A FA­THER'S LAMENT

When a child flies the nest it’s al­ways a test­ing time, but when your son is go­ing to one of the most dan­ger­ous places on earth, it’s dou­bly wor­ry­ing, says Guy Grieve

Scottish Field - - CONTENTS -

Guy Grieve finds loos­en­ing the reins to see his son travel tough go­ing

‘It breaks my heart to think that I will never re­turn to my coun­try of birth’

To­day my el­dest son is leav­ing Scot­land on his first big jour­ney as a young man. Os­car is off with his school rugby team on a three week tour of South Africa. I found my­self con­flicted when his school con­tacted us with the great news that he had been se­lected for the trip. Firstly, I was very proud of his achieve­ment and ex­cited that he was go­ing to see my fa­ther­land and feel for the first time the beau­ti­ful, south­ern African sun­shine on his skin, and have a chance to ex­pe­ri­ence the sights, sounds and peo­ple of a dif­fer­ent part of the world. His fam­ily has deep roots there, right back to his great-great grand­fa­ther, who was the son of a Pres­by­te­rian Rev­erend Sur­geon from Aberdeen­shire and was also the Rev­erend at the siege of Lady­smith dur­ing the Boer war.

These pos­i­tive feel­ings were cou­pled with anx­i­ety as in so many ways I wished it was Aus­tralia, New Zealand or Canada he was go­ing to visit in­stead. The thought of him be­ing there with­out me to pro­tect him and pos­si­bly of­fer armed back up, thou­sands of miles away in a coun­try which is no­to­ri­ously vi­o­lent and dan­ger­ous, was ter­ri­fy­ing. Sadly, South Africa is a coun­try with ap­palling crime fig­ures and hor­ren­dous lev­els of vi­o­lence, where stray­ing out of the rel­a­tive safety of gated com­mu­ni­ties and homes pro­tected by ra­zor wire is a risk.

It breaks my heart to think that I will never re­turn to my coun­try of birth, the rea­son be­ing that it is im­pos­si­ble to ig­nore such tragedy. Of course in my youth the coun­try was con­trolled by Apartheid and a vi­cious po­lice state. Yet, be­ing hon­est with my­self, if he’d been head­ing to South Africa dur­ing this era I’d have felt, un­for­giv­ably, far less wor­ried about his safety; for the sim­ple rea­son that dur­ing those times it was a mi­nor­ity tribe in firm con­trol, though with in­de­fen­si­ble mo­ti­va­tion and means.

Now his­tory is cor­rect­ing it­self. White South Africans are vul­ner­a­ble, and in some cases – as demon­strated by the vi­o­lence against whites in ru­ral ar­eas – ac­tively on the run. And now my son is visit- ing to play rugby, the sport­ing totem of the white rul­ing class. I’ve no doubt that he’ll be safe within the con­fines of his ho­tel, play­ing fields and the homes of his host fam­i­lies, but I just wish it was some other coun­try. A land less com­plex, less vi­o­lent, where rugby be­longed to the many and not the few. A land where he could walk safely with his friends, build­ing his own feel of the place, in­stead of re­main­ing within ar­ti­fi­cial bub­bles of pros­per­ity.

I feel ashamed by my wor­ries. Ashamed too that the roots of the tragedy of my coun­try lie within the de­struc­tive march of Bri­tish colo­nial­ism. I think of Os­car’s great grand­fa­ther, pro­pelled and buoyed by an Em­pire’s call for her sons, who left South Africa and headed north at the same age, 17, find­ing him­self in a kilt and apron, fight­ing hand to hand in the Bat­tle of Delville Wood dur­ing the First World War. He came back to South Africa a changed man. I won­der how this visit will change my son?

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