Why I’m Fleeing

This is really sad and scary.

Why I’m fleeing
by Anne Paton (widow of Alan Paton)

I am leaving . I have lived here for 35 years, and I shall
leave with anguish. My home and my friends are here, but I am terrified.
I know I shall be in trouble for saying so, because I am the widow of
Alan Paton.

Fifty years ago he wrote Cry, The Beloved Country. He was an unknown
schoolmaster and it was his first book, but it became a bestseller
overnight. It was eventually translated into more than 20 languages and
became a set book in schools all over the world. It has sold more than
15 million copies and still sells 100,000 copies a year.
As a result of the startling success of this book, my husband became
famous for his impassioned speeches and writings, which brought to the
notice of the world the suffering of the black man under apartheid.
He campaigned for Nelson Mandela’s release from prison and he worked all
his life for black majority rule. He was incredibly hopeful about the
new that would follow the end of apartheid, but he died in
1988, aged 85.

I was so sorry 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 beloved country.

I love this country with a passion, but I cannot live here any more. 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 doors 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 – although
nine times out of 10 they are innocent of harmful intent. Such is the
suspicion that dogs us all.

Among my friends and the friends of my friends, I know of nine people
who have been murdered in the past four years.
An old friend, an elderly lady, was raped and murdered by someone who
broke into her home for no reason at all; another was shot at a garage.
We have a saying, “Don’t fire the gardener”, because of the belief that
it is so often an inside job – the gardener who comes back and does you
All this may sound like paranoia, but it is not without reason. I have
been hijacked, mugged and terrorised. A few years ago my car was taken
from me at gunpoint. I was forced into the passenger seat. I sat there
frozen. But just as one man jumped into the back and the other fumbled
with the starter I opened the door and ran away. To this day I do not
know how I did this. But I got away, still clutching my handbag.

On May I this year I was mugged in my home at three in the afternoon. I
used to live in a community of big houses with big grounds in the
countryside. It’s still beautiful and green, but the big houses have
been knocked down and people have moved into fenced complexes like the
one in which I now live. Mine is in the suburbs of , but they’re
springing up everywhere.
That afternoon I came home and omitted to close the security door. I
went upstairs to lie down. After a while I thought I’d heard a noise,
perhaps a bird or something. Without a qualm I got up and went to the
landing; outside was a man. I screamed and two other men appeared. I was
seized by the throat and almost throttled; I could feel myself losing
My mouth was bound with Sellotape and I was threatened with my own knife
(Girl Guide issue from long ago) and told: “If you make a sound, you
die.” My hands were tied tightly behind my back and I was thrown into
the guest room and the door was shut. They took all the electronic
equipment they could find, except the computer. They also, of course,
took the car.
A few weeks later my new car was locked up in my fenced carport when I
was woken by its alarm in the early hours of the morning. The thieves
had removed the radio, having cut through the padlocks in order to
bypass the electric control on the gates.

The last straw came a few weeks ago, shortly before my 71st birthday. I
returned home in the middle of the afternoon and walked into my sitting
room. Outside the window two men were breaking in. I retreated to the
hall and pressed the panic alarm.
This time I had shut the front door on entering. By now I had become
more cautious. Yet one of the men ran around the house, jumped over the
fence and tried to batter down the front door. Meanwhile, his accomplice
was breaking my sitting- room window with a hammer.
This took place while the sirens were shrieking, which was the
frightening part. They kept coming, in broad daylight, while the alarm
was going. They knew that there had to be a time lag of a few minutes
before help arrived – enough time to dash off with the television and
video recorder. In fact, the front-door assailant was caught and taken
off to the cells.

Recently I telephoned to ask the magistrate when I would be called as a
witness. She told me she had let him off for lack of evidence. She said
that banging on my door was not an offence, and how could I prove that
his intent was hostile?
I have been careless in the past – razor wire and electric gates give
one a feeling of security. Or at least, they did. But I am careless no
longer. No fence – be it electric or not – no wall, no razor wire is
really a deterrent to the determined intruder. Now my alarm is on all
the time and my panic button hung round my neck. While some people say I
have been unlucky, others say: “You are lucky not to have been raped or
murdered.” What kind of a society is this where one is considered
“lucky” not to have been raped or murdered – yet?

A character in Cry, The Beloved Country says: “I have one great fear in
my heart, that one day when they are turned to loving they will find we
are turned to hating.” And so it has come to pass. There is now more
racial tension in this country than I have ever known.
But it is not just about black-on-white crime. It is about general
lawlessness. Black people suffer more than the whites. They do not have
access to private security firms, and there are no police stations near
them in the townships and rural areas. They are the victims of most of
the hijackings, rapes and murders. They cannot run away like the whites,
who are streaming out of this country in their thousands.

