“Don’t play anything sentimental it’ll make me cry. I’ve got to go back my friend. Is there really any need to ask why?”
Got to Go Back by Van Morrison from his 1986 CD No Guru, No Method, No Teacher
(Bronwyn McIntosh wrote the book. James McIntosh collaborated with her and co-wrote chapters of the book.)
Today there are many people living uncertain lives in unfamiliar places far away from the place they called ‘home’. Every day, more people make the choice to leave their homeland in search of a better life, despite a deep love for the land of their birth and the pain that leaving brings.
Are you one of them?
Are you considering a big move? One country to another? One state to another? One city to another? Then read this book to learn from the experiences and emotions of people who have made the change willingly or unwillingly.
In 2004, Bronwyn McIntosh wrote an article about her reasons for leaving South Africa. The unexpected spate of emails that followed was exacerbated by then-President Mbeki’s public criticism of the article. After five years of ongoing correspondence with a wide range of people, Bronwyn wrote a book about her journey to becoming an expatriate. In it she also shares the stories, emotions, experiences and opinions of her numerous correspondents.
“And I, I will always be split in two – did I make the right choice? And, being torn, I will always have a life which straddles the ocean – a foot on each continent. I will never be completely whole again.”
A few stories are amusing; most are poignant; some are not for the faint-hearted.
Author interview and book extract – The Natal Mercury
Every once in a while stories emerge that ignite debate and harness the ability to drive solutions. Torn in the New SA is one such book. Omeshnie Naidoo spoke to author Bronwyn McIntosh
CAREFUL and carefree weigh on either sides of the scale in one’s mind on first inspection of Bronwyn McIntosh’s on-line article which incurred the wrath of then president Thabo Mbeki. Bronwyn McIntosh’s book came from responses to an article she wrote online. The raging debate has now culminated in a book that includes many South African voices and their feelings about this country.
It all began in January 2004 when McIntosh decided to respond to an article in an online magazine called Escape Artist which highlighted reasons for investing, living or buying in South Africa. As an expatriate whose Cape Town home had been broken into, McIntosh felt the article was biased and told the editor as much. He asked her to write a response, which they titled “Dangers of South Africa: Fear of Crime”. One line reads, “I feel that if one considers relocating a family or business, one has to know and be prepared for the reality of life in a country that has the highest murder, rape and Aids statistics in the world.”
Within 24 hours e-mail responses poured in from all over the world and in September The Mercury editor Angela Quintal, then political editor of Independent Newspapers, called McIntosh to ask if she had seen Mbeki’s response in an ANC online newsletter.
“… there is a racist article on the internet …” he writes and deems an outright lie. “… she fled her white suburb in Cape Town, because the black savages were at her door …”
McIntosh had clearly not expected this.
To say that this tidal wave of emotions and reactions was unexpected would be an enormous understatement. “I do not like the limelight and for this reason, had I known the scope of attention and controversy that initial article would cause, I would not have written it,” she says.
“I really underestimated the power of the internet and of being able to say something publicly. When I realised I had that power, I decided I would use it to do something good. I felt I should honour the avalanche of correspondence by collating it into a book.”
She said about 90 percent of the people who wrote to her described feelings of being torn at having to leave.
“Many expats feel incredibly alone, they live the stress of trying to create something new and of having left something they loved. Many feel ambivalent about their decision, but who do they say it to? I wrote the book for these people – to offer them closure.”
McIntosh says her online article and the sharing of her personal journey and the processing of it has helped a lot of people and that is what precipitated the book.
“I feel like I could make a difference in South Africa as it is still close to my heart. The book is not a criticism of South Africa, it has evolved into something very different and I am extremely excited about it.”
The book is on the verge of being released and although both initiators’ comments might well have been flawed – McIntosh producing a one-sided article in retaliation to one that was just that, and Mbeki going on the defensive rather than tackling the matter at hand – the result has been a phenomenal collation of voices that speak for a sector of society who are simply ambivalent about their feelings in the new South Africa.
“Now, being at a distance I can appreciate much of what I did not when I was there. I am very proud of South Africa as a place but I am not politically motivated or interested enough to comment on the country,” says McIntosh.
“A big part of the book is about learning to live in a new country. Relocating is not easy, even if you have the finances, simply because there is a huge cultural divide to cross. South Africans who seek out other South Africans abroad and only maintain these relationships are the ones who struggle the most. Having made American friends I think it has made it easier for us to establish ourselves socially. As South Africans we’re very European in our culture and at times the Americans can be overwhelming. I think I would have preferred the United Kingdom or Europe.”
She says despite her struggle she has her children in mind, “emigration is for the second generation”.
“I hope this book gets people to see that it really is about respecting people’s decisions, their hopes and fears.”
There are indeed many reasons why people leave. In the book, many say they love South Africa, but hate the crime. They love the country but value their safety more… are frustrated at a corrupt government.
Many letters are nostalgic; expatriates saying what they love about South Africa. Others are dark.
McIntosh’s husband James writes in the book: “This being-against or being-for holds the clue to being torn or being not torn. We are torn when we leave something; we are less torn when we go to something, willingly. (Did we leave South Africa or did we go to America? I am not torn because I went to; Bronwyn is still torn at times because she left.) Those of you who are no longer living in South Africa, ask yourself, did you leave or did you go to? Think carefully, because it holds the key from crossing from torn to not-torn. Knowing what you are up against makes you want to leave; knowing what you are for makes it easier for you to settle down, wherever your leaving has taken you. If you read carefully the very personal stories in this book, you can tell who is remembering ‘against’ and who is living ‘for’. In other words who is still torn and who is feeling less torn.”
