Tuesday, January 02, 2007

i am home

I have just completed Max du Preez' book, Pale Native: Memories of a Renegade Reporter, Zebra Press, 2003. As an Afrikaner Max touches on the complexity of being African and pale (page 5):

I am a native of this land, but unlike most other natives, I am pale.

This statement launches Max du Preez' narrative, one that touches regularly – and disturbingly – on events that have been as formative on my existence as on his. I, too, am a pale native (born in Johannesburg), though I lack the roots in Afrikaner identity that plays backdrop to Max’s story. I am a product of the British Empire, but no less connected to the African soil. Like many of my composite tribe, my heritage is a patchwork of belonging: my maternal line bequeaths me a third generation African heritage (and a second generation Scottish!). My adopted paternal line allows me second generation African status, and my biological paternal line a second generation English heritage. All this taken into account, I am more African than English; not Afrikaner, but African none-the-less.

My siblings, perhaps more African than I by birth, have abandoned the African soil, preferring the nourishment of England. They are not alone, a part of the “pale native” Diaspora of this generation who find nourishment on other continents, but whose souls never quite settle, never quite inhabit their adopted cultures. There is a thirst for home, for the African soil – sometimes acknowledged. Unlike them, I remain. What keeps me rooted?

There is much in the New South Africa that makes me feel uncomfortable in a pale skin, even unwelcome. A greater part of that discomfort lies in history, an awareness that we have contributed to the oppression and rape of Africa, the heritage of our Colonial past and the more recent evil: Apartheid. It is an ancestral guilt, not always personal but collective.

Pale Native addresses much of this discomfort, and in so doing creates a new space for belonging. Max du Preez, as he shares his own struggles as an Afrikaner who seeks to break with the traditions of his tribe, brings me to a new place of certainty, a renewed assuredness that I, too, belong. The African soil is my home. With Max I am able to proclaim – proudly – that,

My soul is not the soul of a bywoner … I call myself a native of Africa: pale, but no less native. (pages 5 and 274)

I feel the passion as I read,

The energy that I feel gushing from the soil, my African soil, through my foot soles and into my spirit tells me who I am. The ancient mountains and valleys around me whisper to me that I am where I belong. Forces much greater than loud-mouthed politicians and my own fears and insecurities have placed me exactly here at this time. I am who I should be and where I should be (page 5).

I am home.

Rennie D
2 January 2007

5 comments:

James said...

"My siblings, perhaps more African than I by birth, have abandoned the African soil, preferring the nourishment of England. They are not alone, a part of the “pale native” Diaspora of this generation who find nourishment on other continents, but whose souls never quite settle, never quite inhabit their adopted cultures. There is a thirst for home, for the African soil – sometimes acknowledged."

I think this paragraph is expressed from your own perspective. I would choose different adjectives.

Although I have left South Africa, I don't feel I abandoned it. And I'm not sure to what extent English culture is only adopted - in many ways it's always felt more natural to me, perhaps because of our upbringing.

Historical and social studies of colonialists clearly show that they maintain a vestigial culture that has been eroded in Britain much more quickly than in the colonies. Much like fashions were a bit behind, so was cultural mutability.

I think two things are too easily assumed about this diaspora: 1) that it's a new thing - white South Africans have been leaving the country ever since they arrived but the intensity of Apartheid makes all movement refer to itself - i.e. you left during Apartheid or after it, whereas actually, especially for English-origin people, there was a continuous movement of people, and 2) that the experience can be clearly understood both from within and without the country of origin (if you assume that is SA). There is an ever widening gap between people who stay and people who go, from both sides. I can only stay in touch with SA to a limited extent - inevitably my concerns centre on the place where I live. This can be a liberating experience if the place where you live feels more like home, or if your sense of home is rooted more in your heart than in your soil.

Rennie D said...

My heart is in Africa ... and so is my perspective.

James said...

So can you expand on what 'abandoned' means to you?

I take abandoned to mean:
-- that by leaving I've done some small harm to SA (e.g. abandon a child) or,
-- left it in some sense vulnerable (e.g. abandon a car on the roadside) or,
-- treated it as something of little worth to me (e.g. abandon a half-eaten sandwich).

This is not, I think, how a lot of people who've left SA would feel about their leaving, and it's not how I feel. Although I am sure there are a number who would feel that.

(I hope I'm not coming across as adverserial in these comments. That's not my intention - just exploring the shades of grey a bit.)

Rennie D said...

Perhaps my usage of the word "abandoned" reflects an emotional response to being the only sibling who chooses not to leave Africa. I recognise that for each of you there have been compelling reasons that have caused you to leave, or caused you to remain away, and acknowledge these to be legitimate on a personal level.

On a socio-political level, though, I struggle to acknowledge ligitimacy, as I see it as part of the legacy of Colonialism: when we can no longer gain any profit from remaining in Africa, we leave. Having gained, or received, or been resourced, we forget (perhaps a softer word than "abandon") the environment that has resourced us, and utilise these resources (eg education) to resource Nations that are already well resourced, to the detriment of the African soil that has nurtured us.

James said...

Thanks - I think I understand what you were writing better now. I also agree with your point about a legacy of colonialism in the removal of skills etc.

I think, as with so many things, it's difficult to find a space between your socio-historical involvements, and your personal reality where you can feel happy and fulfilled, and provide for your family as you wish to.