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Sunday, July 11, 2010

My Floating Generation: The Elephant in the Room...as a South African presently living in London, what to do next? (By: Shaun Mclennan)

What does it mean to be a white South African living in the UK? We come from land where our upbringing, influences and teachings were welded from a melting pot of freedoms we as white folk never shared with our generational equals living on the other side of the race line. As a generation, as well as an individual, I was never given a choice either way – this was the life we would grow up in. I have a choice now.

As a young South African I never quite grasped the realities of Apartheid as it was winding it was way to freedom revolution of 1994. I had a maid, I went to good schools, I enjoyed the best that South Africa could offer without a stitch of guilt – the beaches, the mountains, the rivers, the bush, the warmth , the food, the braai’s, the pool, the, rugby, the safety and security…the safety. There was Natal, Vaalies, Leon Schuster, takkies, Combi’s , red-nose day, koeksisters, chappies, pronutro and boerewors…mmm boerewors. It was Utopian melody of life’s luxuries made possible through a generational apathy and made easy through government suppressing the cries for change from voices living in comparative hardship. Having said that I don’t know if I would do anything differently to my parents, and to be frank I don’t think that many of you reading would have done either. Think about it, your entire life you were never made to fully appreciate what adversity was being experienced on the other side of the breadline. Government was a well oiled machine ensuring that this was the way of the life, this was right – we as whites were guilty of going with the flow and in our minds I think we felt we deserved something for the progress we contributed to: they fought and won wars on neighboring borders, they built infrastructure linking the coast to the mainland, they built hospitals, schools, developed a thriving agriculture sector, developed the most powerful economy in Africa. In truth, these triumphs of civil progression and military thrust were only possible through the blood, sweat and tears of our brothers in arms, all South Africa’s people. All 48 million of us deserved the fruits of these victories and only a fraction of us got to taste them.

This has all been said before but the reality of the years of inequality frame the big question on all our minds – all you South African Londoners reading this. We are all here for fairly similar reasons: travel, money, security and relationships and I find a common reality for a lot of us, for my generation is that we are floating – we have big questions hanging over us as what do we do next? Do we go home? Where do our roots now belong? Where is home? Is it here? Is it in Australia or Canada? These questions were never asked of our parents generations – this is our biggest challenge as a generation…finding the answer.

In attempting to try and answer this question you need to be realistic about the realities in South Africa which are often very difficult to swallow for many of us: 1) your children’s experiences in South Africa for better or worse will be very different to those ones you had; 2) safety will be an issue for the next 30-40 years at least; 3) giving your child the same quality of schooling that you had will most likely mean you will have to invest a lot more in their education; 4) you will work to a government which has still got growing pains and will make mistakes and is most likely to be threaded with corruption here and there – you cannot compare it to the well established governments and delivery structures of the UK, Oz or any other 1st world country; 5) the value your saved Rand in 40 years is uncertain, so you need to plan accordingly; 6) getting employment will require a slightly different approach to London or anywhere else but there will always be a need for the skilled, and a place for the motivated; 7) the chance of things going pear shaped politically is there as the Malema’s of the world take shape.

One has to balance these realities with the positives of a move back home or moving anywhere else. In considering these realities, the answer to the big question remains very personal and can only be. For me, weighing up the good and bad, I have chosen to go home accompanied by my green mamba passport...I think someone once said, “the red dust of Africa is difficult to get off your feet” and in truth that’s simple for me; I feel like I exist in London’s small houses, busy trains and pubs and as awesome as this experience has been, I feel like I live at home…maybe it will change as the romance of living in the wide open arms of South Africa will be cast away as the realities of a developing nation take hold.

I wish you luck my fellow floaters in coming to your decision...may you find roots and grow in happiness wherever u land.


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