On Moving Back to South Africa

A good place to remind yourself to let go and let it be.
A good place to remind yourself to let go and let it be.

When I moved back to South Africa after spending nearly a decade in northern Europe, it was with no small measure of shock that I realized I had forgotten how to live in this country. It wasn’t just the small things like not knowing where to buy stuff or at what age kids here go to school – it was a culture shock which took me entirely by surprise, having longed and yearned for home during most of my time away. In retrospect, what happened was that I lost my tough outer shell.

During those years of living in a place where egalitarianism is the norm; where nobody goes hungry and almost everybody had a roof over their heads, the thick skin you need to live in South Africa had grown soft. I couldn’t cope with the children begging at the traffic lights and the thin women with babies who knocked on the front door asking for food. Once, in Pick n Pay, I found myself behind a woman with two things in her basket – pilchards and rice. That was obviously all she could afford. Yet, she continued to walk up and down the aisles as if, magically, the contents of her wallet would increase the longer she hung around. I had to leave the shop; I couldn’t bear it.

I gave to everyone who asked me. In those early months I parted with vast sums of money. One morning I gave an old man nearly blind with cataracts R500 so that he wouldn’t be evicted from the room he shared with his son. I would stand behind people in queues and pay for all their groceries. I was in despair, and utterly outraged by the wealth surrounding the poverty and the collective blindness everyone down here seemed to practice. I shook my head at the people waving the children away from their 4X4s – as no doubt my friends shook their heads at me, wondering how I was ever going to survive living back in this country.

Then, slowly, I became immunized like everybody else. I started being more selective about who I helped; stopped taking every sob story at face value. One day a man whose groceries I was paying for asked me to hang on a second and dashed off for five minutes, coming back with wine, salmon pate and imported crackers. I hired somebody to clean and look after the girls. Before I knew it I was attending meetings with her grandson’s school principal; buying stationary for her cousin’s child, bankrolling the entire family and – by the way – being taken for the biggest ride. Slowly I started to realise I was behaving like a total imbecile, and if I couldn’t come to grips with my white guilt and accept South Africa for what it was I would be better off living in Perth.

Eventually, I stopped giving to people on the street. I guess I got tired of it – the constant, relentless need and the tales of woe coming at me each time I walked out my front door. And the gaping black hole no amount of R5 coins will ever fill. At first I was horrified by this callous version of myself. Now I’ve made peace with her. There is no other way. Random acts of kindness just don’t work down here. You need to get over yourself and understand where you’re living. The complexity of our socio-political context is impenetrable to foreigners, and you have to have lived here a long time to get it. It’s everything and nothing to do with race and colour. It’s the wild west where dog eats dog and survival of the fittest is the ethos you have to practice, even while you’re acutely aware of the injustices. It’s brutal, and you have no choice but to be as tough as nails.

You make a decision about how you’re going to give, whether of your time or your money, and then you draw the line. You pay people well, care about their families and behave like a decent human being, but you institute boundaries and you stick to them. And, paradoxically, South Africa remains the warmest, friendliest (dare I say ‘happiest’?) country I’ve ever been to, and I’ve been to many. I live in a road with a couple of B&Bs. I’m regularly accosted by tourists who want to tell me how much they love my country and its people – how they’ve never encountered such warmth and generosity of spirit and that they can’t wait to come back. And I have to agree – it’s a crazy place, but it’s beautiful and vibrant and alive. It buzzes with a kind of energy that makes me feel like I can do anything I choose. And what I probably love most of all is the freedom and the open-endedness of life down here; there is something which makes the human spirit sing. A sort of wonder at being alive which Europe – for all its fabulous old buildings – lacks. For reasons I can’t really qualify, it seems to fill people with joy.

So, what I’ve learnt over the past four years is that I can’t save Africa and, frankly, I’ve started to wonder whether it needs my saving. A while back I got a whatsapp from a friend who receives daily words of wisdom and counsel from a sage by the name of Abraham, and it was a message that challenged the way I see this country. It said, what if there is nothing ‘wrong’ with South Africa? What if it simply operates by a different set of standards and norms? What if the ‘problems’ are about us and our perceptions and that there is nothing, in fact, to fix?

