“Are you going to emigrate?”

This is the question on everyone’s lips since we returned from our trip to Australia and New Zealand. It’s a valid enough enquiry, given the statistics showing that over a million South Africans have done just that.

It is also one laden with emotion. Emigration divides families and friends physically, but in many ways, also emotionally. There’s a sense that the pioneers taking the plunge are ‘braver’ or ‘wiser’ than those that stay behind. For me, the most difficult emotion I wrestle with is the idea that I am doing my children a disservice by choosing to stay in South Africa.

It was a thought that again crept to the forefront of my mind in Australia….

…As I walked the scenic and safe coastal path in Perth (it disappeared briefly as a swarm of flies accosted me).

…As our family hopped on a ferry in Brisbane one evening, disembarking into a buzzy crowd on the other side of the river without once glancing nervously over our shoulders.

…As we watched the uneventful news on the local TV station.

…As we drove into city centres where no-one slept on dirty blankets at street corners.

Yes, of course I want all this for my children. I want them to be safe. I want them to live in a society where the biggest news item is a toddler wandering off after builders left open a door. I want them to have opportunities not linked to skin colour. I want them to be free of the fear and resentment that taints the edges of my own society. I want them to live in a place of justice and order, where judges can’t be bribed or prison guards bought.

These are beautiful gifts and I am exceedingly sad that I can’t give them all that in South Africa.

And yet giving them those gifts means that I would struggle to give them others that –although less tangible—I value…

…The closeness and richness of family – grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins.

…A sense of the fragility of life. It seems a strange gift, but I think it is the realisation that life on earth is fraught with uncertainty that drives us into the arms of an eternal God. And bringing them into His arms is the most precious gift of all.

…The riot of African cultures– colours, tastes, music, laughter—that enlivens me with joy and creativity. I hope it does the same for them.

…The soulful beauty of this place. The silhouette of a thorn tree at sunset, or a herd of elephants roaming past, touches me more deeply than any other sight on earth. My country is breath-stealingly lovely and I want my children to experience it and appreciate it as much as I do.

Are my gifts valuable? Some will think not. Sometimes, in the deep, Eskom-induced darkness of night, I even doubt their value myself.

I am grateful that I showed my children another place and another way of life, one that is not stained with the complexities of South African life. I pray that one day–with this knowledge–they will make choices for themselves and their children. I pray even more fervently that when the time for those choices comes, South Africa will be a place where young people feel they have hope and a future, where fear will not dominate their decisions – a country different to the one Paton describes:

“Cry, the beloved country, for the unborn child that’s the inheritor of our fear. Let him not love the earth too deeply. Let him not laugh too gladly when the water runs through his fingers, nor stand too silent when the setting sun makes red the veld with fire. Let him not be too moved when the birds of his land are singing. Nor give too much of his heart to a mountain or a valley. For fear will rob him if he gives too much.” 

Cry, the Beloved Country (Alan Paton)

Some may consider me a fool. Perhaps I have indeed laughed too gladly, stood too silent in the sunset-veld and given too much of my heart to this place. But I would not have it any other way. For now I choose the beloved country where I feel the most alive – this place that my heart whispers is home.