Friday, November 7, 2008


Let's assume that you are a true philanthropist. You care sincerely - in which case I salute you. Thank you for wanting to improve the lot of my former compatriots - but don't expect me to go with you! It would simply hurt too much!
There was a time when my husband and I went back three times a year, bought a flat from where we could carry on the work of creating awareness of Hemochromatosis - the world's most common genetic disorder - connecting with relatives and and revisiting our favourite haunts; but now I can only present what it would be like to see well-loved friends, aged and drastically changed, as an analogy for my most recent visit to South Africa. It was not sad - as might have been the case after so many years had passed. It was a shock! Sheer agony! - That's the only way I can even begin to describe how it was for me when I returned two years ago in order to do research for my book, The Yardstick, which is set in the Kalahari.

The time spent in the Province of North Cape, in Upington and the Kalahari*, was magical, as was a visit to the South Western Cape (where my novel, 'Storm Water' is set) - but the closer I got to what is now known as Gauteng - where I used to live - the more depressed I became ... I have been sick at heart ever since! More that that - I have been physically ill!

As our our children grow older, we age along with them and the change is gradual; so imperceptible that we are hardly aware of the passage of time. So it has been for some of my dear ones left behind in South Africa. But only some! Those are the ones who have learned (or steeled themselves) to adapt, and now, although they are also occasionally heard to complain, they seem to have become inured to the violence and destruction of so much that once was beautiful. That is the projected, almost defensive attitude - and I could not bear to witness it.

I have learnt to love Canada and I now live in one of the most beautiful places on earth, with the ocean on three sides of me. I’m happy and grateful for the peace, security, and the opportunities my new country has offered my family and me — but for many years it only took a picture of Table Mountain to make the tears flow. And while working on a family album recently, seeing the images of so many loved ones, and reflecting on their contribution to South Africa, was at times nothing short of excruciating! Yet, in spite of this, the vehemence with which a XHOSA woman from the Transkei expressed her feelings, came as a surprise.

She shared my table at breakfast one morning, at the B&B at which I was staying, exhibiting great interest in a 'Canadian's' impressions, which I was careful to tone down, and I mentally censored my remarks each time before I answered any of her questions. I said nothing provocative and was thus completely unprepared when, suddenly, out of nowhere, she burst out passionately with, "I wish it could all just be the way it was long ago! I wish we could just go back to a time before 1994!"

I turned my face away to stare through the window, at a loss for words, and wondering if any of my Canadian friends would ever believe me if I were to tell them.

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