Sunday, March 15, 2009

Land of Hope

Growing up in South Africa, my memories are filled with regular trips into Hillbrow where my grandparents lived and where my father purchased his weekly stock of exotic seafood’s from the local Mozambique fishery. My three sisters and I would be crammed in the backseat of the car with large brown packets on our laps, filled with live crabs and crayfish, desperate to get out. It terrified us to no end and we could never understand how my father could even consider eating this. My grandparents were of French and Maltese descent. They left war torn Europe after the Second World War with very little to their names and came to South Africa to build a future for themselves and their children. They were joined by a gaggle of family members and friends, from countries like Italy, France, Belgium and Portugal. It’s here in this country of ours that they sunk their roots and their home. My grandparents were an exotic couple who were better placed on the streets of Paris, than in Hillbrow, but for as long as I remember they were always stoic South Africans and ever grateful for the refuge and opportunity that this country afforded them. They worked hard for many years to build a life from the very little they came with. Today their children and grandchildren, including me have been the beneficiaries of this hope.

My father-in-law arrived in South Africa after the War from Holland as a homeless young adult with only the clothes on his back and no family or friends to speak of. He spent his first months in this country living in a shipping crate in the back of someone’s garden. He is by all accounts an extraordinary individual, who spent his childhood years in the Resistance movement in the war after his mother was taken away to a Nazi concentration camp where she later died. Like my relatives, he too chose to come to South Africa and very soon sunk his roots deep into the South African soil. Over the years, my father-in-law has built a successful business, which has served this community through health, education and employment.

I tell these two stories because for me they are my South Africa whose experiences ebb and flow over the years, but fundamentally don’t change. This is a land, which many still hope to build a better future for themselves and their families.

Despite its darker hours and there have been many, this is a country filled with an amazing array of people who work each day for a better life. For me, South Africa will always be a place of opportunity for those who are prepared to seize it, to embrace and take sustenance from its strengths, to love it for all its weaknesses and most importantly to forgive it, for its injustices.

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