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Jacob Dlamini's Essay in Should I Stay or Should I Go? – and Ferial Haffajee's Response to It

Alert! The Mail & Guardian has published Jacob Dlamini’s contribution to Two Dogs‘ new book of essays on emigration, Should I Stay or Should I Go?.

And Ferial Haffajee has read it. And it appears she has gone through something like the five stages of grief at seeing what are generally considered to be typical white, middle class anxieties playing out in the mind of a man from Kathlehong.

Haffajee’s conclusions, however, are not dissimilar, in their nuances and concessions, from Dlamini’s.

Read, think – and perhaps respond yourself?

Should I Stay or Should I GoNative Nostalgia

I had been detained at the Bramley police station for four hours, sitting in a side office staring at the empty holding cells across the room, when the question came to me: What am I doing here? Here, in this police station on an afternoon when I should have been preparing for my return the following day to the United States, where I was a graduate student, a place that was feeling like home with each passing year.

In truth, I had had several occasions to consider emigration. The first time was in 1992 when, shortly after completing my A-levels in England, I had toyed with the idea of staying on and going to university in the United Kingdom. The second time was in London in 1995 when I had considered staying on after my year-long tenure as a junior correspondent for the Sunday Times. In 2000, I had thought about settling in the United States after completing a year as an exchange student at Bard College in New York. But each time the pull of home had proved stronger than the attractions of life away from kin and country.

* Health warning: if you are one of those people who get upset at the mention of apartheid’s legacy, this is going to annoy you.

It’s thankfully been stilled by our happy rainbow nation now, but the persistent narrative on the topic of “should I stay or should I go” will be back.

It’s tiresome and I thought that I could happily ignore it as an occupation of fairer-skinned compatriots that I would never understand.

That is until my favourite writer, Jacob Dlamini, wrote an essay on the same topic in the Mail&Guardian recently. “Et tu Dlamini?”, I wanted to cry. His question was provoked by a nasty incident of mall rage where he got into a fight with a dude in a big four-wheeled drive car. He ended up at a nearby police station pondering what it might be like to live in a society where we didn’t exist on the edge of the violence that has become so darned every day?

When I visited my family in Sweden where pacifism seems a trace element in the water, it was good. The rules worked, the public hospitals looked better than the best of Netcare, an honour system underlies most systems including transport and taxes.

But while I enjoyed it and wondered how you replicate social democratic values in our highly unequal society still smarting from apartheid, I certainly didn’t want to stay.

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Recent comments:

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Kathryn</a>
    June 28th, 2010 @12:25 #

    See comments: the difference between the two websites' readers is so ... obvious.

  • Ben - Editor
    Ben - Editor
    June 28th, 2010 @12:37 #

    Nicely observed, Kate. Terrific point.

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">tiah</a>
    June 28th, 2010 @15:42 #

    Interesting. All of it.

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Fiona</a>
    June 29th, 2010 @14:17 #

    I'm afraid I can't help but agree with the commenters who point out that Dlamini was not the victim of, but the participator in, mindless violence here. He would have got equally short shrift from any police department anywhere in the world. In fact, if he had behaved like that in the Bronx or South Central LA, for example, he would probably have spent the weekend in jail, never mind six hours.

    It's a known practice of police departments to remove troublemakers from the streets by letting them cool their heels in jail for a while. I see nothing in this unedifying narrative to justify Dlamini's desire to sweep out of South Africa in a huff.

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Kathryn</a>
    June 30th, 2010 @11:18 #

    It's a weird piece hey. The title annoys me something silly - in advertising you wouldn't be able to use an over-traded song title because it would be "done", so i wish that they had chosen another title so that i could get past that and into the book. Having said that, it's interesting that this book and Home Away came out at the same time, and also interesting that it's very likely that there are two very different audiences. I kinda thought - as Haffajee says - that we are beyond this question. It's not a question anymore - it's a decision. Go if you must. Please, I don't want to talk about it anymore.


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