Back in 1917, during the First World War, Wilfred Owen wrote a poem called “Dulce et Decorum Est” and I quote it and other poems in my first Mean Streets Book. Why? Because I wanted to show how dangerous patriotism is and it is interesting to me when I read about South Africans “flooding” back to the old country from abroad. In many books and this blog I said to everyone asking my opinion “Don't come back, what you remember from this place is not what you going to find! You will be disappointed and frankly, not that welcome either” and some then get upset with my reply.
They see my comments as “negative and not supportive” if not downright “unpatriotic” to put it mildly. I have to wonder, why did you leave in the first place and I am not talking about job related work or a gap year, I talk of full blown emigration to start a new life in a new country. In many ways this is the same as thinking you can remarry the woman you divorced and it will work this time. Trust me, it won't. I saw this time and time again and can even explain to you why. You think of the good times and you get nostalgic (and lonely) and you forget what irritated you enough to walk away or to find consolation in another woman's arms leading to the divorce. Rest assured, I will see you again in my office as we file for divorce yet again and for the very same reasons. People don't change and an old dog is not going to learn new tricks, shenanigan perhaps but not tricks. Inherently you are made (gemaak en laat staan in Afrikaans) at 30 years of age and even earlier.
I will never advise anyone to return for the very same reasons, you have not changed. But this country has changed and for the better or worse the historians will decide in a 100 years from now. For me, as a white man, aged 48, it is just for the worse and I am not afraid of saying so (it is called freedom of speech). For another man, it may be paradise and it all depends where you are in life and what you experienced. I have clients who came back...they were part of the failed (miserably and utterly so) “Come home” movement the Department of Foreign Affairs had running (read wasting money) for a few years. Most of the doctors and engineers and business people laughed them off. Those who came back most probably had to come back and yet some were very sincere when they said they wanted to make a difference and hence they came back. Yeah, call me cynical, but after a year or two they quietly leave again and this time they are wiser. Once affirmative action, load shedding, nepotism, corruption, inflation, interest rates and what have you got to them, they run away, again and this time for good.
Now I worked offshore, or overseas, I know that feeling of not having your own culture, language and traditions around you. It works on you and some just could not hack it, they cracked up and we had to fly them (disgracefully so in my eyes) back and replace them. I read of people getting angry when reminded they are not home, i.e. to walk into an Expat's house in Australia and be told “We are Aussies now, stop telling me about South Africa, I don't care mate!” In fact, I believe that is the right attitude. I am sure that many of you reading here remember what we called English speaking South Africans in the old days? Yeah it started with “sout...” and you can smile about it since they were dangling between two places. But let us be honest and say the name was not meant as a compliment and that any “Rooinek” suffered in the Security Forces under Afrikaans instructors. Hence we should stay true to our heritage here and not try to be one or the other, you made your bed, now live with it. But is it wrong when you see someone from far away commenting on local news? I see it often as I read the comments for amusement and inspiration (you find great wit and dry humour now and then, in between the absolutely retarded comments better left unprinted) and often see the “uitlanders” (Afrikaans, foreigners) being told to “shut up and comment about their new country. They have nothing to contribute when sitting overseas.” Is this right or wrong? I get the reply, it makes sense, but it bothers me. The man may be sincerely worried or concerned and should be heard.
I am seriously amused to read of a “brain gain” with the returning Expats (and I do not believe a word from Statistics SA, I want to see who returned before deciding) as a country is compared by its doctors and engineers (lawyers are what is left over after the brightest went to the medical & engineering schools, not very bright including me who does not claim to be a lawyer anymore, praise the Lord). Where are our doctors and engineers and skilled artisans? Not in South Africa they ain't. The reunions are held in Melbourne, London, and New York. Why is that? Simply because most left and they did not come back so where, I ask, is the so called “brain gain?” coming back? It is a joke and let me explain why, in practical terms.
I read that the South African Police Service, the “great” institution which replaced the effective and feared South African Police Force (in which I served honourably enough for six years) is looking for white recruits. They are so desperate that such announcements are made in Afrikaner Churches. That too is amusing, I am sure those who volunteer will be resigned to stay at one rank for fifteen years plus because they are white and no other reason. So most just laugh and walk away, they would rather join the British Army or French Foreign Legion and be treated fairly (and run the risk of being arrested for “mercenary” activities) than to be bothered with the “great” institution. Well, if they ask my opinion and many do, this is what I tell them, leave! The training you will get in the new police or army is laughed at internationally, it counts for nothing and is seen as a joke, rightly or wrongly. If you wish to do things properly, go to a proper country and get properly trained in qualifications which means something in a job market where you compete with such lads.
To get back to poetry, I like poetry by the way and will one day write a poetry book, I leave you with this wisdom in history (which always repeat). Read Wilfred Owen:
“My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.”
What did the poet say? He quoted from Horac who said (I hope sarcastically) that it is is sweet and right to die for your country. In other words, it is a wonderful and great honour to fight and die for your country. Read my lips, it is a crap notion when your country is not worth dying for. Rather live.
Koos Kotze is a former member of the South African Police Force. He served between 1985 and 1991 primarily as a sergeant in the Pretoria Flying Squad. After leaving the Police Force he obtained the law degrees B Iuris & LLB at the University of the Free State (Bloemfontein, South Africa) and was a practicing commercial law attorney for eight years. He also wrote several books on business, law, counter terrorism and security issues. He is a widower and lives in Bloemfontein, South Africa.