A letter from an American living in South Africa

By | December 17, 2017

Letter from Annie Erickson, now living in South Africa for seven years. a Must read for all South Africans.

Personally, from reading this letter I learned a few things. One; South Africa is a good place to live, full of good and hospitable people. I am proud to call myself a South African.

Secondly; I understand now the misperception other countries have regarding South Africa. It’s not their fault, it’s the media that paints the wrong picture about us.

Finally; I’ve learned that only way to change people’s perception is to let them see for themselves. More people should come visit South Africa and find the truth.

Letter from Annie Erickson

Annie Erickson

Annie Erickson

I confess that when I first moved to South Africa, I thought Afrikaners were the “bad guys”. Because I was never required to study African history in school, I knew only what the American media had taught me, which was that Afrikaners were responsible for Apartheid and therefore the bad guys. Six months after moving here, I realised how incorrect my initial assumptions were. Everyone in South Africa is both a “bad guy” and a “good guy”, and so it is with the rest of the world (for such is human nature).

The following two years were spent reading every book I could get my hands on regarding South Africa. If one wants to understand a culture, I reasoned, then one must study their art, music, literature, cuisine, and history. And so I did just that – not only for the Afrikaans culture, but for other South African cultures as well.

At the end of those two years, I felt a keen remorse for having been so arrogant in the beginning. I now knew enough to understand that I knew very little, if anything. I enrolled in university (again) to study pastoral counselling, with the intent of learning how to listen and ask better questions. After I finished my studies, I enrolled in another three-year programme to study spiritual accompaniment, which teaches one how to journey with people on a spiritual level as they wrestle with issues of faith. I have two years left of this course, which brings me to the present moment.

Having lived in South Africa for seven years now, my desire is to walk humbly and respectfully with the people here, to forever be a student of the land, languages and cultures, and to serve where I can to help build this nation. This nation, however, will never reach its potential so long as any one people group is being marginalised or oppressed. The point of this letter is to share with you what I have observed among the Afrikaners, as well as my hopes and dreams for them.

A famous American that loved Afrikaner/Boer culture was non other than Jim Reeves. During the early 1960s, Reeves was more popular in South Africa than Elvis Presley and recorded several albums in the Afrikaans language. In 1963, he toured and was featured in a South African film, Kimberley Jim. The film was released with a special prologue and epilogue in South African cinemas after Reeves’ death, praising him as a true friend of the country. The film was produced, directed, and written by Emil Nofal.Jim Reeves was himself a Christian and had huge admiration for the Afrikaner people who is a Christian nation similar to Americans. Jim Reeves died July 31, 1964 flying in a small aircraft with his manager Dean Manuel.

I see a people group who are being slowly squeezed out. I see a people group with no political representation. I see a people group whose younger generations are forced to carry the weight of the mistakes of their forefathers (which begs the question: how long does one punish a people group for the sins of the past?), whose older generations are frustrated, disillusioned and often angry with current situations, and whose middle generations struggle to find work and bridge the gap between the old and new South Africa, though they are desperately trying. I see a people group who are surviving at best, barely coping at worst, yet rarely thriving as they should be. I see a people group emigrating in large numbers. In short, I see a cultural crisis among the Afrikaners, as well as a great struggle to belong and be accepted in their own country. And this grieves me.

In the seven years I have had the privilege to live in South Africa, I have come to love the Afrikaners. I love all of the cultures here – truly I do – but there is a soft spot in my heart for the Afrikaners. Not because I am also white, certainly not because I am racist, but because I see the strengths of their culture, and I believe those strengths should be celebrated. Afrikaners have an amazing ability to persevere despite the odds. Afrikaners have a strong work ethic. They also have a unique ability to improvise, make do, and find a way around their obstacles (‘n Boer maak ‘n plan!).

I have learned much from the Afrikaans culture. One thing that especially touches me is the way Afrikaners pray. In the seven years that I have been here, nearly every prayer I have heard begins with “Dankie, Here”. To begin a prayer with heartfelt thanks despite present challenges is something that moves me deeply. In my own culture people nearly always being prayers with, “Dear God, would You please do such and such…?” I no longer pray that way, and I have the Afrikaners to thank for that.

Another thing that I admire is the concept of a “lekker kuier”. It is more than a visit, more than a quick cup of tea, and can often interrupt schedules or to-do lists. In a kuier I am welcomed, heard, given priority over time’s looming deadlines, and valued. It doesn’t matter if my house is messy, my hair is not perfect, or what my plan for the day was. I thought I knew what hospitality was before I moved to South Africa, but I was wrong. I learned about hospitality from many a kuier, and I have the Afrikaners to thank for that.

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One thought on “A letter from an American living in South Africa

  1. Marisa

    The trouble is that articles like this never get published in overseas media. We, as South Africans, know exactly what you’re saying here. It’s the rest of the world who doesn’t.

    Reply