“What do you mean?” I asked Tyler, who incidentally was wearing a Bafana shirt.
“Will South Africans now keep the flags up forever?” Tyler asked. “Because when I saw the American flag outside people’s homes in the US for no reason, it seemed… arrogant.”
I think I know what Tyler means. He is talking about hubris. Not to be confused with pride, hubris is something America is not known to shy away from.
And too much hubris can be a bad thing.
In Cambridge, Massachusetts, where we were based for the year, the presence of the Stars and Stripes was not an overbearing sight. Here, national pride was discreet, and of a different nature. Inside friends’ homes were Obama paraphernalia, from “Obama in the House” posters and coffee mugs to fridge magnets showing the President’s face, and the words: “America, your eight-year-nightmare is over” (a reference to the previous Bush era).
A curious teenager, Tyler made an effort to learn about his host country’s history and culture. He studied the American War of Independence, the Civil War over slavery and the African-American and Native American civil rights struggles. In Boston, he went to Red Sox (Baseball), Bruins (ice-hockey), and Celtics (basketball) games. He learnt to “beat box” like American rappers, and to wear his peak cap back to front. Ayoba.
But often homesick, Tyler had no problem displaying loyalty to South Africa. He resisted adopting an American accent, switching a Z for an S, or saying Math instead of Maths. He got great pleasure out of teaching his fellow Grade 8 classmates Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika and the meaning of laduma, braai and lekker.
When the World Cup got under way, Tyler was the first to carry a South African flag and recite the lyrics to Wavin’ Flag by K’naan.
Just after the World Cup opening ceremony, we went on a family road trip to the south-west of the country. We travelled in a van that had a South African flag on the dashboard.
During our trip, we passed hundreds of full-size American flags outside people’s homes. Tyler was puzzled by this ostentatious display of loyalty. It was patriotism gone too far. (The US even celebrates national Flag Day, on June 14.)
Sometimes hubris is a good thing, I told Tyler as we slowed to a walk in our suburb, another Rainbow nation flag whizzing by on a car.
Like now in South Africa. When we landed at OR Tambo Airport, we felt the raw energy and new-found confidence of South Africans. A week after the World Cup closing ceremony, the country was still decked in green and gold. Choked up with pride, I had tears in my eyes.
In the US, friends had e-mailed me that it seemed that the South African water supply had been spiked with Ecstasy or Prozac. I now know what they meant.
A few weeks after our homecoming, this infectious vibe continues to hold pessimism at bay, filtering down into every corner, from the supermarket to the school.
The country is alive with possibility and hope. It can look to the future, knowing that it has impressed the world.
It has been uplifting to see South Africans, who had never watched local soccer and who objected to the vuvuzela, embrace the beautiful game and feel a sense of common identity with their fellow South Africans.
But while we have all been puffing out our chests with national pride during the after-party, sinister forces have been at play in Luthuli House and Parliament. In an arrogant attempt to control the media, the ANC released a 20-page document – Media Transformation, Ownership and Diversity. In a move that smacks of moral bankruptcy, the party is pushing for the creation of a state tribunal to hold the media “accountable”.
And in a more advanced stage, there is a bid to push a bill through Parliament to “protect state information” that could see journalists who are brave enough to flout it land up in jail for up to 25 years.
These attacks on press freedom have been a shocking reality check, a reminder that there are threats to our 16-year-old democracy.
|Blast from the past: Phillippa De Villiers makes a T-shirt|
statement, at Rhodes University, in the '80s
The new powers-that-be pledged respect for a free, independent press. This right, enshrined in our constitution, is one of the hard-earned freedoms that make me proud to be South African.
Yes, a bit of hubris is healthy. South Africa is a remarkable place. Let’s celebrate, and keep the flag flying – for the country, and its constitution.
* This article first appeared in the Weekend Argus on 7 August, 2010.