The below is a homecomer story by South African Simon Middleton.
South Africa is a not a place for “sissies”. I realise now that it has always been a ‘frontier society’, and that when one has lived here, one is initiated into a society that is always on the edge. A South African, whether aware of it or not, is born into this reality and has to learn to live and survive, even thrive in it from the moment of birth. It can drive one demented, keep one continuously disappointed, even threatened and exhausted, but, it is also exhilarating and life affirming.
Just as frontiers can be turbulent places, so is the truth of the flipside, that the frontier is a place of innovation, solution finding and enormous energy. But this requires a decision to live in the space and work with it. When this decision is made to occupy the space wholeheartedly, it is amazing what kind of “life” flows.
We returned after 24 years in Europe. We have lived in the most beautiful and genuinely exciting places. Vienna, Lausanne, London, Frankfurt! It was a privilege to live in these superbly organised, predictable cultures where everything works. But there is an associated cost to this predictability. It is a societal torpor – a coldness of heart that feels as if life has been iced over; a sense of individualism and righteous entitlement that puts the breaks on any open conversation about what really matters.
In South Africa, the usual indicators of a sustainable modern civilization will continuously be under some form of negotiation and discussion. This goes with the territory. That we have survived, and even thrived so far is testimony to a mindset of “taking root” and a desire to want to make this place work. This is why we came back. There is no time for guilt or regret. We went away and gathered a whole range of skills and experience. We could do this because, in the first instance, we were brilliantly prepared for what was needed to succeed elsewhere. The heart and the infrastructure that provided us with this opportunity is worth reinvesting in.
I speak for myself when I report that I feel more alive here than I have for many years living overseas. The challenges are enormous but there is a sense that one can engage and make a contribution – to the extent that it is welcomed. It occurs to me that most South Africans desire nothing more than generosity of spirit to break out – and, when we learn how to do this, “alles sal regkom”.