As an avid traveller, I’ve discovered several countries that got under my skin but the one I’ll always call home, where the heart is, is South Africa. I know that as a Saffa I’m being subjective but then again, I’ve seen the aspects that visitors to the country don’t usually see and I still love the place, warts and all. There is much to love about the land at the southern tip of Africa but for me its biggest strength is its diversity.
Having grown up under apartheid, I used to think that ‘diversity’ was only a good thing when it referred to the varied South African landscape. Of course the many worlds in one country is wonderful: You can drive only a couple of hours from Cape Town’s Mediterranean climate to the coastal forests of the Tsitsikamma or the arid, desolate Karoo; or from bustling Johannesburg to the tranquillity of the Drakensberg, the subtropical Lowveld or the wild Bushveld with its mopane and baobab trees.
However, the diversity that really gets my heart racing is that of the South African people. It used to be our curse but under the leadership of people like Nelson Mandela, it has come to be our blessing. Like so many of my countrymen, I had to learn to embrace difference but now I never want to live in a place where everyone looks the same, speaks the same language and holds the same beliefs. How, for instance, can I fear Islam when I’ve walked around a predominantly Muslim neighbourhood during Eid al Futr and felt the palpable sense of excitement and community in the air?
I once was in a train carriage where everyone, complete strangers, spontaneously started to dance to the music of a guitar-playing busker. I can’t imagine this happening in New York or London or Berlin. It made me realise how privileged I am to be part of the Rainbow Nation.
Of course there is a lot wrong with South Africa. The economic inequality makes me want to cry, as do the unacceptably high rates of crime and corruption. But then I look at where we were and how far we’ve come. A taxi driver in Nicaragua, upon hearing where I was from, said to me, ‘Oh, yes, you guys forgave one another.’ That’s been our salvation: That we can acknowledge the past but instead of being crippled by it, we can use it as a guide in making the world a better place for all.
I now try to live according to Ubuntu, the idea that ‘I am because you are’. I hope that this philosophy will come to be the greatest South African export. Meanwhile, I’ll keep carrying my beloved country in my heart and in my veins, no matter where I go.