Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006

Mixed Feelings


You know I love my homeland. I have written about how much it means to me here. It is enscribed on my heart. Wherever I go, wherever our adventures take us, I will always be a South African. I was born there and my parents and some of my grandparents were born there. My little family all have British passports and I still proudly carry my South African one, because being that person is who I am.

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the murder of David Rattray, a shining South African who brought Zulu history to life for everyone who heard him speak. His funeral took place in the chapel where I was married, and was attended by 1500 people, including Inkatha chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi and the premier of KwaZulu-Natal, S’bu Ndebele. He’s not the only person who’s died at the hands of a criminal with a gun – thousands of people, black and white, have been murdered, sometimes for their cars, for their cellphones, for admitting they have AIDs, sometimes, like Rattray, for nothing.

I’m glad to report that Rattray’s murderer has been apprehended and sentenced to 25 years in prison, and the rest of the gang who took part are being rounded up and tried. In the same edition of the Mail & Guardian that reports on their trials are ongoing conversations about crime, the talent shortage in the country, and expatriates just like myself who sit in their gilded European homes and criticise the country.

I don’t want to do that. I also have never felt the need to justify why I live here and not there. It just continues to break my heart that my husband and I, educated individuals with skills and talent to offer, are through force of circumstance here and not there. We now have three German-raised children, who are used to riding their bikes in the street, to walking safely from one place to another, to living without fear. Even if someone offered us a dream job in our dream city, living near our beloved friends, would we be able to shift our children from a land where they are relatively free to a land where they would need constant adult supervision, protection and burglar bars on their bedroom windows? And would living in the same country as our families compensate for the anxiety we might feel about our children’s safety? Would that heart-aching beauty compensate for the sick feeling we’d get in our stomachs as we opened our morning newspaper and read of another one, two, twenty murders?

No-one can tell us that. So either we’re going to stick with our comfortable, safe, perhaps slightly dull European lives, or we’re going to take the risk and go back home one day. I don’t know when or how that’s going to be.


Author: charlotteotter

Novelist, feminist, crime writer

7 thoughts on “Mixed Feelings

  1. It must be the hardest thing to feel so unsafe in your homeland. I wish I could offer you sage advice but all I will say is that putting your children’s needs first is not a crime. Being a patriot does not mean you have to forfeit safety and freedom. I hope one day you will be able to return to what I understand is a beautiful country.

  2. This is such an immensely personal decision that only you can make as a family and there are no right or wrongs. I feel just as you do and have written on that subject too. For me, South Africa will always be in my blood… not so for my children though… they were born here … this is their country of birth.. what they know and love and as you know I have come to love deeply too. For me, maybe to appease myself, home is where my immediate family and things are… on a really positive note, I am thrilled that the perpetrators are being rounded up!

  3. I can somewhat understand where you are coming from. S. and I talk all the time of moving right into the city of Detroit – we believe the city needs people of our income and skills, and that the city is where our dollars are best spent. But because of taxes, such a move would be incredibly prohibitive,let alone the other considerations like incredibly high rate of murder, rape and burglary. It’s not the same thing, I do recognize that – because there are other parts of my “homeland” I can safely live, but I do feel sort of distraught that I’m living a suburban life. I don’t know how I’d feel if we had children! But I do think feeling safe is very important for children, and you’ve been able to provide them with a wonderful gift. The world is big and scary and quite frankly, if you have the means to keep your children safe until they go out on their own, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that!

  4. South Africa is a beautiful country with many wonderful people and I’ve occassionally wrestled with similiar issues. But, at least for me the answer is that I only have one life to live and I’m not going to be a martyr. I like living somewhere with no armed response units, no burglar bars, and where high fences and security gates are more the exception than the rule. And I’d prefer my daughter to grow up here and for my family in general to live somewhere relatively safe. Not just because of the fear of what might happen but because it’s hard to maintain trust and faith in your fellow human beings when you feel constantly under threat.

    As an aside there is a big expat South African community in one part of Auckland and a lot of the young guys, who call themselves “Saffirs”, are frequently in trouble with the police for aggressive behaviour and violence offences- I think that has to be in no small part because they’ve grown up in such a violent culture.

  5. Dear Charl, don’t be sad. I wish I loved my homeland the way you do yours. You are lucky to have so much to love..

  6. That must be a tough decision Charlotte, but why does a European life have to be ‘slightly dull?’

    FWIW, I asked a South African colleague if she would ever be prepared to go back to live in SA and she was quite emphatic in her answer of ‘NO’ for pretty much the same reasons you describe.

    Nigel (Ex-pat Australian living in UK)

  7. Pingback: The immigrant experience « Penguin unearthed

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