Learning (again) to be South African Lynn Hurry with Andrea Kolbe


Andrea Kolbe is a visiting Masters student from Canada, studying citizen science and water conservation at the School of Agriculture, Earth and Environment Science (Pietermaritzburg campus) of the UKZN. These are her impressions of 4 months “well spent and very much appreciated”.

A few years ago, I half-glued, half-taped an embroidered South African flag to the back of my backpack. Ever since, I’ve been flaunting my backpack proudly everywhere I go, in hopes that someone might stop and ask me where my flag is from. To which I can, of course, reply, “It’s from South Africa, I’m from South Africa!” all the while beaming proudly from ear to ear. It wouldn’t be a lie, nor would it be the whole truth. You see, I’m only now learning what it means to be South African.

Technically speaking, I’ve been South African my whole life. I’ve got the passport and the citizenship to prove it. However, having been born in the heart of Zululand and then whisked away to the safe and civilized North Americas at 6 years old, I’ve spent the majority of my life in Canada. That has not, however, discouraged me from determinedly telling anyone who will listen that I’m “originally from South Africa though”. Indeed, my friends will testify, I haven’t shut-up about it since I arrived in my northern homeland. What I couldn’t possibly know, is that it would take me until I was 23 to even begin to understand what those words truly mean.

For as long as I can remember, my overarching goal in life has been to get back to SA. And so, it was with great excitement and gratitude that I found myself planning a 4-month stay to do my Master’s research in KwaZulu-Natal. Suffice it to say, it’s been an incredible journey of learning; I’ve had an opportunity to grow as a person, but more importantly, I’ve had a glimpse into the heart of a country I’ve spent 23 years staking claim to.

To summarize the past 3 months in a few words would be near impossible. But what I do know, with absolute certainty, is that it’s the people that make this country so beautiful. Don’t get me wrong, SA does not lack for physical beauty, there’s no other place in the world like it. But, it has, without a doubt, been the human spirit – so alive and vibrant –that has defined South Africa for me.

And, what I’ve learned is that this is country made up of the most incredible people; people I’ve had the absolute honor and privilege of working with, who welcomed me with open arms and quickly became my extended South African family.
These are people, many of whom are youth, who do not necessarily have much by way of material wealth, but who are rich with insight, hope, and inspiration in ways I’ve never seen before.

These are people who always greet me with radiant smiles, happy to see me, regardless of their own daily struggles and challenges. These are people who have welcomed me into their families and communities, so I don’t feel alone. In fact I have always felt more at home in Mpophomeni than in my student digs in Howick !

These are the experiences, the people, that have shaped the South Africa, I proudly claim to originate from. Connecting with these people, my friends, has marked my journey with moments in time that have left my spirit soaring with love and hope often in the face of struggle and despair. Friends, thank you for showing me what it truly means to be South African.