you to come home and be involved.
All that I know is that I love South Africa. It’s completely mixed and to those people who are distressed by the urge to make the big choice and return home, I say trust that distress. That is your conscience telling you to do something about it. Let your tears flow, weep with happiness and cry with anger, its normal to love and hate – that is what it means to be South African.
“One day in Johannesburg, and already the tribe was being rebuilt, the house and soul being restored,” Alan Paton, Cry, The Beloved Country.
Cry the beloved country. I am still crying, so should you.