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Sour grapes: Would ALL the Brandon Huntleys stand up?

Virtually every person I know who has left South Africa has done so because they could not find work in SA due to BEE and AA and/or they had been traumatised by violence and were extremely uncertain about their and their loved ones’ future in South Africa. Except for those above the age 60, every member of my extended family has left South Africa. “We”, if we can still use that sense of a collective noun and its sense of belonging and a household hearth, are dispersed throughout Canada, England, New Zealand, Australia and China. The hearth is cold ashes.

Those are the trite truisms above, the same stale tale which may have had some readers cringing over the clichés. But the reason why they are hackneyed is because they are so true, so prevalent. The cliché, “Such is life, c’est la vie” is a cliché because it is repeated over and over precisely because of its truthfulness. Brandon Huntley presented the first two items in the paragraph above as facts, they are not fictions, to the Canadian Immigrations Board in Ottawa, Canada and was granted asylum accordingly. (I am not saying I agree with their decision; I will discuss that later.)

I have family in Canada. I have a wonderful niece and nephew and I am now the proud great uncle of my niece’s two children. If I knew the Canadian authorities would be gracious enough to give asylum to me and my wife (who had her fair share of being a victim of crime in South Africa and also in Zimbabwe where she was born and is lucky not to be HIV positive from a gang rape attempt she narrowly escaped from in Randburg) I would seriously consider moving to Canada. But we intend living in New Zealand because Marion’s family is there and the love of my life’s wishes comes first. I fail to see the immorality or deceitfulness of Huntley’s decision at all. However, if it is true that he said he reported the crimes to the police and he is lying about the crimes committed against him, then that is a different matter. Canadian Immigrations should have asked for concrete evidence and confirmed this with Pretoria. But I know from personal experience and anecdotes from friends how dockets disappear. I simply learned not to trust many of the SA police when living in South Africa.

However, in one respect the Canadian decision was extremely short-sighted as they failed to see one simple pragmatic: they have set a precedent and who knows how many other saffers may follow Mr Huntley into Canada using the same method. It stands to reason the Canadian authorities will try and tighten up on their asylum-granting procedures, just as New Zealand has had to do.

There is one glaring point that is often missing over this business of South Africans leaving SA forever. This globe-trotting phenomenon is going on throughout the world all the time. People are leaving one part of the globe for another for all sorts of reasons. Here in Shanghai, many British people swear never to return to the UK. They are bitter about the lack of employment in the UK and how ludicrously expensive the UK lifestyle is. They understandably moan about death tax (the estate being taxed after the deceased person has already paid a lifetime of tax) and padded utility bills (being expected in some parts of England to pay a set amount of money for gas, electricity etc regardless of the fact the amount used being less, or so I am told by several Britons).

Yet as far as I have experienced, no British person, whinger or not, has a misplaced, patriotic fit about another Briton permanently leaving their home country. “So what”, is the prevalent attitude. The world is your oyster. And I also base this observation of this British sensibility on having lived in the UK for nearly a year.

Sigh … yet, and here’s my resigned yet, in SA, from the highest offices in the land to those on the ground, people have had a grand mal about Brandon Huntley making — to many people’s minds, including mine — a perfectly valid claim to ask for asylum in Canada. He sees Canada as the safer place and the better option for his future. Where is the amoral action? There is none. Who has he betrayed? Nobody. Why is he referred to as an idiot by journalists such as those in The Times? He seems quite sharp when it comes to wanting to survive. Of course it is all just a matter of perception.

Let us take the humble potato as an exercise in perception. A person can look at it and see:

I can survive for another day!

Oh, god, potato salad with the Sunday braai again. Can’t the wife think of something else?

Have we finalised our presentation to try secure the Simba Chips account?

I will never forget how the potato famine swept through my ancestral homeland, Ireland.

Completely different thought processes, none of them less valid than the other … unless, of course, you are a South African. Or should I say, a certain kind of South African. I invite readers to spell out the definition of this bitter, parochial, Jingoist fellow. I suppose I already have. The SA authorities are extremely upset about the reasons for Canada’s decision with regard to Mr Huntley, especially the motivations for granting asylum: discrimination and crimes perpetuated against them. Why are they offended? Let’s look at the phenomenon of offence.

If you call me an idiot I will shrug my shoulders because I know I am not an idiot. The insult is not true. If a gay person comfortable with his sexual orientation is called a gay he is not offended because he knows he is a gay and is comfortable with that. If a fat person is offended because someone calls him a tub of lard it is because he is uncomfortable with that truth. The reason why many people in the SA government are having a hullabaloo about the reasons for granting Mr Huntley asylum is because they are uncomfortable with the “spade is a spade” truth of the reasons for granting asylum. Finish and klaar.

He who works with a hammer thinks of everything as a nail, the saying goes. Mike Trapido is a lawyer so inevitably he tends to see everything as a lawyer would. In his latest blog he almost only looked at Brandon Huntley’s behaviour from a legal perspective, failing to see that the human being called Brandon Huntley was simply looking out for what was best for himself and is guilty of no crime unless he lied about the crimes against him. Then, sure, he is guilty of perjury.

