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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