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 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.