Of course I interpret this in my personal paradigm that nothing is random and that this earth realm is the school of hard knocks. We come here for a certain type of experience, and we choose our setting accordingly. No, this doesn’t exempt us from doing the right thing and giving whatever we can, but it does serve as a type of reminder not to take too much to heart; to step back a bit and observe rather than taking everything on as a personal battle. Practice love. Be a good human being. But, it is what it is. It was the a-ha moment I’d been needing all along. You don’t always have to understand things to love them. Sometimes it’s the complexity and the mystery that create the firmest grip on our hearts. We all have different ways of interpreting our truth, but I felt like I ‘got’ it at last. And what a relief to lay down my panga.


231 thoughts on “On Moving Back to South Africa

  1. I think the solution is to give to effective organisations/NPOs who you trust and know are making a positive impact in South Africa. That way you can know you are doing what you can to help make a difference but you don’t need to feel burdened by the fact that you personally aren’t affecting every individual you come into contact with!

  2. Great article. Well written and well done! We returned to Durban in 2011 after 8 years in Christchurch, New Zealand and I am loving being back. There is no place like this crazy, wild, funny, breathtakingly beautiful, warm and friendly country that we call home. There are things that need changing, like unemployment and crime, but I agree that SA will be the poorer for it if we try to turn into into a Europe, a New Zealand or an Australia. SA is different but that’s what we love about it and that’s why nowhere else on earth can really ever be home for us.

  3. yip, good post, I think about moving back but I know that I will find it harder than I expect to. Any place you live, you have to immunise yourself against something, whether it’s the weather or the people or the way they act. I realised that people here aren’t trying ot be offensive, it’s the way they are, they should not be taken personally, there’s nothing wrong with it, and if I ever do get back, I’ll definitely cultivate that attitude, it’s the way it is and it beats living in a wet fridge!

  4. I’m a Canadian that moved to SA nearly 3 years ago and I foster a child here that I’ve known for 5 years. I know his family well and when I first moved here they accosted me with all kinds of requests for various things but I gave myself the boundary that I wanted to help HIM and would give a little here and there to the rest of the family when I could but not so much so that they rely on me. It was hard in the beginning but today we have a mutual understanding and respect and love for one another. It’s tough when you see so much need out there buy I do what I can to teach people to fish instead of giving them one. I love living here, there are many problems that need fixing but there are far more good things that must be left just as they are.

  5. Wonderful, open and honest article. Well written. Thank you for that. I live in the UK but my heart beats to an African drum and always will.

  6. Beautifully written, thank you for sharing. I wish I could place this article in front of my distant, English (British) family – who’ll never understand why we do and say what we do.

  7. Bloody great! I have been living in Germany now for a long time and am getting ready to go home. There is no place like SA and nothing can fill the space, once you leave.
    It is very hard, near impossible to explain SA to Europeans and I hope, that I have not lost the touch.

  8. I really enjoy your writing, Susan. So honest, open and refreshing. I migrated to Sydney from Cape Town 27 years ago. It was tough at first and I missed the vibe of Cape Town, its beauty and its peoples. Now I am blessed and lucky enough to go back to see my parents and family / friends twice a year. My Aussie kids just love Cape Town and they are into the biltong and snoek as soon as we arrive. It has been a great education for them and a real eye opener. They notice the poverty but also how friendly and helpful the people are. They also say that they have never laughed so much in their lives! I know many families with very little, tragic life stories and seen the devastation ‘tik’ has caused in many relationships. But despite all of the trauma and difficulties, they maintain an air of happiness, joviality and positiveness that is rare in people that have been through so much. I too have seen the poverty and the beggars with emaciated children. We help where we can but know that we need to be streetwise to stay safe and not be conned. Sydney is home but Cape Town is where my spirit longs to be. We arrive in Cape Town on New Years Day Day …bring on the snoek braai and some kreef (with a Klippies or two…) and some fishing in Gansbaai. I can smell the sea air and the rooikranz already….Truly blessed to live in two of the great cities of the world.

