It has been three years since I was in South Africa – the country that is in every fibre of who I am. But this home-coming is so very different. The last time I was here was because my mother had died quite suddenly. I was planning to come and spend a month with her, but she passed away a month before my arrival date, so my trip in 2014 was consumed with sorting out my mother’s estate, her cremation and all that goes with a passing.
This time there is nothing left of her, only memories, and I am finding this experience very empty. My holidays here were always planned around my mother and what we were going to do, see and enjoy together (lots of cups of tea and milk tart or lime milkshakes). But this time….
I almost feel I don’t belong here anymore – but to be honest, that has been the case for over two decades now. I don’t know how things work here, I have very little cultural references and I probably don’t sound very South African anymore either. Which makes this all so very strange – who am I? My mother was my anchor here, and now that the anchor has been raised – this ship is out in an open sea, with no direction, no route and no destination.
The idea of coming to South Africa to spend Christmas with friends and family was exciting a few months ago, but as the time got closer to our departure, anxiety built up and now that I am here…I really don’t know if I even want to be here. This is no longer my home – this is no longer my happy place – is this my duty? And is this role now no longer?
Or, is this time an opportunity for me to find who I am, to explore my connection with the land I adore? Is this now MY time?
I am sad, I am lonely in my own country, my home, without my mother, and I fear how I will feel about South Africa when this trip is over – I will change (as one always does when we travel), but this time the change will transform so much of who I am, deep in my soul…and that scares me….very very much!
When the idea of Celebrate Southern Africa was born, I thought it would be fun – something exciting and interesting to get involved with and to enjoy some South African company.
Little did I realise the impact it would have on me…
The concept of belonging has occupied my thinking over the last couple of years as I really don’t feel I belong anywhere.
I left South Africa to travel 22 years ago, and I am still here. I now have a bit more than the backpack I arrived with, but it still does not feel like home. When people hear my accent, I feel them metaphorically taking a step back and I am treated like a visitor or even a tourist. I often have to fight my corner because I am not taken seriously – what does she know? She’s not even from here. I have to have cultural references explained to me and I am often left out of conversations because I have no idea who or what people are talking about or the jokes they are making. Sometimes people notice this and make a joke of it too, but I do often think they really don’t understand how it makes me feel – and why should they? They have not been in the same situation. Being so socially isolated and so lonely can be quite difficult – character-building, but still difficult.
I go back to South Africa for holidays and you know what? It is the same there. Besides the memories I have of the first 24 years of my life in the country and my on-going friendships with my South African friends, I have lost 22 years of social and cultural experiences. I don’t know who people are speaking about, what incidents they are referring or what somethings mean. I feel like a stranger in my own country.
Those who have emigrated and immigrated will know what this feels like. And since I lost my mother, I barely have a DNA connection left in South Africa. I have no children, no parents, no grandparents, no grandchildren, no siblings, no nieces or nephews, not even any god-children – so I am as genetically isolated in the UK as I am in South Africa.
So, where do I belong? I am kept at arm’s length in the UK and I am unfamiliar with so many things in South Africa.
But, by making contact with South Africans who are in the same position as me in this country, I instantly feel connected. A South African pointed out that working with other South Africans in the UK and running a business that attracts South Africans, means they feel less homesick. That has touched my heart because I can completely understand. I am not only homesick for South Africa, I am homesick for South Africans too – people who understand how hard it is to be away from what we know, people who use the same language, make the same cultural references, people who are carving a niche for themselves in a foreign country without their family and friends, South Africans who ‘get’ each other and who share the same history and roots. As I get older I value my history so much more. I am proud of my past and my family tree, but it means so little if we don’t make it work for us in the present and take it proudly with us into the future.
Celebrate Southern Africa is not just a weekend for me to enjoy South African food and drink, South African products and South African company – it is about me being connected, feeling a part of a community and being with people who understand me without knowing me – it is about one of the most basic of human needs – it is about belonging.
I have always wanted to be a politician. I have a deep sense of service. I want to make a difference. I don’t feel my life has any other meaning except to help others and to empower people to have a voice.
But, I will never ever choose a political path and in the last few days this has been confirmed for me.
I have seen how aggressive people are to and about their politicians, how they judge them, and how their personalities have been analysed and ripped to shreds. I will never put myself in a position for people to destroy my soul when they have never met me, don’t know me and have no idea what makes me tick – or even how things work.
There is not one politician in the Western world, who sits down and decides, “Which group of people can I tread on today? Which group of people do I need to make suffer?” You can dislike or even hate a politician, but can you honestly say this happens? Maybe in a dictatorship or in an authoritarian regime, but in a Western democracy? And I would like to point out, individuals do not have this kind of power in a democracy. A partocracy prevents this kind of behaviour and safeguards the represented population from leaders who may hope to be in a positon to tread on the people. There are also checks and balances to ensure that if they did behave like this they would be removed…and rather swiftly.
