Leaving with a Band-Aid on my heart

2009-04-28 00:00

I was on my way back to my home in Kiwiland. Saying goodbye to family was unquantifiably heart-rending. During my whirlwind visit, one of “my readers” accosted me, irked by an article of mine, “To be or not to be proudly South African”.

When one is on the other side of the planet with an 11-hour time difference, one’s perspectives may become distorted, with only the media and hearsay to go by. I read The Witness on line about an innocent six-year-old boy bludgeoned to death with a hammer. It galvanised my sense of anger at the injustices foisted on innocent lives, and at the cheapness of human life when another victim was slaughtered for two mobile phones.

But after 17 hours of flying from Auckland via Sydney, I peered down to catch my first glimpse of Africa, from the height of 34 000 feet. It was a poignant moment, where I felt sucked into the magnetic pull of this continent. I felt as though I’d been away a lifetime. I surveyed a fleeting vista of a meandering chocolate-hued river with ox-bow lakes, midget African homesteads and vast expanses of rugged landscape. I wanted to dance down the aisle.

This was such a contrast to my first exodus flight in mid-2008, when I’d sobbed uncontrollably all the way to Johannesburg, followed by mini sobs to Hong Kong en route to Auckland.

Arriving back in South Africa at O.R. Tambo Airport was a revelation. The airport’s transformation was impressive, as it has undergone expansions and wonderful cosmetic surgery in preparation for the 2010 World Soccer Cup, compared with my departure, when one walked alongside an endless expanse of seemingly chaotic and shoddy barricades.

Arriving “home” to Africa triggered overwhelming emotions. I’m referring not only to being reunited with family and significant others, but to the numerous positives which I’ve noticed, from new structures and developments, to more occupancy in some of the malls.

Of course it’s not all a bed of roses. I had to attend a court case as a witness at the Pietermaritzburg Magistrate’s Court. The first set of loos was locked and out of order, as were the second lot. The third set yielded more success; a functioning loo, sans a seat or loo paper. “Same old, same old,” I mused.

But when here, I realise how easy it is to be lulled back into the charmed life experienced by the more privileged sectors of the country — the endless balmy days, a robust energy, which is quite unique, an infectious optimism and the ravages of the global recession not being too conspicuous yet.

Juxtaposed against that is still an element of gloom and anger voiced by some, and as one acquaintance I bumped into commented: “South Africa is a place we love and hate.”

One of my days here was spent in the Tugela Valley, where I had the privilege of touching base with the raw part of Africa where we had to stop repeatedly or manoeuvre the cab to circumnavigate a long-horned stalwart ox, a summit meeting of mangy donkeys and some dust-rolling mottled goats.

I felt pride as I shared the day with my son, a water engineer and an Eskom man — bringing water and electricity to the rural inhabitants of an isolated and almost inaccessible region, where huts and thorn scrub cling precariously to steep outcrops.

Now, on my departure, around the the time of the elections, I take a moment to reflect. Maybe I have been harsh in my judgment; lacking in conviction. None of us can accurately predict the future. To date, some astounding developments and ameliorations have materialised since Madiba’s long walk to freedom.

I am returning to New Zealand and am thrilled to be reunited with my husband and my exciting work milieu, as well as to a place with its own startling beauty and different challenges. As I depart, I stop first to salute the South Africans who optimistically fortify the nation. Likewise, with the knowledge of ongoing unacceptable levels of crime and corruption which lead to some folk being mobilised to establish themselves elsewhere, I applaud South Africans, as children of the universe, who opt to spread their wings. We are robust people. My hope is that we can make a positive impact — wherever we are — and like a stone thrown into static water, create ripples that exponentially extend outwards, whether at home or beyond.

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