    1. Amazing comment, Jaime! Thank you so much. So happy you’re happy and settled in that gorgeous city, and still come back loads for your ‘fix.’ You’re going to have the fabbest New Year’s Ever! All the best to you and yours :-)

  9. Beautiful! We have travelled for a year through Africa, and realised, too, that perhaps it just operated differently! Your comment really struck me “it was with no small measure of shock that I realized I had forgotten how to live in this country”. For me, it wasn’t the poverty that struck me … but actually how friendly people are! Everyone talks to you! After more than 10 years in the UK, where tellers carry on their conversation while serving you and neighbours feel nothing to leave you standing in the cold when you have locked yourself out of your house and car … I am struggling to adjust to the helpfulness and kindness of people – and indeed strangers – around me! We have led a for more active social life in the few weeks we have been back than for ages in the UK … and asking strangers for directions doesn’t result in quickened pace as they leave you standing. We have met such amazing people in such a short time. I love it!!

    1. What an awesome comment. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts, Sheelah! Very cool to hear, and I couldn’t agree more. All the best! :-)

      1. Such a good comment! I remember one time when back in SA on business (resident in UK at that time. Think it was 2007?) I drove to the place I had a meeting and the security guard had a wonderful lengthy chat with me (I was hopelessly early cos after how slow it is to drive in London I left an hour to get to my destination. In Johannesburg traffic with ten traffic lanes I was there in ten minutes!)… then the receptionist had a great chat with me… then a random person in the reception chatted to me… THEN someone passing through the office chatted to me, and offered to take me to the person I had to meet, who ALSO had a chat to me! In forty minutes I chatted to five friendly people! When I spoke to friends later that day I said that was more random friendliness than I had had in a year in the UK! It’s just wonderful.

        I must say also though, that I think the North of England is a very different, and far friendlier, story! This is based on London / SE England living!

  10. Excellent! One of the best positive views on life in SA. It doesn’t discuss the dangers that the crime and corruption pose, but it does explain everything else very well. Excellent. I think if you can find a good NGO or a good church outreach program that does good work, then donate to them and no one else.

  11. I’m lucky enough to be working with an NGO in KZN. We work with a group of children who are growing up in some tough circumstances. What I’ve realized is that even the smallest contribution eg. a pair of school shoes makes a huge impact or even just donate time to baking some cup cakes for a soup kitchen. I love your blog and I love South Africa.

  12. You certainly do put things in perspective. However, I really cannot accept the notion that it is just a ‘different sort of reality’ and doesn’t need fixing. Your writing is excellent and I would definitely like to visit your blog on a regular basis. Jenni Jankes Johannesburg South Africa.
    PS I spent this morning in Braamfontein ‘pretending’ I was a tourist……..what a fabulous, friendly, interesting and diverse country I visited!! :)

  13. Interesting :) Nicely put… Born and raised in KZN and CPT… living in London now. Toying with the idea of heading home. It is what it is and you do what you have to at times. But… there’s nothing like those beaches… and the vibe :)

  14. Great article, extremely insightful. I often wonder if the reason that people in Denmark, Norway etc. constantly rank the highest in ‘Happiness” rankings and surveys is because they think they are expected to be happy. And us South Africans rank lower because we believe the grass is greener everywhere else and we assume we must be unhappier. As you say, perhaps South Africa is perfect by it’s on set of standards and we are indeed the happiest country.

  15. You have all now completely made me homesick. I have been in the USA for almost 13 years, after moving here when I was only 18. I have only been able to go home twice since, and every time I did go back, it also struck me that there is just no place like home. The warmness and the natural hospitality that most South Africans exude, is just something I have not found in my adopted country. Hopefully I will be able to show my kids someday where their mom is from.

  16. “Random acts of kindness just don’t work down here”

    “So, what I’ve learnt over the past four years is that I can’t save Africa and, frankly, I’ve started to wonder whether it needs my saving.”

    “What if the ‘problems’ are about us and our perceptions and that there is nothing, in fact, to fix?”

    It’s thinking like this, the apex of Western individualism and a supreme attempt to justify our comfort, that makes articles like these such an inditement against the plight for justice and the poor, in all it’s forms.

    What nonsense.

