Marijke: Springbok inside a Maple Leaf
Yesterday, I stepped onto a tennis court in Cape Town to represent Canada at the ITF Young Seniors World Tennis Championships.
I couldn’t wait to wear the colours and compete as a proud Canadian. But I am also South African. I wore the green-and-gold of the Springboks and represented South Africa at the first Women’s Rugby World Cup, in Edmonton in 2006.
I sang the South African national anthem with deep, patriotic passion and played rugby for my country as if my life depended on it.
Through my participation in that World Cup, I was given the opportunity to live and work in Canada. Now I have lived there for more than eight years.
I have gained such a deep respect and appreciation for the culture and people of Canada that I wanted to be part of it. After qualifying to represent the Canadian team at the approaching Tennis World Championships in Cape Town, I received support from Tennis Canada and Halifax West MP Geoff Regan's office.
My citizenship application was granted on January 17, 2017. The citizenship process manages to capture some of the most special aspects of what it is to be Canadian. The preparation for the test, which includes Canadian history, culture, sport, as well as a good review of government structure, symbols and geography, all contribute to the realisation that one is about to take a profound step.
The ceremony itself is quite an emotional declaration of allegiance, witnessed by family or friends, which, from that moment, becomes a new part of one's identity. In all this, however, my South African identity was not diminished. I was adopting a new identity in addition to my existing one, not exchanging one for the other. I realise that for many who move to Canada, it may be different.
But, although South Africa is still going through a period of turbulence and transition that frustrates many of its people, I do not want to deny any part of my South African identity. It is the country of my birth, the one which has had the largest influence in shaping who I am today.
The Afrikaans and Zulu languages and cultures are embedded in the very fibres of my being. South Africa is so different from Canada. It is easy to recognise I love it for completely different reasons. I love how safe and regulated Canada is, how incredibly nice its people are, the opportunities ava i - lable to those willing to work and how patient Canadian drivers are. But at times I miss the wild, untameable side of Africa.
I love how spontaneous and unregulated South Africa is at times, the colours of its diverse cultures and the jovial spirit of “ubuntu ” — the African concept of everyone being connected to everyone else.
It is by loving people who have extremely different qualities that one might be able to understand how one could love countries in a similar way.
You arrive at a point where you are ready to show allegiance to two countries and to allow your identity to be defined, in part, by both.
I am incredibly thankful for the privilege of dual citizenship. It was for South Africa that I literally bled and broke bones once, on a rugby field in Edmonton — but it was for Canada that I took to the tennis court in Cape Town yesterday. There is no question of divided loyalties.
I will be a South African Canadian, proudly wearing the Maple Leaf.
- Marijke Nel is technical director of Tennis Nova Scotia and captain of Team Canada (Women’s 45) at ITF Young Seniors World Championships in Cape Town.
Six-time Nova Scotia Open Women’s singles tennis champion, Nel was flyhalf for the first Springbok women’s rugby team at a World Cup (Edmonton, 2006).