Twenty years ago this weekend I was in southern South Africa in a township named, Albertina. If you are looking on a map, it is near the coast just west of George. The local Anglican priest, Patrick Jacobs and his family in a little house next door to theirs and the church, was hosting me. It was a Sunday and after the service we all sat outdoors and chatted. Someone reminded me it was the 4th of July and a holiday in the states. I began to reminisce and describe what Americans do and what the holiday means to us.
During my six-month stay in South Africa I found myself in settings like this often, where no one understood my country or who I was. The lives of the South Africans were so different. Not just 80% of the population with no hot water and electricity and 90% with no right to vote, but our stories were very different. No one knew our history and thankfulness.
I suddenly had my first of many experiences of loneliness. I was to learn no one understood a single 50-year-old white woman traveling by herself in the brown and black townships. She must be rich! So there I was; no parades, no fireworks, and no picnics, in a 4th of July vacuum across the ocean in another world.
How did our countries become so different?
The invasion (as I call it) of our two countries began at the same time, but the story is so very unique. Europeans came to North American continent to settle. With them they brought everything they could, from wives and children to cattle and furniture. What is now considered Cape Town, a trading post was established only by men. The post was established as a rest stop for the ships from Europe going to India could obtain supplies of fresh water and food. For many years the single men remained on the coast. While in North America families quickly moved up the rivers and inland. This is just the beginning of how we became two very different nations.
South Africa’s deliverance history was so very gradual in comparison to how America was declared an independent nation. Although not truly independent, most historians especially those in South Africa, consider May 31, 1920 to be the most appropriate date to be commemorated. The Union of South Africa was formed under British dominion, but was not officially recognized by Britain until 1931. And not until 1961 did South Africa become a truly independent republic. And finally, the new constitution and open elections came in 1994 over two hundred years later than ours!
Now as I begin to plan for my November return to South Africa, I am reminded of what loneliness really feels like and of all the things I am grateful for in the USA. Happy Fourth of July!