    1. I agree with Daniel, and urge you to put a disclaimer somewhere to remind the audience that you speak only from the perspective of a privileged white south African, or you would certainly not endorse comments like “what if there is nothing ‘wrong’ with South Africa? What if it simply operates by a different set of standards and norms? What if the ‘problems’ are about us and our perceptions and that there is nothing, in fact, to fix?” I’m a white Zimbabwean returned to Harare recently after a decade in grey Europe too, but we must be sure that our ‘making peace with white guilt’ is not actually ‘accepting social injustices’.

      1. “It’s the wild west where dog eats dog and survival of the fittest is the ethos you have to practice, even while you’re acutely aware of the injustices.” This is the line that bothered me most here. Seeing it as “survival of the fittest” should only be applicable if everyone started at the same starting line, on an equal playing field. The reality is that privileged white South Africans start off far, far ahead of most blacks. It’s easy to win at “survival of the fittest” if you are the one who starts with a huge built-in advantage.

  17. No matter where we live, the problems of South Africa as described in this insightful post will still be there. Awareness, accountability and involvement may help.

  18. Great honest article. Thank you for sharing your experience.
    I found the resolution so disturbing though. I can’t believe it. But then again I wasn’t born in white privilege so I obviously won’t get it.

    This poverty was designed to be this way and so was the wealth of those who are wealthy it was designed to be so. This is not the way things are to be or remain.

    1. I agree with Siki and refer to my earlier comment about your perspective being an engagingly expressed and interesting but narrow and privileged one!

  19. I stay between UK and South Africa – I am in the UK at the moment just read your article – it really lifted my spirit – why do we have to try and change the world – South Africa is as it is – vibrant, warm people, wide open spaces you can drive on forever – taxis driving in the yellow lines stopping anywhere to pick up a passenger – and of course the heart beat of Africa that keeps calling you back home

  20. I am personally living in Australia at the time reading this. It pains me to think that nothing has changed since I left, maybe even got worse. Sadly there will always be things I long back for, but what you have described was one of my reasons for leaving – the fact that there was not enough money in my bank account for all the people I wanted to help. I felt sick about the poverty, but also sick about how blaze people can be if you want to help them. I wanted to give my domestic worker a sewing machine and teach her to sew. She didn’t want it, I desperately tried to give her an extra source of income……..

  21. Let’s make it happen… we all love this country, we all know the problems that face our country but let’s focus on making positive change. Let’s grow this beautiful home of ours we all love & call South Africa (whether you are living here or abroad!) … My brief story below:

    My girlfriend & I lived in London for 4 years. We have been home for nearly 8 years & I also literally kissed the ground when I landed at OR. I never knew it at the time but I was completely home sick and was totally just putting it out of my mind. I heard many a Saffa living in London slatting SA, it made me sad to say the least. I also thought I would never get a job back in SA but I never gave up & eventually my break came. The dolly & I are now happily married (8 years) and have 2 beautiful kids & another one on the way. Life is sweet … the scent of spring Jasmine in the air is your reminder to brace yourself for a long hot summer ahead (I forget how many months?) … with lots of braais, pool parties, ridiculously good red wine (serious value), rugby, suntanning & just heaps of fun! Don’t get me wrong, I had a blast overseas, travelled to over 50 countries & had a lot of fun but I have never lived or travelled in such a beautiful & charming county like our home SA.

    I have just spent 1 week in Kruger with my old man, we saw the big 5, honey badger, caracal eating a scrub hare, hyena, identified 97 bird types, braai’d, drank beer & chilled out. Kruger can only be described as Gods paradise. No doubt, the camps could be run better, there seems to be a lot of incompetent management & I’m sure there is a lot of corruption going within Kruger. Tenders going to incompetent suppliers, back hands & off course who knows how deep the Rhino poaching situation runs within SANPARKS? We can sit back & complain, or we can all do something about it. I recently had the privilege of being part of a team that raised R2.2m for RAGE (Rhino Action Group Effort – Anti Poaching organisation) & 2 environmental education organisations. It was truly a special “feel good” day, we were all proud. My point is … don’t lie down, don’t be negative, come up with ideas to improve this place … FOLLOW THROUGH. Bully your boss to do good, run charities, start small businesses (even if they just break even to just create employment), start positive initiatives in whatever part of society or economy you may be in. Keep your chin up, enjoy the blessings we have in SA & try improve where we are going wrong. TIA but Africa’s time will come … the wheel is turning! Check out the charity day link … pretty cool! http://events.rmbms.co.za/movie.html

    I have the luxury of having the next 2 months off with the family. We’ll be travelling from JHB to Plett, to Addo Elephant park, up the Wild Coast all the way up to Umhlanga & back to JHB. I can’t really think of anything better! Before I go though, I’m joining a few buggers this Saturday for a fathers camp out in my mates garden (which is the size Kruger). No wives allowed, just cozzies & slops. The kids can’t wait but you should see the dads!!! What a lekker life … what a lekker country… PROUDLY SOUTH AFRICAN.

