On Angry South African Expats

What I’ve come to realise, over the past few weeks, is that there can be no angrier, more unreasonable person on the planet than the South Africa expat who is told that the country has not gone up in flames (yet) and that we actually spend a lot of time camping, hiking, hanging out on the beach and drinking very nice, inexpensive wine on our expansive lawns in the sunshine while somebody else does the ironing. I think it is fair to say that a goaded bull with a punctured testicle being shown 42 red flags simultaneously could not be more enraged than the (ex) South African who sold up, spent all their money on relocating their family to Wellington before the Swart Gevaar put a torch to the entire country only to find that it’s not quite the utopia they imagined and that their life is actually kakker than before.

When I wrote On Moving Back to South Africa I really did it for myself. It was a way of coming to terms with my own feelings, and trying to make sense of this country I choose to call home. Never in my wildest imaginings did I think it would get over 40 000 views in the first few weeks, get posted and re-posted all over the world, appear on the official South African Homecoming Revolution website and that I would get inundated with comments, thoughts and opinions. And while most, by far, have been extremely positive and a few have politely but vehemently disagreed, there is a small contingency who were made so cross by my allegations that South Africa is still a rather nice place to live out ones days I could practically see the spittle flying from their mouths as they did Rumpelstiltskin dances of rage and shouted abuse at me from their couches in Queensland.

And it’s a curious thing, because if you’re really, really happy in your new home abroad and you’re really, really pleased to have left this cesspit of hell, why would you care enough to get so emotional? All that their comments told me (which were, unfortunately, verging on abusive so I had to trash them) is that they feel deeply conflicted about their decision to leave, and that my story of settling well and loving what this country has to offer seriously messes with their heads. And I can understand that – it must be a fuck up of note to have convinced yourself that we were on the verge of apocalypse and that leaving was the only sensible option only to come back in December and find that your friends are doing very nicely in their holiday houses in Onrus, rump steak costs next to nothing and Woolworths dips keep getting better.

I have friends who left for Canada a while back and come back every summer, and their confusion is tangible. Because it’s the same old place it ever was. Even with that mad bastard JZ in power. We still go for picnics on Clifton 4th; hang out on the café strip; drink bubbly and watch the sunset; swim in our pools; have lekker braais. The story they had to tell themselves (and keep telling themselves and everyone who’ll listen) about why they left the country they loved gets a bit frayed at the edges when their buddies invite them over for fresh kreef and the kids have a jol being outdoors all day and half the night and Spur sauce still tastes good on everything. I’m not saying this country doesn’t have serryass problems, but for now it’s the same old place and sheesh, you have a cool life.

And neither am I saying that some people don’t leave South Africa happily and settle well and never look back, but they aren’t the ones writing me cross letters. And I feel for them, I really do. For me, leaving South Africa permanently would break my heart. Maybe their hearts got a bit broken and the only way they know how to deal is by running the country down and calling those of us who still live here – or, god forbid, came back – names. A writer whose name I forget once said in a novel, ‘Africa is not easily forsaken by her children.’ I never forgot those words. For whatever reason, this country gets under your skin. It holds you in its grip, and I see a kind of emotional attachment I haven’t witnessed in any other place.

A journalist friend of mine went to Australia to interview South African expats, and many had had to undergo some kind of therapy in order to come to terms with leaving. You hear of South Africans going down on their bended knees and kissing the tarmac when they get off the plane. I did it myself when we moved back permanently. Maybe it’s because our country has suffered so much, and we have witnessed its turmoil and anguish and then danced in its (rather short-lived) victories. Or maybe it’s something else; an intangible, indefinable quality that inspires this deep love and reverence.

So, I say this to the expats who need to sound off and be haters in order to justify their choices: let us love our country if that is what makes sense to us. We don’t yell at you and accuse you of abandoning ship because you’re living in Maida Vale. We are happy that you have homes in London because now we have somewhere to stay when we go overseas with our tragic Rands. You made a choice to go, like we made a choice to stay. No amount of shouting is going to convince us that we’re deluded. We read the papers; we get it. You don’t have to point out crime stats to us. For better or for worse, we have made peace with our decision, as you are going to have to make peace with yours.

And the thing is this: you talk about not being ‘free’ in South Africa. I lived in Sweden for eight years and as I ventured out, day after day, under a low-hanging grey sky to take my children to school in a gloomy, high-rise building where everybody I encountered seemed chronically depressed, that is when I felt unfree. Where there were so many rules I was afraid to do anything; where the weather was so crap we spent our lives watching TV, and where everybody lives for the end of the year so that they can get the hell out and feel like they’re alive. Now, I feel alive every single day. And it’s freaking awesome. A moment of shameless sentimentality, but I love this so much. And, like old Thabs says, today it feels good to be an African.

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554 thoughts on “On Angry South African Expats

  1. As an expat who left Africa (from my beloved Botswana) 15 years ago to search for economic security and greater opportunities for my South African born kids The only contact I have now with South Africans are the Facebook friends. Some, like me are living in the world while others are still in SA – I can say unequivocally that the only South Africans who are moaning about the country are the ones still there – “plaasmoerder”, Zuma, Corruption, Ineffieciency, erratic electricity supply, lazy maids, useless work force, trade unions, the exchange rate, slow police responses, break ins blah blah blah blah – the only Angry South Africans i here from are the ones still living there – they are taking time adjusting to the idea that their country is and always has been a 3rd World country. I can promise you that the South Africans I meet face to face out in the Global village are positive and cheerful, and usually grateful for the opportunities grasped.

