As a regular reader of the South African news website, News24, I have become aware of a new type of “conflict” that now exists among South Africans… as if life’s day-to-day challenges aren’t enough to keep everyone busy.
The conflict I am talking about is between South African expats and non-expats in the MyNews24 (letters) section of News24. And at times, it gets downright nasty!
In the past, every now and again, some expat would write a letter talking about their new life outside South Africa. They would touch on the positive aspects of their new life, which would also usually be the exact opposite of the reasons they left South Africa.
Then followed the inevitable comments… some sympathetic to the author, but others… oh boy… according to them, the author is a chicken and a no-good traitor who ran away from South Africa and without whom South Africa is so much better off!
Now News24 seems to have opened the floodgates by openly inviting expats to write about their experiences as expats. They did, and so did the anti-expat commentators!
Out of all this, five groups of people seem to have emerged:
- The expats who have already left South Africa. They feel that South Africa does not currently offer them and their children a viable future due to various reasons. Some left South Africa simply looking for a better future, while others have left with hatred in their hearts due to their personal experiences (perhaps having been victims of crime). Almost all miss some aspects of South Africa though, especially if they have still family living there.
- Expats-to-be: Those who are still in South Africa, but who are in the process of immigrating. Their views on South Africa are pretty much the same as the expats… or else, why bother immigrating?
- Expat-wannabes: Those who share the views of the expats and expats-to-be and want to immigrate, but can’t immigrate for some reason, usually a lack of immigration options or money.
- The Neutrals: They may not be very happy with some aspects of the current South Africa, but they have no immigration plans. They try to be generally positive, or they simply ignore the negative, and hope that things in South Africa will improve. They try to get on with their lives. Expats don’t bother them. They might not agree with the expats, and might say so, but they generally remain courteous.
- Expat-haters: The words say it all. Nothing an expat says is good or worth considering. Expats are the slime of society. South Africa is better off without them, and their new countries are worse off for their presence, never mind that expats usually take some valuable skills along with them. Included in this group are also those who hate white people, plain and simple, and who love Julius Malema.
It is the last group, the expat-haters, that intrigues me.
If you read a letter written by an expat who was asked to, or decided to write about his or her experiences as an expat, what do you expect he or she will say? Will he write about how good he had in South Africa? Maybe (and fair enough, it can’t all be bad), but there will likely be some negative stuff too. They left the country, afterall!
Why all the hate? Why are they so unwilling to acknowledge that all might not be well and damn anyone who says it? Are they perhaps closet-expat-wannabes?
Unfortunately, this is hardly new. Do you remember the "chicken run" songs from the 80's?
I think it is noteworthy to mention that usually people grow from number 5 (Expat-haters) to number 1 (Expats) as time goes on. As someone who actually experienced it, I think I can shed some light on the reasoning and progression between the categories.
When I was in my teens and early twenties (during the "apartheid" years), the quality of living was good and very safe, especially in white neighborhoods. Yes, there was a separation between races, but I do not think the hatred that is surfacing nowadays were so active back then. I was a true patriot, who loved my country and was proud of all her achievements. Every time I learned about a sport star who moved overseas, I was appalled and could not believe that they would turn their backs on the country I love. Do we not sing "Ons sal lewe, ons sal sterwe. Ons vir jou Suid-Afrika!" ……
….Then the changes started to come. We were classified into blocks of "left" and "right" wing. Say what you want, but conservative people warned that by handing over everything to blacks would result in …. well, exactly what is going on now. At the time though, we all believed that it will not be so bad. "We are all adults". "We can make this work".
Gradually I got to a point where I did not care anymore when I heard that someone famous left the country for better opportunities and, dare I say, less discrimination. Transition in South Africa happened at a mixed pace. In some places it was slow and it seemed that things are staying the same. In other places it mademe wonder how we got from "there" to "here".
But, like the frog in the boiling water, you learn to adapt. Every "worse" situation later becomes the new "normal". Crime was slowly increasing, but you just added the burglar bars, then the high fences, later the dogs, the alarm, and finally the armed response unit. You gradually learn to avoid being friendly to strangers and to trust nobody. ….
