While Mark Zuckerberg is almost certainly the antichrist and his creation a thing of great evil, Facebook does toss up some interesting things as we snuffle about like derelict bottom feeders sifting through the blighted viscera of humanity.
I was, for instance, surprised to find myself a member of a group called The Lekker Old Days. It’s a closed group, as one might expect, with an impressive 134 000 members. The South African military has 78 000 members. Just saying. Someone must have added me without my knowing.
A lot of my friends from back then have emigrated over the years. I’ve never tried to find out why but I expect it was for one or other of the usual reasons. We all know what they are. Less crime, more job opportunities, a future for the kids, better pubs, stronger weed etc.
South Africans are probably not unique in getting all melancholy and misty-eyed about a time when their country was regarded as the red-headed stepchild of the international family of nations, but I can’t help finding it all a bit strange.
It’s unlikely that you’d walk into a bar in Berlin today and overhear a conversation about how Germany was such a cool place to live when Hitler was in charge. Or go to a Kigali shebeen and retired members of the Interahamwe would be reminiscing about that glorious autumn in 1994 when any old Hutu off the streets could lop off as many Tutsi limbs as he wished.
So, since I was a member of the group, I thought I’d see how the okes were doing in their new homes there by the overseas.
First up was Julie suggesting a get-together for ex-South Africans now living in the UK. “Could take a lot of planning but could be worth it just to know there are other people just as homesick as I am! Maybe a braai, a few Castles, a couple of brandies and a bit of the old biltong!” she squealed excitedly.
Quick to mansplain that she was homesick for something that no longer existed, miserable old codger John said, “If you returned to SA for a few days, you would find very little that would be familiar to you and be glad to board a plane and get back to your new home.”
That’s right, Julie. You’d be horribly disappointed. Black people are allowed on the beaches now. You’d be frightfully confused and think you had landed in Nigeria by mistake. There’s nothing more terrifying than the familiar being rendered unfamiliar by the brutal imposition of human rights and I expect you’d want to return to the airport immediately.
I was prepared to give Julie the benefit of the doubt in that perhaps she really did miss nothing more than making salads while the okes braaied, but then she ruined it with a subsequent comment. “I would love to go back to see my dear friends, who were family to me, and hopefully come back to the UK thinking ‘thank God I don’t live there any more’.” Hopefully? That’s your best case scenario, Julie? That you’d hate the new South Africa? What’s the worst case? That you’d find it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as you imagined it? That you might not want to go back to bleak, insular England and its rude people with their ugly clothes, bad teeth and vile children? Their indoor heating and overpriced everything? You’re screwed then, Julie. It’s probably best you don’t come back. You don’t want to risk finding out that home is nowhere near as bad as you thought it was.
Jeanne-Mari asks Julie where she’s living and reassures her that “there is loads off get together and sokkies all around the UK”. Shudder.
Turns out that our Julie lives in the charming seaside town of Morecombe. It’s a blot on the landscape with no pier and mudflats for a beach. There is no fairground or swimming pool. In December a doctor warned that local kids were suffering from malnourishment and developing rickets.
On the other hand, the town is fairly well known for its potted shrimps. Oh, and there’s a statue of comedian Eric Morecombe, described the other day on TripAdvisor as “the only thing worth visiting in Morecombe”. The West End of the town has been called one of the most deprived areas in England. Suddenly I feel desperately sorry for Julie.
Craig suggests Julie joins another expat forum which promises lots of events with “lots from all over SA wanting to speak about the lekker old days”. I would have thought the Truth and Reconciliation Commission might have been a more appropriate forum for that sort of thing.
Barry tells the group about a get-together at a caravan park near Derby a few years ago where “over 100 people from the Vanderbijlpark/Vereeniging area met for three amazing days (despite the torrential rain).” It sounds more than amazing. I’m so sorry I missed it. Also, the same place has a braai this July where not only South Africans but also “Rhodesians” will gather. I can’t imagine a party I’d rather go to than one that’s awash in drunk South African and Rhodesian expats. Well, apart from maybe a lynching party in Alabama.
Eileen ruins the mood a bit when she shyly admits to still being in SA. “I just can’t get the South African bush out of me,” she admits. Given our propensity for falling down on weekends, she might well be talking literally.
Glynnis, who is clearly drunk, has an outrageous suggestion. “Why don’t you all just come home?” After an awkward silence, Rob says, “For what? To be in the same boat as everyone else?” Rob has clearly been misinformed. Not every white person owns a boat. He must be thinking of the lekker old days.
Justin, who might well have been dropped on his head as a baby, suggests a get-together for South Africans still in South Africa to “remember the good old South Africa”. Give AfriForum a call, my boy. They’ll find some nice new friends for you.
In a separate thread this week, John asked the group what they’d like to have back from the good old days. A lot of people said their mothers or fathers, which I don’t think John meant at all. Dawn and Peter said they’d like their virginity back.
Yuri said, “Law and order the way it used to be.” Akkedis said, “To be free again without you know what.” And Neels said, “The 21:00 curfew.” I grew up in the good old days so it’s easy for me to crack this code. The lads are referring to a time when the suburbs were white-by-night. The maids had to be in their kayas and the men back in the townships. It wasn’t easy to be a housebreaker in the good old days, let me tell you.
Wilhelm misses the days when there was no TV and they built treehouses and formed gangs to fight against the English. S’oraait, pel. The good old days can also mean the Anglo-Boer War, mos.
Dezray doesn’t give a damn and comes right out with it. “White government, NOT de Klerk,” she says. While she doesn’t give her preference a name, I imagine it’s somewhere in the vicinity of Steve Hofmeyr. But only until the Boeremag leadership gets out of jail. Wilhelm likes her comment.
Hannelie misses her farm. “In those days it was so safe. We played outside till late, walked in the road safe and sound. We could leave on holiday for 2 weeks, come back and nothing was wrong.” Ag shame, man. I don’t want to be the one to tell you this, skattie, but there were a couple of things wrong.
Faried misses pre-1994 South Africa “but without petty apartheid”. Faried is obviously on drugs and has lost his way. Everyone ignores him.
Errol strays into existentialism and says he misses himself, Sharon misses decent bread and Esme misses the death penalty.
Marie misses being able to walk outside without being murdered. Marie, sweetie, I don’t know how long you’ve been inside, but it’s time to come out. The odds of you not being murdered are heavily in your favour. If, however, you do come out and get murdered, I apologise. Thoughts and prayers.
Rob misses homemade bacon cut a quarter of an inch thick. I don’t remember there even being homemade pigs where I grew up.
Johan says South Africa came closest to being a first world country prior to 1994. But then “the doom happened”. I think it’s only right that our history books should in future refer to South Africa’s transition to a democracy as “The Doom”.
As for the rest of it, well, it’s an innocuous mélange of homegrown nostalgia mostly free of malice and racism. I’m sure the administrators have their work cut out for them when it comes to comments by expats still suffering from the master race syndrome, though.
A lot of South Africans who have emigrated don’t like to be reminded of the fact that the lives and lifestyles of ordinary white people who chose to stay have remained almost entirely unchanged. Sure, we’ve lost our automatic entry to the job market but otherwise it’s all still braaivleis, rugby, sunny skies and Porsche Cayennes.