South Park Self

belonging to be

So, a strange thing. Several people commented on my post about Zimbabwe and identity to say that they felt national identity didn't really apply to them: either because it's an irrelevant concept, or because South Africa itself has changed so much in the last ten years that it'll never be the home they left. I can obviously understand that, and the extent to which the increasing globalisation of our particular strata of the socio-economic wossname has made nationality in some ways irrelevant. William Gibson would be proud. But it's weird: in a sense, the gradual erosion of the old South Africa into irrelevance for those people has had the opposite effect to that which the sudden, catastrophic erosion of Zimbabwe has had on me.

There's the old saw that "home is where, if you have to go back, they have to take you in". If a new Brit or US or Aussie regime suddenly expelled all you SA expats, you could come back here. It wouldn't be the place you left, but it would hold out at least a vague hope of employment, enough continuity for a pension, an education for your kids. At least as it currently stands you could build a life here, and have a reasonable expectation that it would endure. (xavierxalfonso hit it when he talked about somewhere to grow old). It may be hopeless idealism or ostrichism on my part to see it in those terms, of course, but I live here: to me, it feels viable.

You can't say that about Zim. Its changes have been sudden and shocking and arbitrary and cruel enough that it no longer offers any sense of continuity, and to be effective, "home" and "nation" have to have that - they can change, and everywhere does, but they need to endure. Somewhere in my head, on some odd level, "nation" is not actually about a community of shared life experience, but equates to "shelter", to "belonging" in a sense which is ultimately protective and continuing. Zimbabwe no longer offers that. South Africa might, but it doesn't belong to me.

Nonetheless, the effect of the dissolution of my "nation" has made me value nationality rather than reject it; I can't have it, but it's still important and desirable. Probably because I can't have it, and I know how aching a loss its absence - on a completely different level from "I left it and it's changed" - has created. On a weird sort of level, I have no right to take for granted the shelter offered by any country, including my own. And now that I think it through, obviously for me "nationality" has a resonance of legitimate expectation, of "take for granted". It's about security above anything else.

Fortunately security can come in all sorts of flavours, and if I can't identify with nation, I certainly identify with people. You lot, for example :> - both in Cape Town and in cyberspace. I'm not sure I agree that nation is no longer relevant, but I certainly agree that community has come to mean a far more diffuse and abstract thing than it ever did in the age of the village. And that, too, has its poignancies and pains, because on some level of community it's really just about someone to give you a hug when you're down. I've just delivered my mother to the airport, and I won't see her again until April next year. I've spent the last couple of hours in tears, because already - and probably particularly because I'm exhausted and post-serious-illness and not quite myself - I miss her like an ache. I'm too bloody old to miss my mum, but dammit, I do. And part of that weepiness is because I watch her struggle off into the distances of the airport with her huge suitcase, and I know that she goes gallantly back to a home, and a life, which is characterised by the same visceral loss and undefined rootlessness as mine. Except worse, because she's older, and Zim took far more away from her than it ever did from me. And it's not fair. Dammit. It's not. Nations should endure.
  • Current Mood: sad ridiculously weepy
  • Current Music: Band of Horses
I am reminded of the feeling I get when I read The Songs of Distant Earth - the deep sorrow these last survivors of Earth, a planet now consumed by the expanding sun, feel for their home which does not exist any more. Somehow Arthur C. Clarke manages to weave that through the whole story so that, when I finish reading, I look around me with wonder that this Earth, for whose death I am feeling real grief, is still there.
Have you ever read Dan Wylie's poem "Leaving Zimbabwe"? If not I must dig it out for you. It addresses the things you're taking about, his experience of having all those feelings while at Beit bridge, in a really powerful way without becoming lengthy and overblow.
You're never, ever, too old to miss your mother. Every time my mom used to go back to the UK (NOT, any longer, her home in any sense of the word either) I used to be weepy for days.

(That's part of why she lives with us, now!)

I must leave a comment here; something to note, to signify that I have read and understood and will remember this. I have no meaningful input, other than that, but it felt important to say this.
I have just read your previous post and I must say that I have very different feelings about nationality than most of the commenters. I am proudly, and have always thought of myself as such, South African. I have never felt the shame and the guilt so many seemed to feel, and thus never felt like I should disown my country of birth. I was 14 when the first democratic elections happened. I led a very sheltered childhood in the Northern Suburbs so apartheid was something I learned about in high school and after. I don't know if this makes a difference or not, it's just a fact of my upbringing.

When I think of being South African I feel hope and pride that we've come this far. It was very evident on my recent trip where I talked a lot about being South African. I got lots of questions about the country and apartheid and stuff and I think I represented my country well. I don't think that rabid nationality is a good thing at all but I feel there's something a bit sad about not being happy or proud of where you come from.

We will probably go overseas at some point, maybe to Vancouver or Amsterdam, but this will always be my home. I will always be South African and proud of it. I think because of what it represents, that phoenix-like rising from a dark and terrible past into a new country that has troubles but is trying hard to work through them.

Just my not-very-well-written 2c :).