I live in a magnificent country, in a place where sweeping vistas and primordial landscapes delight the senses, where cerulean skies stretch overhead from horizon to breath-taking horizon. I live in a land where tropical storms ignite the darkness with a fusillade of light and imprint over-exposed landscape snapshots on to the unbelieving human retina. I live in a complex society where ethnic and cultural variety blends magically, harmoniously, with all that the modern world offers. A country where one can drive away from one’s doorstep in the suburbs in the morning and be sipping a sundowner while watching a herd of wild elephant by that same evening. I have been filled with a desperate love for this land and with an equally desperate yearning to tell of her struggle, her diverse and ancient beauty and to defend her sovereignty.
I am the worst kind of patriot you see. I find it difficult to tolerate the doom prophets and naysayers who speak ill of my land. This is not some first world pipe dream friends. This is the Cradle of Humankind. This is Africa, an awe inspiring tapestry of wonder, the last great space where a myriad bird and beast abound. I have limited tolerance for the pessimist from across the sea, particularly if they hail from a so called G8 country. I don’t believe in a self-imposed God given right to criticize, to lord over and to dominate.
So many European and American safari guests have asked me for my take on South African politics. They usually ask this with down hearted looks upon their faces as if they expect violent negativity or an anti-Africa diatribe. I speak to them instead of a victory. I tell them, constant reader, with tears blurring my vision of the power of change and the glory of the human spirit. I regale them with our story, our journey as a nation and I demand that they listen and that, with humility, acknowledge that South Africa is not just another country but essentially a political and social miracle! No other country in the history of the world has changed so emphatically, so entirely as mine. We have, with love and understanding, reinvented ourselves and embraced a freedom we scarcely thought was possible. I refuse to listen to you if you choose to belittle a nation that has done what no-one else can do. South Africa is a lesson in forgiveness…a lesson that the rest of the world must still learn.
I sat one balmy bushveld evening chatting to a woman of Swazi birth on the patio of her chalet here at Mopane Bush Lodge. There was nothing particularly unique about the scene except for the fact perhaps that her bodyguard sat in the shadows behind me warily watching my every move. Her name is Thoko Didiza and she was then our National Minister of Public Works. That night over drinks we sat and fellowshipped as two South Africans…not black politician and white game ranger…but as fellow citizens of a brave new nation. Our individual stories had brought us inexorably to a crossroad one night at a game lodge in the Limpopo valley. We spoke of our country once divided, of our separate backgrounds and the armed struggle that placed us on opposing sides. She spoke of her time with Mkhonto we Sizwe (The ANC revolutionary army) and the enormous act of faith required in laying down arms when told that the struggle was over and peace was to be negotiated. I spoke in turn of my love for our country and its wild places and the unbridled joy of raising a family in an African garden too exquisite to describe. I spoke of how my children are teaching me a new tolerance and how moved I was by the natural way they have integrated seamlessly with other cultures and races. I told of how I had watched my daughter embrace her African friend at the end of a hard run at an athletics day at school and how I had wept covertly at the shame of my vestigial prejudice. We opened our hearts and memories that night and shared something powerful, something poignant, something I will never forget. We shared our stories and elements of ourselves and I revelled that night in truly being African. I knew beyond all certainty then that my country, my homeland, my heartland would be alright. I saw, in that moment, the promise of another country in her perfect African visage…and I rejoiced.