Separation anxiety.

Leaving the privileged lifestyle of many South Africans where the house and nanny help is plentiful, the weather sensational, not to mention the places to eat out, the space, the wildlife, and and and… Who would want to leave this life of apparent luxury behind?!

It is for this reason that many expat Saffers spend an extraordinary amount of time chatting on social media groups abroad, reminiscing about “the good old days”, wishing that they could be right back where the sun shines, the chores get done and things grow, all with little or no input from themselves. What a bubble of bliss the privileged few live in and to become separated from that bubble is indeed a cause for much anxiety, for most bubble dwellers.

Don’t get me wrong, I have had to remove my own rose-tinted specs, don my washing up gloves, bucket and mop and get on with the sort of jobs that I am rather ashamed to admit, that I knew very little about. This means that I too was one of the privileged few, living in a bubble of bliss, largely unaware of the true conditions of life outside the bubble. It is only in the return trips to this southernmost part of the continent that I am becoming all the more aware of these differences, degradations and disasters that residents are either blinkered to, or simply accustomed to living with.

Born into the era of the apartheid regime where the nationalist government were all powerful, despite their minority. Born into a time of brainwashed military conscription where our brothers and male cousins, friends and boyfriends were forced to believe that communism was the root of all evil and that native African were to be feared above all else.

So it was, with much fear and trepidation, that the post apartheid era began and life changed dramatically for some. Sadly only for some, and not at all for those whose hopes had been placed into the hands of their own people, to save them from the history of the colonial past.

(On reflection, I am reminded of a similar Biblical occurrence when the first Christians welcomed the arrival of The Messiah, with the great hope of being freed from the power of the Roman Empire, only to discover that the sort of freedom offered by the Son of God was not to be seen in worldly terms but in eternal terms.)

So it was that the rainbow nation era heralded the wave of crime and corruption, all too familiar with the rest of the continent of Africa, resulting in fear driven bubbles developing for those of us with much to lose: golf estates, gated communities, boomed suburbs, secure living – high walls, higher walls, taller fences, more electrified, beams, alarms, block watches, security companies and so on…

At the same time, many previously disadvantaged members of society rose up and took their rightful place in business, academia and community. However, the greatest tragedy also arose from this new era, that of further poverty, fuelled by apathetic ministers delivering sub standard services, or none at all, for the improvement and education of the majority, resulting in the lack of qualification required to secure better paying employment. 

And so the miserable cycle of poverty is perpetuated, all at the hands of so many who previously occupied similar ranks of poverty.

My observation, tragically exacerbated by the global Covid pandemic which has wreaked havoc on the poorest of the poor, is that the beggars at so many traffic light intersections are more plentiful, those hopelessly helpless (or vice-versa) who line the roads outside hardware centres desperately looking for work, with their carefully worded banners are heartbreaking to say the least. 

The informal workforce has exploded with foreign Africans who have poured over the northern border in the desperate hope of finding some sort of means to support families left behind in even more desperate circumstances. This must surely be the height of separation anxiety?

This modern day tragedy is made worse by the growing sense of ethnic unrest as native South Africans jostle for their piece of their own pie that is fast being swallowed up by their more desperate neighbours. The manpower far outweighs the demand in the informal building trade, domestic work, garden work and the likes. Too often, these desperate folk are subjected to slave-like, undignified conditions offered by unscrupulous employers who are only too happy to get the menial jobs done at a “steal” – queue the old adage of the rich growing richer whilst the poor become poorer. (Note: this is no longer a racial scourge, it is more one of class, status and greed, regardless of colour or creed.)

In my opinion, based on my 50 years of life in South Africa, I believe that the contributing factors to this vast continent’s tragedy is what makes Africa African: traditions, tribalism and ancestral worship. 

The gist of my musings stems from the separation anxiety that I, as a western/European person suffer, on behalf of these large African families, that of leaving their precious children behind in order to provide for those same precious ones from elsewhere on the continent. 

This was brought home to me so starkly when chatting with the delightful couple who are caretakers/housekeepers/gardeners/pet-sitters for our dear friends who’s home is always so graciously made available to us when we are in Johannesburg. This wonderful couple are Malawian nationals (with valid work permits for SA) who have left their two young children in the care of their grandparents in order to support their family from their employment in SA. They have not seen their children for over two years and, in spite of their circumstances, their family back home are anxious for them to expand their family unit, in line with the African custom of large families. 

WHY would anyone wish to bring another child into the world of poverty and hardship, only to have to suffer the repeated separation anxiety that can surely tear at any parent’s heartstrings?

The complexities of Africa are something that I shall never be able to fathom, nor offer a solution to, sadly, which is why I suffer no separation anxiety over loosening my ties with the country of my birth. Instead, I am filled with gratitude for my opportunity to experience the lives and cultures of other countries, all bearing some level of challenge, on our nomadic adventure!

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