If you truly believe that politicians are ‘out to get’ a group of people, or don’t care about a portion of the population, then I believe you are blinkered and you are politically naïve. Decisions are made collectively by those in government (which were voted into office by the majority of the population) and in consultation with the opposition party and other representatives in government. When people say that politician A put this or that in the party manifesto…think again. No individual does that, ever! It is a party (a group of people) which decides on the manifesto, which has Think Tanks, working committees, specialists, party leadership and party members.
Political parties all have the same goal – to get into government. How do they get into government in a democracy? They are voted in by the people. How do they get the people to vote for them? They put proposals forward or policies in place to deliver services, protect the country and to develop international relationships on our behalf. Each political party has a different path to get to this goal – some parties focus on individual rights above the collective, others believe the labour force is the foundation and starting point for their work, some put the collective ahead of the individual. So the journey to getting into government for each party is different, but the ultimate goal is exactly the same. Make the people happy and they vote for you. No party deliberately makes people unhappy – why would people vote for them then? It makes no sense to believe they do this.
The media, commentators, know-it-alls, ‘couch’ politicians and everyone else all have an opinion – and thank goodness we live in a country where we can, but before you decide that politician A or B or C is a certain kind of person, think about this:
- Every decisions is made, not in isolation, but considering and taking into account many many other aspects and circumstances
- Imagine how you would cope in the same circumstance knowing you would be damned if you did and damned if you didn’t. Take a step back and think clearly, not emotionally, why that politician is saying, or proposing something. Nothing is clear-cut, nothing is black or white.
- We do not have all the facts to hand – remember we do not sit in offices and behind closed doors when these issues are being debated, discussed and then ultimately decided on. We are not specialists and, we do not know all the implications or factors that influence, determine or justify political decisions. We, the populace, have elected people to do this for us. Politics, in itself, is also a specialism.
- Image that politician is your father, your mother, your sister, your brother. In their personal lives they too are parents, children and have friends – how dare we decide they are a certain type of person when we have never met them.
- Think about this – many politicians could do any other job earning much more money. Contrary to popular belief, politicians do not earn loads of money. They have chosen to represent the people, for less money, work many more hours and put themselves in the firing line from the public. All to make a difference and because they feel strongly about certain issues. Would you do this?
- Politicians have traditionally and historically been from the elite classes. This has changed – yes it has! The parliamentarians and political leaders we have today have come from all levels of society – yes, some are from money – but that’s what society is – some have money, some don’t. Why is this a problem? And why does money make you a nasty person? Can someone help inheriting money? Why is someone bad for working hard, employing people and becoming rich? Why does an expensive education make you untrustworthy or evil? I would prefer a well-educated person representing me in a complex society and a complicated world, who really gets it, than someone who has no idea. Wouldn’t you? (This really has nothing to do with money, but everything to do with knowledge, passion and intelligence). I don’t understand how these things all work, and if someone has more knowledge than me – please represent and lead, please negotiate for me and on my behalf, because I really do not have the information, expertise and know-how to do it myself.
- Put yourself in their shoes for a day – and tell me you would make a different decision.
- Politicians are human beings – they feel what we feel – rejection, pain, frustration, passion, anger, happiness, fulfillment, love, fear, confidence or a lack of.
Now, I am not saying, don’t have an opinion – but have an opinion or a belief about the politics, the journey to the goal or the decision, but be fair to the person. If you are passionate about individual rights, align yourself with the party that has policies which lead towards the goal that put the individual first. If you believe in the collective above the individual, consider a party that does the same.
Remember, every country has a government they deserve – if you aren’t happy with your current government, make sure you vote them out next time. If you are in a dictatorship, rally the people to rise up against the oppressors. And if you have a strong opinion about how the politicians are handling an issue with what they are doing – stand! Stand for political positions. I am sure, under your leadership, things will be so much better.
I have been a member of many organisations and community groups, who all claim to be democratic. I say, claim, because in reality they do not tick many democratic boxes, and for some or other reason, the members within the group either don’t know what it truly means to be in a democracy, or they choose to ignore it. I really don’t know which one is worse.
So, let’s look at a procedural democracy:
- A number of people come together to form an organisation or association and wish it to be run democratically.
- There has to be more than one member – or it won’t need a democratic process.
- Rules are laid out, which are binding upon the members.
- A process and agenda for decision-making is clearly laid out.
- Decision-making about rules have to include everyone with membership as they are the ones whose interests will be affected by the decisions.