    O ja, before i forget… a baby 1m Black Mamba tried to strike my ankle coming out of my bungalow in Satara Camp at 5:40am on Monday morning … luckily … it never managed to bite me so I live to tell the tale.


    FCUK I love this place!!!

  22. Brilliant Susan….. this hits the nail full square on the head and almost exactly mirrors my experience since coming down here after marrying a Capetonian in 2007!! I was Mr Gullible or was that maybe Mr Guilty for a good year after arriving and parted with lots of cash, goods and time but have now become much more selective. I’ll still help but I won’t let people take the piss out of my generous nature! I come from Scotland which is an amazing place but hell yeah I love South Africa…… what a place!!!

  23. Wow! Thank you for writing this. I am a United States Peace Corps Volunteer in rural SA and this just put so much into perspective for me and shall be called upon for perseverance in future days! Many thanks!

  24. I love this article! I am young and about a year into our marriage, hubby and I came up with this great idea to go and discover life abroad. So we sold everything and bought our one way ticket! One side of the family cheered us on as were the first ones who could “escape” this horror country and informed us “that when you ever decide to come back, just drink of glass of water and tell yourself, there is no safe water in my home country due to the government.” The other side of the family wished us good luck with our adventure, but secretly kept my wedding gifts that I ordered to be given to charity in my last chance to safe this country. Today, I drink the tap water out of my wedding gift glass, happy as can be and proudly South African. There is no place like home and with saying that, I accept everything about my beloved country!

  25. Living in Finland at Moment where its safe and cold.But I must be honest I do miss the warmth and the crime from time to time.

  26. A great article :D One thing I have learned in life is that it is not my job to fix everyone or even everything else. We all here together in this truly amazing country to learn from each other. Some of those lessons are easy and some of them are very hard but they are my lessons and I know that most of them are about perceptions and values…

  27. What I find difficult to comprehend, is how people living in ‘wealthy’ countries like the USA, Australia, Europe etc. fail to realise that THEIR wealth and lifestyle is just as dependent on the exploitation of the poor as the lifestyles of middle class South Africans’ are? Sure, the shacks may be 5000 miles away from your condo. But they helped build the systems that ALLOW you to live in the condo and earn $120000pa.

    You cannot change what you don’t acknowledge, but in the vast majority of ‘wealthy’ countries there is NO acknowledgment that their wealth is a direct historical, and continued present-day, result of exploiting others and Africans most of all.

    I found a quote in the recent, astonishingly good, book AMERICANAH striking: “The wind blowing across the British Isles was odorous with fear of asylum seekers, infecting everybody with the panic of impending doom, and so articles were written and read, simply and stridently, as though the writers lived in a world in which the present was unconnected to the past, and they had never considered this to be the normal course of history: the influx into Britain of black and brown people from the countries created by Britain. Yet he understood. It had to be comforting, this denial of history.”

    For that reason, I’m MUCH happier living in SA than I was Europe or America. Here there is an honesty to my privilege because the disparities are not hidden behind a geographic curtain. That forces an acknowledgement – and therein is the opportunity to change things. I cannot change everything, as you say, but I CAN (for eg) make sure my made earns a living wage, and her children (if willing, of course) are educated. I CAN give of time and expertise to the disadvantaged. I CAN VOLUNTEER. I CAN make some difference- which I’m FAR more conscious to do because I live in this incomparably wonderful nation.

