Monday, 27 August 2007

'I love this country with a passion'

By Nomfundo Mcetywa

The widow of Alan Paton, the author of Cry the Beloved Country, is angry that a letter she wrote 10 years ago is being used in support of the arguments of people protesting about the crime rate.

Anne Paton, 81, said she was shocked to hear that the letter was being circulated by e-mail, with minor editing.

The letter was published a decade ago in the London Sunday Times.

In the letter, Paton said she intended leaving South Africa because of the "endless suffering" caused her by crime. She had been hijacked and mugged and nine of her close friends had been murdered.

The final straw was being attacked in her home in Durban shortly before her 71st birthday.

Reacting to the resurfacing of the letter, Paton said: "I am very keen to know who is behind the circulation of these emails. I just don't understand why a letter I wrote 10 years ago is being raked up now.

"I have written a lot of letters talking about South Africa, which were also published in newspapers. Why is this letter being singled out now? I think that it is ridiculous and mischievous," said Paton.

In the letter, Paton said she was glad that her husband, who became known for his speeches and writing about the injustices of apartheid, had not lived to see the new South Africa.

"I was so sorry that he did not witness the euphoria and love at the time of the election in 1994.

"But I am glad he is not alive now. He would have been so distressed to see what has happened to his country," wrote Paton.

She said she was leaving South Africa not only because of "black-on-white crime" but because of the "general lawlessness" that had gripped the country since the demise of apartheid.

"I love this country with a passion, but I cannot live here anymore. I can no longer live slung about with panic buttons and gear locks. I am tired of driving with my car windows closed and the door locked, tired of being afraid of stopping at red lights.

"I am tired of being constantly on the alert, having that sudden frisson of fear at the sight of a shadow by the gate, of a group of youths approaching, though nine times out of 10 they are innocent of harmful intent - such is the suspicion that dogs us all," Paton said in the letter.

"President Mandela has referred to we who leave as 'cowards' and says the country can do without us. So be it. But it takes a great deal of courage to uproot and start again. We are leaving because crime is rampaging through the land," said Paton.

She went on to write that there was more racial tension in the new South Africa than in the old one.

She quoted a character in Cry the Beloved Country who said: "I have one great fear in my heart - that one day, when they are turned to loving, they will find that we are turned to hating."

This week, from her home in England, Paton said she stood by every word she had written in the letter.

"At the time I wrote that letter, that was how I felt about South Africa. I cannot comment about the current situation, as I am no longer a citizen of the country.

"I now live a quiet life in England and want nothing to do with South Africa," Paton said.

"Mandela did call us cowards for leaving we were called all sorts of names, but I have no regrets about leaving. It is a decision I took based on the circumstances at the time."

Her step-daughter-in-law, Margaret Paton, who lives in Johannesburg, said the letter had caused a "big stink" when it was first published.

"It's strange that somebody is circulating it again.

"They are just using the Paton name to advance their cause because there is currently a big furore over crime.

"Anne did not want to leave South Africa; she loved this beloved country.

"She just became nervous and anxious and dreaded being around here after all those bad things had happened to her," said Margaret Paton.

She said that, despite the high level of crime, she would not leave the country.

"I love South Africa too much.

"It's no lie that crime is out of control, but we will just have to face it and deal with it. I have hope that things will improve," she said.

This article was originally published on page 3 of Sunday Independent on August 26, 2007


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