Braaivleis, rugby, sunny skies……how do you see South Africa?

My father’s generation and mine never really connected. His came through the tough War years and came to terms with a period when information was restricted. Most existed by towing the line, listening to the boss and being eternal grateful when one day you retired on a pension that, sadly, was soon made pitiful by the ravages of inflation. If you bucked the system, as did the late Donald Michael Hogg, you more often than not ended up a walking resentment. that generation inhabited a world where the stranglehold of authority – political and capital – was absolute. Not surprisingly, those of my vintage struggle to understand why our parents tolerated, even supported the insanity of Apartheid. Their world view was so far removed from the one we possess today. Similarly, my daughters surely despair when assessing our lot. Why don’t we understand how critical it is to be constantly connected? Or think it rude when they text their way through family dinners (it was under the table after all)? That’s among the reasons I love reading Jes Edgson. She offers insight into what the next generation think. Like this well crafted piece about our homeland. – AH     

By Jessica Edgson*

“How do you see South Africa?” The question sounds like the topic of a primary school creative writing contest or the Jesintroduction to one of those artificially emotional SARS TV ads. But it’s an interesting thought nonetheless, and one that I’ve found myself contemplating lately. If you had to describe South Africa to someone who had never been here, what would you say?

Would you give them a brief Wikipedia-inspired history with a sprinkling of “Rainbow Nation” and “Freedom”? I hope not. I don’t think a factual timeline with a few post-apartheid keywords would do this country justice. But neither would a splattering of terms like “multi-cultural”, “vibrant” and “Ubuntu”. This description has to be honest. It has to map out the South Africa that you woke up to this morning.

It could be a literal description of standing in the never-ending queue at the local Home Affairs office. With the melancholy yellow-beige walls that look like they’ve lost all hope. The pens chained to a desk covered in forms abandoned at the last minute because of one tiny mistake. The abrupt plastic signs that number the windows and the queues. And that irritating voice at the back of your mind telling you to double-check that you have the right documents.

Then again, you could go on a creativity-fuelled binge of the Mother City. You could describe the mountain, you know the one. But you wouldn’t tell them what it looks like, you’d tell them what it feels like. You could go on about the culture, the art and the sea air. You could bitch about hipsters and moan about the hippies. You could, but would you?

Would you highlight the negative or draw on the positive?

Would you tell them of the poverty and neglect? The incompetent ruling party led by a human punchline? The opposition party that believe they know best and listen without hearing?

Or would you boast about the resilience of communities, the innovations of forward-thinkers and the fact that we still get sunny days in the middle of our winter?

By now you’ve probably got your answer, or at least an idea of it. You have a picture to show or a story to tell. Something deeply personal that perfectly represents your South Africa. Now, take a step back and look at this country that belongs to you… what do you want from this country? What role do you want to play in its future? It should be a little clearer from this perspective.

Often we separate our own story from the story of our country, as if the two are vague and distant acquaintances. When we think about “being involved in the future of South Africa”, we tend to think in terms of politics and movements. We think that in order to be a part of change we have to be a part of something bigger than ourselves, and that can often scare us. We forget that this is our South Africa and that we play a role in shaping the community around us. You don’t have to join a cause to make a difference. You just have to think about your country, your place in it and how you would like to see it grow.

* Jessica Edgson is a young journalism graduate who makes a living as a wordsmith in the Mother City. She blogs regularly for biznewz – offering an alternative view to the 40-plussers who dominate its columns.