    1. Emma ‘wealthy’ nations are aware, and increasingly so, that wealth is most often built on the backs of poorer less educated members of society – at home and abroad. If you think that countries like the USA, UK and Australia etc do not have marginalised citizens (through economic and/or educational disadvantage) within their own borders you are deluded – it was ever thus. I pay taxes to provide for those less fortunate than myself relatively safe in the knowledge that checks and balances in handling taxpayers money help keep our government honest. (Some of my tax dollars go toward local social services as well as foreign aid.) I and many I know don’t give to charities because of ‘guilt’, we give because we have money and time to give. Everyone as individuals should, and many do no doubt, always strive to make more discerning choices when using the power of their ‘spend’ to effect ethical change. Every little bit counts.

      [Don’t pat yourself on the back too hard regarding your self-proclaimed ‘altruism’ towards your maid. Here ‘maids’ (male or female) in full-time employ in a household or those working for housekeeping businesses are paid the legislated minimum wage or above plus overtime. Ask yourself, genuinely, whether you are paying your maid a fair wage in the first instance? Ask yourself, how much of your ego is invested in ‘helping’ your maid educate her family? Why not just include the money it takes to help educate her family as part of her wages in the first instance and butt out? Enable her to make her own choices.There’s a huge difference between providing support & advice and interfering. I’m not being ‘politically correct, just pointing out that your maid is a grown-up – if she looks after your children I assume you deem her very capable and trustworthy? Quite possibly she has far more ‘life experience’ and hunger to improve her own families lot in life than you can even begin to imagine. (Lacking the advantage of education does not equate to stupid.) How would you/your family’s breadwinner feel if your employer had a ‘monetary controlled say’ over decisions that should be yours to make regarding your family? Grateful? I doubt it. Resentful? Quite possibly.]

      1. Dear SP

        I’ve almost NEVER known a foreigner to acknowledge, honestly, that the wealth of their nation is built on the backs of the other nations they exploit. Highly educated liberal people sometimes do, yes, but typical people in those nations? They defend their wealth and privilege as ‘obviously’ their nations’ due. America is rich because it is ‘hard working and innovative’, England is wealthy because it was ‘industrious’, Australia because it is ‘enterprising’ (btw, I have lived in all 3 of these countries, and have dual nationality).

        Is that really the main picture? Or is it because the greatest historical exploitation the world has ever seen stole money and resources from Africa (etc) and put it in those nations’ pockets. There is no sincere sign of ANY of these nations being willing to make restitution for that, and the bold fact is that the computers which both you and I are typing on have been purchased out of that economic fabric – we as the privileged, educated middle class of the world benefit from that historical exploitation. Like it or not, the world is imbalanced – and if you live in one of those ‘wealthy’ countries your taxes, spending etc. is vastly less likely to correct that imbalance than people in the countries where this exploitation took, and continues to take, place.

        Obviously many people in South Africa take horrible advantage of oters, and what is worse about how they do it is that the advantage is VISIBLY taken, BUT almost everyone in foreign wealthy states takes advantage constantly and – albeit that they do so invisibly due to geographic distance – the advantage they take in a consumerist culture is often all the greater.

        In terms of how I chose to support my maid? YES it is a living wage (higher than that of cleaners at my previous place of employment in England). Who does not provide that? Only seriously exploitative people. Other support includes high-end medical aid and medical expenses, all transport paid for- over and above the living wage, incidental support when unusual things arise, education of children up to and including Tertiary level etc etc.

        As for the idea of increasing her salary rather than providing fees – I personally don’t like that. Her wage, as I say, is adequate for her to pay for schooling independently if she likes – but the additional support I am prepared to offer only applies if a particular child wishes to learn. I do not prescribe which University or School they are then ‘permitted’ to go to, that is her / their choice.

        Naturally, though, I am prepared to help in whatever process needs to happen for them to get into whichever school they may choose. Tragically the system initially instated under the wicked colonial system -which we the global middle class continue to benefit from and which is globally perpetuated by these nations in service of their economic interests – means that I am far more able to make a Rondebosch or Nombulelo or Fourways or Rhodes or UCT (or whatever they’d like) happen.

  28. Thank you so much. I rad it with. Tear in my eye. I love being Sourh African. I love the way I think. It’s different to Europeans. I have lived in England for 14 years. Married to an English girl and have two English daughters. None of them understand the tear in my eye or the smile on my face when I see things about SA. I know what it means when you hear the term “this is Africa.”
    I live in England . It has given me a good life and I am settled. Security. Job etc. Do I long for the things I did in SA. My childhood. Yes.

