Patriotism is a Balancing Act

2013-07-07 15:36

A few weeks ago, I engaged in a twitter conversation with Gus Silber (@gussilber) who tweeted something quite interesting.

When the hashtag #youknowyouresouthafricanwhen was trending, he tweeted that “#youknowyouresouthafricanwhen you find yourself fiercely defending President Zuma in arguments with expatriates overseas.”

My immediate response was to say no. Luckily for me, through our subsequent tweets, I discovered that Gus had not constructed patriotism as I have often encountered it in other South Africans when abroad (see Type 1 below).

That conversation gave rise to this post and me trying to define the three types of “patriots” one often encounters abroad (and at home too).

Type 1: The Rose-tinted Specs Patriot

This patriot often finds a sense of patriotism previously unknown. Indeed, many who know this type of patriot will be surprised by how utterly South African they become once they leave our shores. This patriot sees South Africa as a paragon of the best of everything and, despite often having no intention of coming back, hectors South Africans who complain, usually with something like “You don’t know how good you have it.”

Other than the possibly obvious hypocrisy of the statement, given where they are and their having no intention to come back, this patriot, as I shall say below, is actually no patriot at all. A blind, jingoistic, nostalgic attachment to what it means to be South African, seeing no faults at all, despite their existing legitimate reason to find fault, helps noone.

South Africa is a great country. But we do have our faults and areas in need of improvement. If this type of patriot realised that they didn’t become less South African for being honest more about it, like how black South Africans don’t become less black for being critical of the ANC (despite what they may have us believe), I do think I would be able to tolerate them more.

Type 2: The Country Has Gone to the Dogs Patriot

Now, I won’t cast aspersions, but a certain epithet about the PFP standing for “Pack for Perth” rather than ‘Progressive Federal Party” comes to mind.

Unlike old Rose-tints, this type of Patriot is often confused for not being a patriot at all. Make no mistake though, they absolutely are. They’re just patriotic to an older version of the new South Africa.

This species loves to talk about “the good old days” and rattles off at length about how wonderful the schools and transport and feeling of safety is. Usually settling in a colder climate where the locals are blanched of colour and where the new-settlers may once again find themselves in the majority, this type loves to bemoan the state of how terribly South Africa is doing nowadays.

Don’t be fooled though, sometimes it isn’t only prevalent among a particular race group. The genetics of this type also cuts across race lines with all of the various geneses (well-heeled, comfortable-living sorts) wishing for a country that was better run, like the States, the UK and so on.

Whereas Type 1 sees everything as being wonderfully great, seeing potholes in the roads as being challenges to build a brighter tomorrow, Type 2 sees only the pothole and no road around it.

This type specialises in doom and gloom. Notwithstanding their discomforting idealising of a time when many would be consigned to an area that would be lucky to any infrastructure (never mind the luxury of a road that could have a pothole I could complain about), this type can never say anything good about South Africa and give serious thanks they managed to escape. Whilst Type 1 may need to wake up and smell the coffee to see things for what they are, Type 2 needs a good dose of chamomile tea so they can relax a little and see what progress has actually been made.

Type 3: The Balanced Patriot

My favourite patriot though, has to the balanced one. Whilst not always right (then again, who is?) they are on the whole, decent people who miss home but are grateful for their current place, who do not see foreign shores as being impossibly superior to those back home, who remember fondly but do not blindly defend, who are, for lack of a better word, balanced.

As someone who will be leaving South Africa for two years to take up further studies, and as someone who has travelled quite a bit previously, I hope that when I meet “patriotic” South Africans, they are neither Type 1 nor 2.

I hope to meet balanced South Africans who neither see the glass as being completely empty or overflowing and full, but rather South Africans who are balanced in their views and perspectives. People I can engage with robustly, who listen, who yield when they are wrong and challenge me when I will be. South Africans who are not jaded by change or so overenthusiastic about the future that they divorce themselves from reality. Much like this beautiful country, we must acknowledge reality for what it is so that things can become better.

Reasonableness and rationality are two qualities much loved by lawyers, me included. The more expatriates abroad speak in a balanced way about our country abroad, the better it will be. Hell, I’d even like some balance back home in our local politics.

Maybe then we can start having serious answers to the real questions!

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