Saturday, March 14, 2015

We Can Come Back

I had a pretty good track record with the survival of my glasses. I wore them from age 9 till a couple of years ago when I got my eyes zapped. Only one pair got destroyed. They were rimless glass ones. I got rather pumped up whenever the Boks played. I would stand up and belt out Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika at the top of my lungs, even if the venue where I was watching wasn't really appropriate for such extroverted patriotism. Another fun thing to do was to dive tackle my friend Rob every time we scored a try. Again whether appropriate or not. On one such occasion, my glasses didn't live to tell the tale.

It was only in 2008 that I started to feel a little uneasy about my patriotism. A series of Xenophobic attacks in South Africa made me start to question the value of any form of nationalism. The whole point that made me feel proud of South Africa was how Mandela had managed to forge together the idea of a country with no outgroups. Pride or support of only a specific group is a flawed model. We are better than that.

I have just finished a wonderful book by Jonny Steinberg called 'A Man Of Good Hope'. It details the journey of a man constantly searching for a better life. The protagonist, Asad, is a survivor of the Xenophobic attacks. He was in Cape Town at the time.

The magic of great books is that they open up the worlds of ordinary people with all their flaws and strengths to us. I feel as intense a sense of pride in the way Asad has approached the challenges in his way as I have of stories I have heard from cultures within the borders of SA. Growing up, I felt proud of the victory of the Zulu army at Isandlwana, but I also felt proud of the defence of the British at Rorke's Drift which resulted in eleven Victoria Crosses being awarded. We can look towards history and our people to form our identities and gain strength. Creating boundaries and limiting where we can draw this strength deprives us of a greater understanding of what we are really capable of.

History is messy. Figuring out who was right or wrong is beyond messy. It is impossible. A Man of Good Hope asks some really tough questions, but it also shows that people are tough. Life can throw stuff at us and we can come back the next day for more. Again and again. Life is tough enough without us making it harder for each other. Hatred sucks up a lot of energy. It would be great if we could direct that energy more productively.

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