The collective voices in this book speak to a here and now that few others do and although a Nirvana is nowhere and not to be expected, South Africa could use it to better understand itself.
A Few Early Readers Gave Feedback:
I read it in 48 hours … just couldn’t put it down!And, while it speaks in volumes to any South African who has emigrated, is contemplating emigrating or refuses to emigrate, it is so much more than that – it is a compilation of “amateurs” – not journalists or authors – who have simply worn their hearts on their proverbial sleeves and have been given a voice through Bronwyn’s dedication of time and effort in bringing it all together in a single volume.
I relate to so many of the personal stories of the contributors, not only from the “I will not leave” brigade – I was, after all, a “founder member” – but also the “what the hell have I done” and “how am I going to cope” set, to eventually settle very comfortably into the final “group” … “this is how simple life should (and could) be” in a country that has no rival for beauty and pulses through my veins as much now – 9 years after leaving – as it ever did.
I am, and always will be, a Child of Africa and, while I am proud of the fact that I have “earned” British Citizenship, I will never have the temerity to call myself English, Scottish, Welsh or Irish. I am a proud South Africa Brit who feels (rightly or wrongly) that he was forced to make a decision nobody should have to make – and that’s the point of my contribution.
This book is not about me, Bronwyn, any of her contributors or even South Africa – it is about the myriad emotions that ANY individual is likely to feel when facing the prospect of leaving the country of their ROOTS. It may also – as in my case – be a catharsis.
Sean Malherbe Dorset, UK
A book of raw, unbridled passion, victorious, brutally honest
I am loving Torn in the New SA – such a barrage of raw unbridled passion by South Africans ALL OVER THE WORLD’s contributions in your pages….
It’s a book filled with people’s angers, hurts, pains, fury, passions, emotions, fears, projections, memories, longings, regrets, courage, losses, tragedies, heartaches, defenses, judgments, loves, wishes, dreams… It’s a book about people’s fears, losses and outrage about crime, people’s heartache if they have left, or wishes from others who desire to leave, or anger directed at those who have left… It’s a massive global S.A. potpourri of what people know, feel, think and externalise… some of it factual and some subjective.
Some of it can make one feel sad, whilst other parts are a celebration of the things we all revere about being South African… wherever we may be living!
It is a brutally honest book about IDENTIFICATION.
There are people who say some ugly things, like Rob Dickens’ ‘F**k you emigrant’! And some cruel, unkind and disparaging insults by people accusing those who have left as being ‘white cowards’ … (didn’t they know that people of ALL colours have left? I have met them here in N.Z. and they all left for the same reason…Black, White, Coloured and Indian, but here we don’t see our colour! And they all left to get away from the crime…)
….Or being racists or being losers who abandoned ship, bailed out, ran…. (isn’t it just 2” of separation from being a refugee? Kind of?) I am always surprised at such anger. Did people attack our forefathers who went to Africa from Holland, Portugal, Malaysia the UK, France, India, etc. on ships? I don’t think so! Are we not ALL children of the universe who have a right to CHOOSE to stay or to leave our homeland in pursuit of a safer place for our children and grandchildren?
This book… makes me see how unique we South Africans are… how impassioned we are as a people… how we make a profound contribution world wide. How OUR South African footprint has either moved south in Africa or to Africa from Holland, UK, France, India, Portugal and Malaysia to ALL over the world…
It’s a book one should probably only read after about a year or 2 year into immigration.
I am strong enough now to read this book, to celebrate its intensity, to not react violently or angrily to some of the unkind judgments directed at those who have left, not to feel defensive, to still LOVE all that I do passionately love about S.A. …without feeling a desperate need to jump on the next plane ‘home’; to be able to see more clearly, less emotionally and more objectively and rationally… to feel Okay at this moment (as our reality as immigrants can change from day to day ) about who I am and the choice and terrible and tragic sacrifices Ant and I made, not only so as to sleep undisturbed and unfettered every single night, but primarily to pave the way for our children and their children… for them to take it or leave it…. the irony of our lives…
To know in my heart that I have miraculously come to terms with the fact that NO ONE can make the choice for ANYONE ELSE to stay, go, return, leave again…….. that it’s a personal odyssey and one must have one’s own personal spiritual epiphany…whether due to a close enough act of terrible violence or a lesser crime or just from multiple layers of gatvol lesser craps…
Because it is the BIGGEST journey anyone will ever take… it will alter one forever and one may, as Bronwyn aptly says, never feel totally whole again.
It is a victorious book, because due to having so many contributors, it means that the lens swings from one extreme to the next… one sees through a thousand lenses and sees the truth from different angles and perspectives.
So through this book I am able to love, connect with, identify with and forgive ALL SOUTH AFRICANS who want to stay, leave, return, leave again… we are on the merry-go-round of life.
We can choose to search for peace and safety at a price, or stay and continue to develop the country at a price… It’s an absolute gift to all humanity that we have the right to make a choice! To follow our own destiny… knowing that either route is fraught with obstacles… that is the reality!
The point is South Africa will always be there. That’s a given. It won’t vanish. Just metamorphosise as the whole world and humanity changes… And if people can’t return as the costs are too much, it will remain fully in their hearts and minds; in their bones.
Thanks Bronwyn for the AMAZING COURAGE TO PUT ALL THE PEOPLE’S RAINBOW OF FEELINGS INTERSPERSED IN YOUR OWN STORY. WHAT PROFOUND COURAGE.
Eve Hemming Auckland, New Zealand