We might detest the challenges of our country, but they are still ours

By Howard Feldman, Head of Marketing & People at Synthesis

It could be a severe and even terminal case of Stockholm Syndrome. But after a few weeks out of South Africa, I started to miss the imperfections of home and even some of the characteristics that make living in the country a unique experience. After having been assailed relentlessly by interrupted power, there were times that I even felt a little left out of the “loadshedding” and corruption conversation. As though I had been removed from a club that I might not have asked to join, but had grown fond of.

There were times when I was away that my Eskom Se Push app alerted me to the fact that our zone was without electricity, and that part of me wondered how my inverters were doing. I would spend a moment in quiet contemplation thinking about their wellbeing and wondering if they were holding out ok. I admit to missing them more than I should have, which is only slightly more than I did my pets, but less than my bed and my own space. What I did not miss, was the neighborhood WhatsApp group that begged confirmation from each home when power vacated and then again when it returned. Absence in that case did not make the heart grow fonder.

Travel, it seems, does strange things.

The term Stockholm Syndrome is now well known.  It is defined as a condition in which hostages develop a psychological bond with their captors during captivity. Stockholm Syndrome results from a rather specific set of circumstances, namely the power imbalances contained in hostage-taking, kidnapping, and abusive relationships.

This term was first used by the media in 1973 when four hostages were taken during a bank robbery in Sweden. After being released, hostages surprisingly defended their captors and would not even agree to testify in court against them. It was noted that in that case, however, the police were perceived to have acted with little care for the hostages’ safety providing an alternative reason for their unwillingness to testify. Stockholm syndrome is paradoxical because the sympathetic sentiments that captives feel towards their captors, are the opposite of the fear and disdain which an onlooker might feel towards the captors.

Which is why I am concerned that I could be suffering from a full-blown case of the syndrome, and that it might even be too late for me to seek help.

The last few years have, in essence, forced the people of the world to talk amongst ourselves. With international travel having been reduced to cases of necessity, many would-be travellers opted to remain local rather than risk their health and risk being trapped in a foreign country as borders opened and shut faster than a counter at Home Affairs.

An unintended consequence is that we have become “more.” More South African, more Australian (in the case of Australia) and I imagine more “New Zealanderish”, but as no one has either entered or exited the island since 2020 (fact checkers might argue), it is impossible to know this for certain. A further consequence is that even if we detest some of the challenges of our home country, they are still ours, and despite our complaining, we probably wouldn’t want to have it any other way.

My late grandmother who increased in wisdom since her passing would often say that if we were to all put our “troubles” into a hat and get to choose what to back out, that we would most likely choose the same ones that we put in in the first place. It might be familiarity, a case of “better the devil we know” or it might be that they are really not as bad as we might have made them out to be.

I arrived back in South Africa this morning and a few hours in, I am still grateful to be back.  A friend recommended that I wait to experience my first round of loadshedding before penning anything positive or sentimental. But I thought that it would be better to do it whilst the feeling is still present and whilst there is still some natural light.