My country and I – we are in a tumultuous love affair.
Like all love affairs, it began with the best of intentions. Picture this:
You’re young. Everything is good, bright, beautiful and she is glorious, South Africa is. You learn her geography, becoming enamoured of her curves and dips and salty tang and warm desert heat. You love the shift of her emotions, playing like weather across her landscapes. Now hot, now cold, or sweet as a summer’s day, then fierce as a winter storm. Such a broad spectrum, you can barely comprehend it. You enjoy her complex makeup, the differences that stack themselves up within her borders, and see subtle tensions moving beneath her skin, just out of sight. Coils of reality and circumstance that shift and shift and shift so painfully.
You’re not ready for them. You’re never ready for them. But your affair is about to become serious.
One day, she opens up to you. You learn that not so long ago, she was hurt.
It takes time, you work hard, and eventually she lets you peer into her broken heart where you weep at the devastation you see there. It’s fine, she tells you, it’s better now. And you want to believe her so badly that you do, for a while. You love and love and love her, do your best not to think about all that hurting, all those wounds, the endless
river of grief that runs right through her centre, wrapping around her like a noose. You realise she is the wind anyway, and let her steal away your breath.
Everyone who has ever been in a thrilling love affair knows the vibrant affirmation it brings.
Everyone also knows what happens next: You grow, age, become shaped, now, by life and experience. You still love her. How can you not? She’s in your blood and bones, a part of you that you can never deny. Your eyes are older, though. You’re not the same. And neither is she. You can see the signs – the way the hopelessness forces itself through the cracks, how the misery sometimes demands you see it and nothing else, the cheer that tastes like desperation. Where once you might have shut your eyes and let her make you forget, now you just can’t look away, everything inside you wrenching because you love her, dammit, and feel helpless in front of her overwhelming despair, which she never manages to successfully hide again.
You start asking her questions, want explanations, things that will help you understand. And she is twisty as ever about it. Sometimes, she’s fine and you talk and talk and cry and grope towards a common understanding. Other times, it’s like war and she screams and rails and so do you, because frustration in great amounts cannot always be controlled. It spills over when you fight because she is so unforgiving, bound by the deep imprints of her messy, harrowing past, given to slipping into a version of herself that is old and archaic and unpleasant.
You tear yourselves apart after that. It’s bad. Not only because you don’t talk for almost a year, but because you become the kind of person you hate, who mocks someone they struggle to love, who is dismissive and harsh of attempts to remedy the situation. You’re miserable, though. She haunts you through your waking hours and when you sleep, you dream of her, all night long, painful things filled with longing and remorse and a stubborn refusal to let go of those things she wishes she could hide from you. She just wants you to pretend, and you can’t do that.
She doesn’t come back. You go to her instead. Together you negotiate and compromise. You promise to be more supportive and understanding, while still having little patience for her ugliness, which rears its head when you won’t stop with the inquiries, with the discourse, with the urgent need to communicate openly and honestly about what she is, what you are. You promise to remember that she does get it right sometimes. She attempts to vow that she will be better, but leaves a caveat in the form of her shattered soul, and how hard it is to pick all those pieces up. You swear you’ll help her. Because you love her and she is part of the fire that forges your path through the world.
Now, there are good days and bad days. Days when you don’t talk, because she behaves the way she does and you wish she would stop the endless cycle of careless actions and empty apologies. Days when you lose yourself in her, and marvel that such a complex entity can exist, sunlight and starlight wrapped in night, so brilliant it hurts. Days when you fight, and days when you exist in perfect harmony. There are never days when you hate her, days when you wish you had never met, days where you do not want to know her.
In the spirit of all love affairs, that is what works.
Because she is South Africa and she is glorious and I have loved her, one way or the other, my entire life.