Traps says, “Of course the fact that many thousands of South Africans of all races come under attack from criminals and as a matter of course are called names best not repeated here, seems to have been overlooked by the Canadian immigration and refugee board. So too the fact that the Constitution of the country makes it illegal to practise racism of the kind described by Mr Huntley”. My blood went a little cold as I read this. Traps makes the crimes look all so ho hum. I infer, from his remarks quoted above and others, a number of chilling conclusions based on being about to reflect on South Africa from the more objective perspective provided by living for more than five years in faraway lands.

1) Crime (including serious crime like rape, stabbings and child abuse as Traps does not specify which crimes as it is all, perhaps, just another day’s work) is so routine, mundane. Get used to it, seems to be the unintentional attitude conveyed by Traps. And the way he talks about crime is clinical, indifferent, an attorney’s mind at work. “South Africa is not for sissies”, as the twee, John Wayne saying goes. So when your wife gets raped and your children are held at gunpoint, just suck it up like a man.

2) “So meneer. You got stabbed repeatedly by black men, your children were held at gunpoint by black men and … mmm … let’s see … your wife was raped maybe four times or five times in a row, hey? Also by black men you think you saw? Agh please, go read your SA Constitution. It is illegal to practise racism of any kind in this country. Get over it.” Ridiculous scenario, no? But so is Traps’s comment as, with his focus on legalese, he glosses over the real problems of the horrors of crime. Ask my wife. She still turns pale and troubled when she talks about the things that happened to her and her family. Traps is a lawyer concentrating almost only on the legal documents at hand (this noble Constitution he loves referring to). He — at least in this blog — shows no sympathy for what actually happens to real people, glorious Constitution or no bloody Constitution withstanding.

3) Traps then writes: “As things stand now they are suggesting that a white South African (from the 5 million) stands out like a sore thumb, is the only target for crime — when crime is prevalent among all races, and all countries — and is victimised by the country (for that is what the decision represents) when its laws demand the exact opposite.” Again there is something too chillingly matter of fact about Traps’s remarks. Who cares if “the laws demand the exact opposite” when I have friends of mine who have had their home cleaned out four or five times in six months, and one member of my family was left for dead on the home driveway, blood trickling from a slit throat? Malcolm MacKenzie was lucky to live and understandably left SA with his family. The frog in the pot of water: the pot is slowly warmed up and the frog does not realise he is gradually dying as the build up of heat is so slow. From the perspective of living five years outside SA in three much safer countries, Traps’s purely legalistic commentary comes across as an observation from that frog in the pot, who croaks, “who cares about the heat? Don’t worry about it. This heat is against the law. Cheer up”. Completely ludicrous, a script for a Monty Python show.

4) Traps then concludes with: “This is a get-out-of-jail card for the real perpetrators”. I agree wholeheartedly. But Traps does not seem to be aware — otherwise he would not have concluded with this sentence — that among the documents many countries like Canada and New Zealand require, is a police clearance certificate for each emigrant. We know; we have these certificates. All your fingerprints and palm prints have to be submitted to SA from a SA embassy if you are overseas. And SA will not issue the police clearance certificates if you have serious crimes, or will cite them on the certificate, including jail sentences, length of term served and when.

Being a lawyer, Traps is surely aware of countries requiring these certificates. Which invalidates his final remark and makes of it a puerile, Jingoist spat. The inference — intended or not is irrelevant, it is still there — is that too many people of an unwholesome character are trying to leave South Africa. That in turn brings to light another inference. Many of those who leave SA must have an objectionable character. Traps, on the conscious level, probably does not mean that. But at a subconscious level, where many of the real motivators, drives and ways of seeing things lurk unexamined, his sensibility and his conscience, like many South Africans living in their home country needs to be carefully studied. Words need to be responsibly handled, Mr Trapido, and this latest blog has not been carefully weighed.

I left South Africa because I wanted to live elsewhere. The crime never affected me personally, though it shocked and saddened me and still does. Because I am human. And I refuse to become calloused, especially as a teacher of children. Sarah Britten in her latest blog on “the Bush” in South Africa had my heart squeezed with longing for my country. I could smell the fynbos at dawn, hear the frogs and crickets around the campfire at night, that bewitching frost of stars above … As Llewellyn Kriel quotes from David Kramer, “I love this country, but I can’t stand the scene”. Amen to that, brother.


  • Rod MacKenzie

    CRACKING CHINA was previously the title of this blog. That title was used as the name for Rod MacKenzie's second book, Cracking China: a memoir of our first three years in China. From a review in the Johannesburg Star: " Mackenzie's writing is shot through with humour and there are many laugh-out-loud scenes". Cracking China is available as an eBook on Amazon Kindle or get a hard copy from His previous book is a collection of poetry,Gathering Light. A born and bred South African, Rod now lives in Auckland, New Zealand, after a number of years working in southern mainland China and a stint in England. Under the editorship of David Bullard and Michael Trapido he had a column called "The Mocking Truth" on NewsTime until the newszine folded. He has a Master's Degree in Creative Writing from the University of Auckland. if you are a big, BIG publisher you should ask to see one of his many manuscript novels. Follow Rod on Twitter @