Koos Kombuis
Koos Kombuis

South Africa’s three words everybody loves to hate

As someone who, in the grand old liberal tradition (I’m not sure if there is anything grand or old in the liberal tradition, but, if I had to choose a tradition, that’s probably the one I’d chose in spite of it being utterly impractical and unfashionable) generally considers the rights of the individual as more important than the considerations of tribe, geographical location, ethnic orientation or any other Vonnegutesque granfalloonish concept, I tend to look at ordinary things — say, a rugby test on TV — through different eyes than a more traditionalist person.

Wow, that was a long sentence. Let me try and shorten it. What I was basically trying to say was, I don’t normally shout a lot when I watch rugby on TV.

Because I’m a liberal, I see rugby as an art form. I am generally quite objective and detached. I am less interested in seeing my team win than in seeing good rugby.

Saturday’s game between the Boks and the Roses on Twickenham, however, I’m sad to say, was an exception.

I got very raucous. I surprised my family by pouring myself a stiff tot of brandy halfway through the second half, and by muttering, very loudly, “I can’t stand it any more! I can’t stand it any more!”

A few minutes later, I was clutching at the sides of the sofa and actually shouting.

For the rest of the game, I turned into just another irritating and noisy potbellied Afrikaans omie who watches 7de Laan and who likes his braai-chops with fatty edges, not because of Tim Noakes or anything like that, but sommer net.

But here’s the astonishing thing. When the final whistle blew, and I realised that we had beaten the English with a heart-stoppable margin of three points, I felt an emotion that I had not experienced in what seems like ages.

I’m not sure what to call this emotion. It’s not the kind of emotion liberals have a word for. It’s an emotion I had experienced before, but on very rare occasions.

I think I experienced it when Chris Barnard performed his first heart transplant operation. I experienced it when Zola Budd burst upon the international scene in all her barefoot glory. I experienced it when I first heard Johannes Kerkorrel’s song Halala Afrika. I experienced it when Nelson Mandela walked out of jail. I felt it happening to me, for a little while, when Chad le Clos starting winning all those medals.

And I experienced it this Saturday, at the moment when the final whistle blew, sitting in front of my TV set, exhausted from screaming, with an empty brandy glass by my side, and my two dogs at my feet, staring at me as if I had gone completely bonkers.

For 80 minutes plus, things had been building up towards this emotion. (Actually, it started earlier the afternoon, when I had been in my car, listening to the dying minutes of the glorious Bafana game on the radio.) So, for 80 minutes (plus another half an hour or so), I forgot about all the bad stuff going on.

For 80 minutes plus half an hour plus some more, I didn’t once think about Jacob Zuma, I didn’t once think about Nkandla, I didn’t once think about the potholes in the street outside my house, I didn’t once think about the homeless people scavenging for food in the dumpster in front of my house, I didn’t once think about the chaos in Parliament, I didn’t once think about the state of the Post Office, I didn’t once think about the unemployment rate, I didn’t once think about the farm murders, I didn’t once think about the right-wing backlash, I didn’t once think about the trouble in the SABC (have I left out anything?). For 80 minutes plus half an hour plus some more, I was transported into a mythical world in which I was simply happy to live where I live and in which I was proud of my country.

That’s it! That’s the word I was looking for, the word I had almost forgotten! It’s actually two words. No, it’s three!

Proudly South African!

Proudly South African!

Good grief, Proudly South African is an emotion so rare, so hard to come by, so exquisite, I almost felt ashamed of wasting it all on one rugby match.

And that’s just the thing, you see. These days, most of us hardly ever feel any motivation to feel Proudly South African. Every time we feel a hint of pride or patriotism coming on, reality kicks in, and that wonderful feeling tends to be dispelled by a sobering jolt of cynicism again.

Do I feel good about our marvellous Constitution? Pity no-one really respects it any more.

Am I happy that Charlize Theron is back in Cape Town? Pity about the kak going on between her and Sean Penn.

Do I feel proud of my wonderful language, Afrikaans? (I am actually Afrikaans, in case you did not know, but it’s not my fault, I was born like this.) Pity a great old song like Die Stem is being abused by some people with insane racist agendas.

So, this time the feeling did not last either. Thank God.

By sundown on Saturday night, after I had switched on the news channel, and after I had run out of brandy, and after I had lit a fire in the inside braai of our kitchen so that we could put on the few chops (with fatty edges, but not because of Tim Noakes, sommer net) which we could afford, the crazy feeling of being “Proudly South African” had once more sort of evaporated, and I felt my normal, cynical, liberal, sad and morose old self again. I was back in my comfort zone.

What a relief!