… The eye-opener for me came in 1997 when I went to visit friends in the UK. Cars get left outside, no 6 foot fences in most places, no burglar bars, and people will be friendly and talk to you on the street. When I returned to South Africa after that vacation, I told my father "This is not the way to live". We should be free, living in peace, and be judged on our skills and productivity, not the color of our skin. I am fully aware of the irony of the latter part of my comment. I started to think "Good for them!" about people who were emigrating. And started to add "If I only had more resources…"
After being turned down for so many jobs and hearing "unfortunately this is an AA position", I started to apply for jobs overseas. It also seemed like it was getting to a point where everyone know someone who either already emigrated, or was thinking about it. The struggle for me was still: What happened to "Ons vir jou Suid-Afrika"? …..
….Then I realized that "my Suid-Afrika" is not mine anymore. Everything that was familiar and near and dear to me was in the process of gradually being taken away and destroyed. I was not allowed to correspond in Afrikaans in my job anymore. All written documentaion had to be in English. Meetings were conducted in English, regardless of the fact that everyone involved spoke Afrikaans. Street names were being changed as well as city and town names. Government services (ALL levels) were deteriorating. It was not safe to drive through Sunnyside after 18:00 anymore. The glamorous malls became a paradise for street vendors and homeless people. Being a Christian with Christian values was not considered to be politically correct. Singing volksliedjies was frowned upon. The South-Africa of my youth was dead and buried….
… Then the opportunity came to leave, and I did in August of 2000. I have not looked back since. Yes, every country has its own struggles, but for me, this is as close to a "normal" life as I remember. No high fences, burglar bars, alarm systems, or big dogs. We go for walks, sometimes even after dark! I do not get to speak Afrikaans at work, but that is okay, this is my new country now (just like the "New South Africa" would have been had I stayed). I treasure every opportunity to speak and read Afrikaans, and I teach our children and my American wife "Hansie Slim", "My Sarie Marais", en "Saai die waatlemoen". …
… My wife makes "bobotie", "koeksisters", "melktert", "pannekoek", and "beskuit" and I make the biltong.
We worship God without fear of offending anyone, and I can get a job because they think I can do the job and not because they have a quote to fill. This is my new life and I am grateful for it. If you are an "Expat-Hater", I will not judge you as I understand where you come from, but allow me my place in the Texas sun also.
Hi Jurie, I really enjoyed your post and yes I to remember a time without high fences although sadly, this comfortable life was not available to all.
I have a different spin on things because I am an English speaking South African. My parents immigrated to SA in the 70's and had me. I only knew SA as my home but back in the apartheid days growing up in Vereeniging us English speaking souties were not embraced by our community. In the end my dad decided to commute to V town from Joburg and we moved. So I must say it was with great optimism that I watched (too young to vote) the 1st democratic elections.
Fast forward to now, did I chose to be here for a better future for my son? Absolutely. Am I concerned about the state of SA and it's crime while I still have family there? you bet you. But I do not believe it is the fault of black people or white people, collectively we made SA what it is today.
It saddens me to have to leave my beautiful country and be treated like a substandard immigrant in another, but I understand it is all for a greater good and a small price to pay. I hope one day that I can have enough knowledge, resource and integrity to be part of SA's solution, what it will be I do not know but it's a dream I hold onto 🙂
there are plenty of countries that are welcoming safe and appreciative of hard working south africans i have met south africans in oz nz canada europe and the usa they are in argentina uraguay chile dubai georgia ireland brazil italy hong kong most i met were making a safer better life do it when you can do it for your kids be strong endure and thrive join groups clubs associations in your new countries and dont look back good luck i never regretted leaving and its been decades now
Whilst South Africa is still very much in my heart and I do go back every opportunity I get I did not leave South Africa because of any political reasons. I left SA because I hate flying although I spend more than a 100,000 miles a year now and prices where horrendous. England is more central for my business that is the main reason for leaving. I returned to SA in 1990 with the hope of staying but we got burgled 5 times in one year (Parktown North). The burglaries was not the issue the lives of my son and wife were in danger because these burglaries happened when my wife walked up the road to fetch my son from school. On hindsight I must say: if ever they were caught I would thank them for waiting until my wife left the house and were gone by the time she returned. God clearly had his hand on my wife and son. We are now living in Austin TX. Thank you Jurie for your interesting reading.