    I call England home now. But when I see pictures and read articles like yours, I realise. It never will be. My heart beats to an African drum, my home will always be there. Proudly South African.

  29. Warm and real. I’m in LA but am thinking of returning to the mountain and the mother city, at least semi permanently. You give good food for thought to salt the many pulls and tugs in my mind.

  30. Having lived in NZ for some time I realized I was “dying”. There was a part of me that never was content , never fore filled , never happy , never alive .My wife and I returned to SA and soon realized what we had missed and that we had left for the wrong reasons in the first place . Yes , there are problems back here , yes there is poverty ,yes there is corruption , yes there is crime , yes there is a deteriorating education system, all are problems that can be remedied with the right party in power . I can happily live with this . What we have in this country is a world within our country . We have such beauty in the landscape , we have a life style here you will battle to find overseas , you have a freedom not found overseas , you have different cultures , different foods , different people . You have weather patterns most of the world could only wish for , you have a nation wanting to move forward and create and even greater country , you have an sport crazy country , a outdoor country , a party country , a country which unless you understand and accept , will battle to live in . This is Africa !! A continent so vast that America , China , India , Mexico could easily fit in and there would still be space over . This is my continent , my country and where I choose to live . This is South Africa . I LOVE IT !!!!

    1. STEVE! come over here so I can kiss you. I SO understand what you mean about dying. I actually went to see a healer-type dude before I left Sweden and he said to me, ‘if you don’t get out of here you are going to get sick.’ I don’t mean to diss Sweden – that country was so good to me, and I will always feel immense gratitude for the time I spent there – and love and longing for it – but I believe every country has an energy of sorts. It either resonates with yours or it doesn’t. I feel oddly out of sorts when I’m there – dizzy, and I get strange allergies. The second I’m back on African soil I’m fine. Bizarre. I’m so happy you’ve had this epiphany. I’ve never felt calmer or more at peace knowing that I am where I belong, and nothing will take me away again. Viva, our beautiful land.

  31. Oooh I am so homesick after reading the above article and comments. I have lived in Australia for 33 years… but at heart I am South African and always will be.

  32. What a beautiful, touching article. I returned to South Africa two years ago, after living in the UK and the Virgin Islands for 15 years. When I came back I had also lost my “tough outer shell”. My children now tell me off when I don’t give to a beggar on the streets, and I have to explain to them that I can’t give to everyone. One day they will understand, but I love their compassion and generosity, even though it’s Mum’s money they want to give ;-) When I returned, I started a Montessori classroom and began teaching Montessori in the nearby township and have been successful in teaching and training teachers in the method. The result is that the standard of education has drastically improved. Along the way I have also seen my soft outer shell grow a little tougher, and I admire your honesty in all that you wrote. It gave me goosebumps to see the correlation. But equally I have made some beautiful new friends along the way. Friends of a different culture and colour, but who love and give back to me (as much as they can). I understand the trials and tribulations that come with living in a shack, without running water or electricity. I see children arrive at class in the mornings without having had anything to eat, covered in sores from sleeping on a mattress on the floor, alongside the flea-riddled dog. In the beginning I wanted to cry for them and give them the shirt off my back. Now, I understand that they don’t feel sorry for themselves … sadly there is little pride when it comes to accepting a meal from a soup kitchen in order to survive. And sometimes one has to fight to survive. But with education we can make a difference. I am proud to be part of the diversity, and I won’t rest on my laurels when it comes to change.

  33. A privilege to read. I have to try and curb my ‘bleeding heart’ too as my family calls it. I help where I can and feel sad sometimes too – you cant fix everything but you can be a good person, it goes a long way xx

  34. Insightful article. So glad that South Africans are coming back! I have never left, but that doesn’t make living with our realities any easier. I suppose one just has to stay in touch with the reality that is South Africa ; do what you can do to help ; and try not to become too cynical. It really is a special place. I have travelled to USA , Britain and Europe, but nothing compares.

  35. Absolutely stunning article!!! There are most certainly huge challenges but it’s home and it’s our own amazing rainbow nation!

