Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The aggressive South African patriot

I used to fight a lot with the South African expats I encountered online. I hated their obsession with bad news; I hated their self-righteousness, their thinly veiled racism and “told you so” attitudes. Once I wrote a piece on expats for the Sunday Times which found its way onto most of the expat forums around the world – for a while, I suspect, I was one of the most hated people — along with Robert Mugabe and Charles Nqakula — in expatdom.

So it’s ironic that, through blogging about the experience of moving to Australia on Thought Leader, I’ve discovered that there’s another species of offensive South African out there: the aggressive patriot. The type of individual who responds to any mention of leaving South Africa with rudeness and aggression — as in this instance — who registers any report of anything other than beaches/weather/ wildlife as an unforgivable instance of “whining”, who thinks that “well, why do you visit then?” is an intelligent refutation of anything they interpret as criticism. For the aggressive patriot, the act of moving to another country — especially Australia — is an act of treason and anyone who wishes to move can be likened to cancer which must be treated.

I know: I used to be one of them.

But now that I have moved to the dark side — or at least, to a time zone nine hours ahead of South Africa — I have discovered that the aggressive patriot is just as off-putting as the aggressive expat. When I started writing this blog, I thought it might be an opportunity to talk about a country to which many South Africans have moved, but which gets almost no coverage unless it’s in the sport pages.

Alas, the word “Australia” seems to trigger responses which, judging by many of the comments that have been made since I started writing back in May last year, largely bypass the higher faculties. Take my blog about the experience of being burgled. It was actually about how crap ADT is and how much money they charge for doing eff-all, but that’s not how anyone read it.

No, the fact that I had the temerity to write about something that actually happened to me
*** was an unforgivable (or, in the case of other expats, laudable) attack on South Africa. Apparently, to write about a personal crime experience can only be interpreted as “whining”, and if I’m going to write about that sort of thing, well, how dare I visit my family in the first place?

Apparently, when it comes to South Africa, thou shalt be positive or else.

The thing with aggression is it tells you so much about people. Racists are deeply threatened by and/or attracted to the Other; homophobes are themselves quite likely to harbour homosexual tendencies. I strongly suspect that South Africans, especially white South Africans, who attack South African expats, secretly wish that they, too, were safely over the ocean. Expats horrify them precisely because they embody the unthinkable, inexpressible desire to leave. Every anecdote of crime, every criticism of service delivery, every positive report of life elsewhere, makes it that much harder to pretend that everything is hunky dory, that they’ve made the right choice.

Because they’re really, really not sure that they have.

South Africans who are comfortable with living in South Africa despite its problems don’t see any point in arguing with expats. What for? They haven’t invested emotionally in the issue; they have better things to do. If some people want to leave, well, bully for them.

On the other hand, those who issue personal attacks do so because they feel threatened by what is written — and they feel threatened because somehow makes it harder for them to maintain that all-important cognitive dissonance when it comes to the post-Rainbow Nation, without ending up in Weskoppies.

So next time they feel that familiar itch in that chip on their shoulder, perhaps they should take a look at themselves first and think about why it is that an insignificant little blog can piss them off so very much.

* Unless of course, the expat in question is a leftist academic/ film-maker/ artist who ostensibly moves to a country to be with other leftist academics/ film-makers/ artists, in which case it is apparently ok.

** The reverse is also true. South Africa gets very little coverage in the Australian press, with the exception of the sports pages. They’re far more interested in Zimbabwe.

***And my crime story was pretty anodyne. Three days after I arrived back in Sydney, my husband forwarded me an SMS from a friend reporting that his father had shot dead a robber in his home that morning. “Too close for comfort,” he said. Our friend has an American passport and I can’t see him staying in SA much longer.

By Sarah Britten

2 Opinion(s):

FishEagle said...

How about having an opinion instead of just going where the wind takes you? Stop treading on egg shells trying to make everyone happy! How about making sense of what happened in SA??? The comments are wishy washy. You sound like another liberal that will never say sorry.

Anonymous said...

Sorry ... ex-liberal!!!!