President Mandela (I think this is Mbeki?) has referred to us 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. The evils that beset this country now are
blamed on the legacy of apartheid. One of the worst legacies of that
time is that of the Bantu Education Act, which deliberately gave black
people an inferior education.

The situation is exacerbated by the fact that criminals know that their
chances of being caught are negligible; and if they are caught they will
be free almost at once. So what is the answer? The government needs to
get its priorities right. We need a powerful, well-trained and
well-equipped police force.

Recently there was a robbery at a shopping centre in the afternoon. A
call to the police station elicited the reply: “We have no transport.”
“Just walk then,” said the caller; the police station is about a
two-minute sprint from the shop in question. “We have no transport,”
came the reply again. Nobody arrived.

There is a quote from my husband’s book: “Cry, the beloved country, for
the unborn child that is the inheritor of our fear. Let him not love the
earth too deeply. Let him not laugh too gladly when the water runs
through his fingers, nor stand too silent when the setting sun makes red
the veld with fire. Let him not be too moved when the birds of his land
are singing, nor give too much of his heart to a mountain or a valley.
For fear will rob him of all if he gives too much.”
What has changed in half a century? A lot of people who were convinced
that everything would be all right are disillusioned, though they don’t
want to admit it.

The government has many excellent schemes for improving the lot of the
black man, who has been disadvantaged for so long. A great deal of money
is spent in this direction. However, nothing can succeed while people
live in such fear. Last week, about 10km from my home, an old couple
were taken out and murdered in the garden. The wife had only one leg and
was in a wheelchair. Yet they were stabbed and strangled – for very
little money. They were the second old couple to be killed last week. It
goes on and on, all the time; we have become a killing society.
As I prepare to return to , a young man asked me the other day,
in all innocence, if things were more peaceful there. “You see,” he
said, “I know of no other way of life than this. I cannot imagine
anything different.” What a tragic statement on the beloved country
today. “Because the white man has power, we too want power,” says
“But when a black man gets power, when he gets money, he is a great man
if he is not corrupted. I have seen it often. He seeks power and money
to put right what is wrong, and when he gets them, why, he enjoys the
power and the money.
Now he can gratify his lusts, now he can arrange ways to get white man’s
liquor. I see only one hope for our country, and that is when white men
and black men, desiring neither power nor money, but desiring only the
good of their country, come together to work for it.
I have one great fear in my heart, that one day when they are turned to
loving, they will find we are turned to hating.”


8 thoughts on “Why I’m Fleeing”

  1. Disgusting behavior, I don’t know how you all do it? living in such a horrible and corrupt country. I was so proud to be South African but the longer I live in the UK the more grateful I am that I need never go back to SA. I sleep at night with my windows wide open so I can feel the cool night air on my skin as I sleep, and I live in a city in UK I can’t imagine living a life as described above. I used to tell people how beautiful and amazing a country SA is but now I’m not sure I want to encourage people to go anymore. Good luck to all of you

  2. Hi Graham,

    Fine by me. The letter is a few years old, but it is as relevant today as it was then. She did eventually flee and is living a safe and relaxing life in England.


  3. This is about ten years old, actually, and suddenly it is being posted all over the place. May we know why you decided to post it now?

  4. I emmigrated from Knysna 5 years ago. What was written 10 years ago is now happening in England. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side.

  5. Howard Meek’s comments are only too true! Where does one emigrate to if you (or have to!) want to? Terrorism in the major western countries is only going to get worse and other countries are drying up due to Global Warming (sans Australia, as an example) The entire world needs to pull together and rather concentrate all their efforts to somehow or other ensure that the only habitable planet that we have survives for those of us who have young chilren, grandchildren and even for future generations. This is where all our present and future energies need to be focused!

  6. This may only be my perspective: It comes from a universal place and spirit.
    All human beings and creatures on earth seek the same thing.
    Peace and Prosperity ,the will to live and for their offspring to live.

    All life on earth strive for this goal.
    We as human beings should not exclude ourselves from the life that has been created,evolved, manifested, exists or how anyone wants to label this phenomina. No matter how different.
    We all exist because of the same forces that bind us all.
    Christianity is one of the religions that have manifested to lead everyone to the one understanding.
    Peace and prosperity for all LIFE on earth.
    One universe, One goal. many religions that point the way.



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