Dashiki Dialogues: Love and allegiance in the land of our birth

2012-06-30 08:58

‘I think that it is a spiritual disaster to pretend that one doesn’t love their country. You may disapprove of it, you may be forced to leave it, you may live your whole life as a battle, yet I don’t think you can escape it. There isn’t any other place to go – you don’t pull up your roots and put them down some place else,” said James Baldwin, the African-American master scribe.

It was after reading Baldwin’s statement that I began a formal confrontation with myself about my relationship with the land mass I call home.

Suddenly the fact of being born here couldn’t suffice to justify my allegiance.

It needed to be a decision that resulted from a much more rigorous thought process.

I asked myself some tough questions.

Would I carry the flag and go to war in defence of my land? Would it matter that, in the event of my demise, I would be buried elsewhere?

Am I patriotic, a nationalist? What does that mean? But, most importantly, do I feel embraced by the land and its people?

Growing up through the 1980s and 1990s means my adulthood was shaped by a changing world. I have a faint childhood memory of a South Africa that was ruled by a racist minority.

So the idea of being different and how that affects access to space is a big part of my socialisation.

Because of the past, people were made to question their sense of unity with people they called fellow citizens, even as a new way of seeing was being inaugurated.

As the country forged a new identity for itself, it became necessary for me to evaluate my relationship with that identity.

Part of the struggle was whether being African was more important than being South African.

Do I value these borders drawn by ghosts at the 1884-85 Berlin Conference?

This issue of country over continent or racial affinities reared its head during the 2010 World Cup. Old painful divides complicated our allegiances.

It suddenly wasn’t easy just to celebrate. Some among us didn’t feel the continental appeal over country, whereas some of us did.

Land-based identities have their odd moments.

Our poet laureate Keorapetse Kgositsile once indicated how, when you are far away in a distant continent, you identify the whole country as home, even the parts you didn’t know existed.

But when you are back in the country you identify with just the little corner you occupy, your city or town.

In dialogue with Baldwin’s statement about love and country, I find my dashiki remains grey.

I love our people and our heritage, but the jury in my head is still out regarding the question of going to war.

» Follow me on Twitter @Percy_Mabandu

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