- No single member’s demands, request, opinions or ideas are superior to the other members within the group. If one person shows to have more influence, then a democracy does not exist.
- There has to be equal and adequate opportunity for all members to put forward questions, ideas and suggestions on the agenda.
- Every member should have the opportunity to express their reasons for endorsing outcomes and act accordingly.
- Each member’s choices expressed, must carry equal weight.
- The organisation needs to ensure that enlightened understanding is not reserved for a few, but that all members know what they want (opportunities need to be made for everyone to explore options and gain the necessary knowledge they need to be informed about democratic procedure within the organisation)
- It is the responsibility of elected leaders to ensure that every member knows how their participation in decision-making can make things better for the organisation and for themselves.
- There has to be an emphasis on education in all areas of operation, rights, rules and participation.
- Members should be the ones to decide what they want to decide and how they want to decide these things. Only members know what is important to them and what the organisation needs and so they are the ones who must control the agenda of the organisation.
- The people ARE the organisation, so the people are sovereign.
- The organisation needs to have a clear picture of the conditions under which the members may delegate their authority.
- Inclusiveness is key to the democratic function of an organisation.
- One of the most important characteristics in a democratic organisation is the continuing responsiveness of the leadership to the members of the organisation. This is a ‘make or break’ element and vital to success.
Now that these points are laid out I can see why so many organisations fold, run out of money, have internal conflict and generally do not come near to the targets and goals they originally set out to achieve.
I feel strongly about democracy – I know it is not perfect – it has many flaws. But I also know that it works, especially on a small scale in a community group. It empowers members and promotes self-realisation of the individual. When people are given opportunities they flourish.
Democracy, it seems, brings out the best in people and when you have a group of people growing, learning, inspiring, motivating and engaging within an organisation….well, can you see the potential? Limitless!
There is a physical connection with family. It is magnetic, it is spiritual, it is timeless, it is organic. And we all take this for granted. We don’t consciously even think about it but if you stop now to consider it, and bring your mind, body and soul into the absolute present moment and reach out to the universe, you will feel it.
I don’t. …
A year ago my only connection with my physical universe, my past, was severed when my dearest mother passed away. She was my foundation, she gave me a sense of belonging and she made me who I am….I am in this world because of her and every atom in my body is empty since her passing.
The first few months after her death I was numb. The numb became pain – it was incredibly painful…mourning is such a physical pain. My body still aches when I think of her not being here anymore. This pain has evolved, matured maybe, but I now feel intense loss. At times the loss is still uncontrollable and heightened – it peaks at the quiet times when my brain is not busy, when I am alone or when a memory is triggered through situations or people.
So…naturally I keep busy. I do everything possible to avoid being alone, but I have had to spent much of the last 5 months on my own which has been, at times torturous and often agonising. I have unconsciously withdrawn into a world where few things remind me of her, avoiding people, places and conversations.
Now I am in a very strange place….
My mother was my remaining link with my past…that is gone. I have not had the privilege of having children, which means I have no link to a future family tree – no DNA legacy, no one to carry my mother nor me into the next generation. My father chose to leave us 42 years ago, so his line of life has sadly ceased too.
And, as I am an only child, there are no nieces or nephews to take my family tree along another branch….I am alone…completely alone…the thought often overwhelms me. I feel like a bottle, bobbing around the Pacific Ocean with a piece of paper in it…and on the paper….is nothing – there is no message….just a bottle with no route, no direction and no intention.
Mom, you were my wisdom, my advice, my ‘voice of reason’, my support, my encouragement, my shoulder and you understood me like no other human being on this planet. Mostly I miss your love and laughter and I long to hold you again. This year has been so hard for me, and even though you gave me the tools to travel through this life without you, at times I still struggle to make sense of the world without you in it.
Thank you for who you were while here on earth and who you remain, deep in my soul.
First day of September and the weather gods have flicked a switch. The crisp morning air is now officially autumnal – and it has happened suddenly.
Autumn has always been my favourite season – the leaves change to deep mature colours, the shrubs and trees start closing down for the winter months as the flowers and leaves start fading or shrivel back. There is a sense of calm after the buzz of summer and this special time is for thanksgiving – a time to thank Mother Nature for the gift of summer and now to prepare our bodies and souls for the winter months that lie ahead.
The pace of the universe has slowed – the birds are quieter as they start their preparation for their journeys southwards, and the last spurt of growth from the grass creates a carpet of luxury.
For millennia our all-knowing matriarchal planet has followed this pattern – she understands the season change well and she performs it with grace and empathy. As a parent, she knows this is what we need, even if we don’t – she has no need to explain – she knows what’s best for her little ones.
And because of autumn we know we are loved.