It’s been hard to write of late, as some heavy fugue settles over my heart and holds otherwise dextrous fingers from their dancing. A creative humidity that permits a degree of heat, but kills any brighter spark as it tries to burn and leave. Partly, I think it’s the academic writing that’s done it. Too much rigour, too much structure. That, and the nibbling recollection of the conceptual distance that still needs to be covered before this dissertation can be laid to rest.
Pages and pages still. One supermassive knot of logic and structure, demanding that it be assembled at speed. Because there is increasingly less and less time left.Soon. Very soon. I’m to be in London.
One way or another. Like some greasy telescope, I can see here, and I can see the barest structure out there, of where I’m to be. But so very little else.
I’m moving there, for quite a bit, you see. For at least three years while Katherine pursues her PhD. I’ll spend some of that time exploring eastern Europe, I’m sure. And I’ll probably be a student some more. Likely in development studies, or some similar path to understanding better the thoughts of the people who manage my continent.
I might be funded. I might not. It might be a struggle. It’ll certainly be stimulating. But between the here and the there lies a thicket of uncertainty, visa regulations and the hostility of rules made to keep Africans out of fortress Europe.
That’s been strange. To think of myself as an immigrant.
I shan’t be a tourist. For sure, three years is much too long to claim that identity, and I very much doubt that we’ll be living in the rarefied, casual luxury of the passing interloper. But immigrant is equally misleading, since I’ve no intention in staying on forever.
That’s an important caveat for me. And a deeply political one for a South African who goes to spend any time in London.
I abhor the expatriate South Africans who huddle in the cold pubs of Putney, denying relocations that were little more than racist opportunism. Cowardice or ignorance concealed in an identity of cherry-picked whispers about ‘standards back home’ and dishonest promises to oneself about being committed to returning. Maybe. One day.
Thieves hiding the spoils – human and financial – that Apartheid’s cruel emperors so lavishly bequeathed their subjects. Often only possible on second passports that the colonial masters left behind like splinters in the giant wound of history.
Equally, though, in this game of drawing lines between myself and some ephemeral, unethical them, are the chattering classes of the Oxbridge expatriates. The indefinitely-extended postgraduate program in African pain that gets so delicately wrapped in a simulation of class exclusivity, balls and inane anecdotes about rowing. The gilded cage in which changing what is manifestly unjust becomes transformed into the conceited verbal patter of an interesting academic topic, deployed to solicit concerned nods.
More than the sharpest words can declare, it matters to me to be neither of these things. There is a real world of shitty buses, big skies, sunshine and justice. Places with cardamom coffee in dirty cups and honest conversations that strip and challenge. That world needs me as it needs every other soul it raised with a decent brain and a good heart.
No amount of cadbury’s eggs or fantasies of laying claim to being a Londoner could ever assuage betraying that covenant.
Because while South Africa has its problems – and lord knows, they are serious – it still sees them as such. So many years on from 1994, and we still, if we are honest with ourselves, have no real idea what this country is going to be. Unlike so much of the West, where the oppression of class and the corruption of elites has ossified into the very bedrock of nations’ sense of self, South Africa is still being born. The compass is still spinning.
Of all the places in a life that I could find to do a little good – to push towards something better, more just, more beautiful – there is none better than this.
So, South Africa, I’m going walkabout soon. But I’ll stay in touch. I’ll visit lots.
And I promise. On all the cardamom coffee, busses, conversations and memories.
I promise I’ll be better than the children you have lost.