  36. It’s an interesting theme with South African white’s, they either have to justify staying, leaving, or coming back more than any other nation in the world despite the irrelevant population size!Why?
    If “supply and demand” are the ultimate leveller in this world and the Greater Caucasian world(mentioned for obvious reasons) are not exactly causing immigration problems with the relevant SA
    immigration departments then surely this tells us that “home is where the heart is” regardless of it being in the middle of the Sahara or Outer Siberia.The only problem with this in the case of SA is
    that, very much like an abused woman, the heart can also be in the wrong place for the wrong reason!Having said that I commend the people that acknowledge this and have a “c’est la vie” outlook but really, wherever you live, is what it is, serves a purpose, need not be compared to where other’s live, like us South African’s, in particular, are in the habit of doing.We cannot all live here, there, wherever at the same time, so can we just not get on with living without justifying, or trying to make others jealous of, where we live!?Step out outside, and have a look back in, and this is really what it is starting to look and sound like!Change the topic at braai’s and dinner parties or is it difficult to do so without being bored because the dishes don’t have to washed by the hosts or guests!?Lets get a life and move on like 99.999% of the real world do, yip, that’s how small and insignificant we are in comparison, so lest we forget, we are nothing special folks despite how you you try to up sell it.So you moved back to SA, Wow, bully for you, that’s like coming home to Mom’s home cooked roast every Sunday lunch when I know people who have left SA to move back to smoggy old UK, “cabin feverish” Madeira island or even “Banana republic” in comparison, Mozambique!Getting the point!?

  37. Great article – South Africa is an amazing place that cannot put put in words, it has to be experienced thats for sure .
    I miss SA and family. Reading everyone’s thoughts gives me so many mixed emotions. Part of me wants to go back and part of me wants to find a better place. We left in 2009 and have still not found our settling spot – being older it has been a real challenge to be accepted into the job market in USA and now I shall try UK and learn to adapt to the weather. Even if I wanted to come back I would have to leave mu Husband behind because sadly we are victims of the crime in that country and it has scarred him for life :( I always remember my brother in law saying do not wait until ‘it’ happens to you. We all read stories and close our minds to this until it’s ‘your’ day.When people say but there is crime everywhere i just sigh because they have no idea of the level of crime, even when I tell them to read the stats. I will still admit that with all the challenges on my journey I wonder if I could come back and learn to overcome that fear….

  38. I think your article is brilliant and exactly how I feel when I go back to SA every year. However, I would rather keep my soft shell than develop another hard one.

  39. I sent this article to a few friends who sent varied opinions back on it: 1. ” Charity begins at home” 2. “Well so glad that she is finally ok with corruption, inefficiency, lack of healthcare and education, superstition, cruelty to animals, abuse to women and children in the name of patriarchy, environmental ignorance and neglect, laziness and lack of work ethic, primitive acts of violence instead of civilised consultation, etc etc. what a load of crap!!”
    3. “We know all these things are happening because they are reported more often than in “the good old days” of apartheid, to which this person is no doubt referring. My uncle was Chief Whip for the opposition for years in the Nationalist glory days, and along with working for a DP MP in the Mooi River Constituency in the 1980’s, I learnt an awful lot of what was happening in our country before 1994, and it was a heart-breaking time for many people in SA. When Mandela was released the country was broke in no uncertain terms, and while I certainly don’t condone what is going on, I think this person is probably living a pretty good life here regardless of everything around him/her. Instead of moaning non-stop, they could try looking at so much that is good and help to make life better for the less fortunate people. SA is a wonderful country and despite all our problems I certainly would’nt choose to live anywhere else believe me.”

  40. Reblogged this on Nunleys in Africa and commented:
    Sometimes I come across a article that resonates. I don’t know much about this person but a lot of what they wrote is very true. God does asks us to get off our donkey and help but even the good samaritan only focused on one person at a time. Andy Stanley said recently that we should do for one what wish we could do for everyone. Then hopefully others will see and do the same.

  41. Lovely article! But I think it misses the reality a bit! The crime is violent in SA and the everyday dangers for people unfortunately outweigh all the other good! And if ones safety isn’t the most important then what’s the point?

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