Maybe I should stop watching rugby for a while, lest I enter that unrealistic bubble of false hope again, lest I allow myself to dream futile but unrealistic dreams of living in a country where I feel safe, where I am respected and where I respect others, a land of glory and promise and dignity and strength and beauty, a place that makes me proud to call home, a place where pot-holes get fixed, mail gets delivered, and politicians don’t steal taxpayers’ hard-earned money to build useless underground tunnels to nowhere.

Wow, that was a long sentence.

But I’m sure you know what I mean.

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    • EllieS

      That is so sad ….. but so very true. I hate turning on The News (it should be called Bad News instead) because it is so depressing. Our country seems to be sliding into a septic tank.

      As a tax payer I used to be so proud of what our taxes achieved. But not to fund a homestead in KZN, or private planes etc etc etc. Or to pay for repairs for the damage done by striking workers. Or for the extradition of famous murderers. And the list goes on and on and on ……… It all makes me very sad.

      I’m with you, Koos. I ONLY seem to feel patriotic when our sports teams win. And that’s not right

    • Pieter Reyneke

      Great writing Koos! Die Stem is abused by people, taking proud in calling others that feel a little pride in their culture, racists.

    • Johan Schoeman

      Koos as always, I enjoy your writing! I might not always agree but I respect your views none the less.

      Before you lapse into your dream where you covet a peaceful South Africa without crime were all members of society are respected may I remind you that nothing ever comes from dreams were the dreamer remains sleeping. It takes hard work and sacrifice to achieve anything that is worthwhile.

      I believe implicitly with absolute conviction that we can make South Africa work at all levels but only if we are all prepared to stand up and be counted. Not by shouting the odds but rolling up our sleeves and getting stuck in.

      I want to rave when the Boks win as well as Bafana. I want to be proud of Zulu traditional dancers in London when I come across them and proudly proclaim them as part of MY country. I don’t want to make excuses as I had to during the pre 1994 period. I want to be part of the solution and not the problem.

      So for my money I will go nuts whenever South Africa does something great like beating Sudan and I will climb in when thee ANC drive us to a constitutional crisis. Its just that the ” Klippies” bill is getting a little bit much.

      In the mean time I shall seek to build bridges, mend fences, agitate against corruption, graft and theft. The people of South Africa first then the rest can follow. Not the other way round!

      Have a brandy on me! Cheers!

    • Peter Win

      Great article!
      I remember being proud of my country. So sad. ..

    • Ella

      “(I am actually Afrikaans, in case you did not know, but it’s not my fault, I was born like this.)”

      How sad that Afrikaners feel that way these days. As a very young (20) Afrikaner myself, I feel exactly the way you do. Not Proudly South African, and oh my goodness not at all Proudly Afrikaans (or is Trots Afrikaans more appropriate.)

      I really wish we could live in a country that we could be proud of, all the time. And that I was brought up in a culture that I could be proud of… at any time.

    • Paul Aarden

      Enjoyed that. I’ve been gone for long enough to not think of SA as home even though I will always be thought of as South African here, if nothing else my accent will always ensure that.

      I no longer miss the many things I used to miss in days gone by. I can braai here and I’m now well immersed in life in Scotland.

      There is, however, one exception, and even if I also wish for a good game, when I’m watching the Boks, be it on the goggle box or at Murrayfield, I’m an avid Bok supporter. I always will be,nothing else stirs my normally stable soul like watching “my” Boks, even as I get to know less and less about the individual players, the 2007 RWC winners aside.

      Go Bokke, let’s make it three out of six next year! After all, the All Blacks can only win at home and we’ve shown we can win away from home.

    • http://groendeur.wordpress.com Katrina

      Always interesting to read your writings. A funny story, indeed, and a sentiment that a lot of South Africans share – I do, from time to time. But there are a lot of times that I am actually proudly South African, when I feel that unique emotion. Yes, there are so many sad things happening in our beautiful country, but hey, it’s paradise for stand-up comedians, isn’t it? And for us as individuals, it is our sense of humour that saves us from utter despair and depression – a necessary survival skill in all aspects of our lives. One thing I have realized, is that when life becomes harder, when our minds get cluttered with negativity, we have to dig deeper into ourselves to discover those things that are of true value in life. An easy life does not provide this. Feeling proudly South African happens mostly when we enter common ground, when we share experiences and events. And sometimes we need somebody to point out those positives that we usually forget to notice. So – keep on sharing!

    • Bovril 24

      Very honest, amusing but dead serious article Koos. As a sautie (spelt right?) of 40 years residence here, I was so proud to take out SA citizenship, to see the ANC unbanned and Mandela released.

      Now, I wish I had not wasted my time – and my hopes and enthusiasms

    • Wade Taylor

      Sport triumphs once again in making one feel Proudly South African! Apropos 1995 and 2007.