  2. Oh I love your blogs Susan and thank The Lord I found this blog before I headed to total melt down here in the UK. We have made the decision a few months to leave the UK next year and head home after 10years away. With 3 young girls in tow. I’ve never encountered more negative attitude by other expat about our decision to return. Moving to the moon would have been accepted more I feel. I know there are problems in SA but I’m not free here and I don’t think I can take another smelly indoor soft play centre this winter. Yes I’ve had great summer holidays in Europe by its the Spirit of Africa I constant yearn for Kuk and all.

  3. So well said! Ek en my man bly al 7 jaar in London, en mensig ek LOVE hierdie stad. Hier is soveel om te doen, om te sien, om te beleef, ons is nooit verveeld nie. En gelukkig bly ons naby `n woud, want ons love die outdoors net so baie soos die stad. En ja, dis absoluut great om op die (goedkoop) vliegtuig te spring en binne 2 ure is jy in Italie of Portugal. En ja, die weer is moerse crap, maar ons gaan nie dood nie, jy leer om daarrondom te werk.
    MAAR, niks, absoluut niks kan kom by Suid-Afrika nie. “Africa is not easily forsaken by her children” – ek love dit; dit is so so waar. SA is in jou hart, in jou siel, in jou bene, in jou menswees, hoe jy dink, hoe jy jouself express… Dis in jou hele wese. Dis `n bond wat niks of niemand kan breek of wegvat van jou nie. En ek is so dankbaar daarvoor.
    Daarom sien ek ongelooooooflik baie uit om permanent terug te keer in 2015! (my man het gevra ons moet asb net bly tot na die World Cup rugby ;)

    Ek het wraggies eers jou (awesome) blog vanoggend ontdek. And what a little treasure. Hou so aan, jy skryf briljant, mens kan relate met basies alles, ek kan lekker lag (al is dit soms sommer net oor ons eie wit belaglikheid) en dit is baie inspirerend. Ek sal dit sommer wil versprei aan die res v d wereld en se, kyk! lees! dis ons land die! en dis hoe ons dink die!
    Bottom line – ek sal trots wees om hierdie blog vir my internasionale vriende aan te beveel.

    p.s. en ja jy kan maar lag vir my weird email adres haha ;) – ek het al by menigde SA-ners aan hierdie kant (insl my man) gehoor ek moet dit verander om meer “internasionaal aanvaarbaar en leesbaar” te wees… blah blah blah. Nee. Dis Afrikaans, dis Suid-Afrikaans, en ek is moerse trots daarop en verteenwoordig sommer `n stukkie v SA vir my lol!

  4. So well said! Ek en my man bly al 7 jaar in London, en mensig ek LOVE hierdie stad. Hier is soveel om te doen, om te sien, om te beleef, ons is nooit verveeld nie. En gelukkig bly ons naby `n woud, want ons love die outdoors net so baie soos die stad. En ja, dis absoluut great om op die (goedkoop) vliegtuig te spring en binne 2 ure is jy in Italie of Portugal. En ja, die weer is moerse crap, maar ons gaan nie dood nie, jy leer om daarrondom te werk.
    MAAR, niks, absoluut niks kan kom by Suid-Afrika nie. “Africa is not easily forsaken by her children” – ek love dit; dit is so so waar. SA is in jou hart, in jou siel, in jou bene, in jou menswees, hoe jy dink, hoe jy jouself express… Dis in jou hele wese. Dis `n bond wat niks of niemand kan breek of wegvat van jou nie. En ek is so dankbaar daarvoor.
    Daarom sien ek ongelooooooflik baie uit om permanent terug te keer in 2015! (my man het gevra ons moet asb net bly tot na die World Cup rugby ;)

    Ek het wraggies eers jou (awesome) blog vanoggend ontdek. And what a little treasure. Hou so aan, jy skryf briljant, ‘n mens (lees “ek”) kan relate met basies alles, ek kan lekker lag (al is dit soms sommer net oor ons eie wit belaglikheid) en dit is net overall baie inspirerend.
    Bottom line – ek sal trots wees om hierdie blog vir my internasionale vriende aan te beveel.

  5. Hi Susan, I have been thinking, and it hurt !
    Why not start a blog with the theme, “lets all SA’s get together wherever in the world and build our name as a brilliant nation”
    Leaving out talk of those who left are naysayers and those who stayed or returned are Yeahsayers.
    Whether you like it or not we are a divided nation post apartheid. My wife’s large family has been split up since 1994 and now scattered around the work only to meet every few years. This is a terrible thing to watch unfold and has no merits attached .
    Write a blog to unite us….c’mon , and make it as good as your others :)

  6. Thank you Susan for getting ‘authentic’ loyal South Africans talking. Really good to see outright and outspoken politically incorrect honesty. It brings us together in many ways.

    Thank you David Bernhadi…like the way you write :)

    Stretch, yep, this lot may have filled their pockets, but I was very pleased indeed to hear today on the business news that JZ has frozen ALL the govt officials credit cards. Its one small step in the right direction. My bet is still on SA, give a few years .
    As for where you live, haven’t you heard, they’re bankrupt and cant pay their debt. haha
    Doesn’t matter the numbers Stretch, I would still not want to be a ‘dead’ statistic. Also, your adopted govt do it to others, while you so smugly claim to be safe/r. Its disgusting!

  7. I was in England for 3 years and the reports of what was happening back home made me want to never come back. When I did get home to Cape Town I found the place to be very different from the way it was described by expats. Ironically, I had more stuff stolen from me in UK in 3 years than I did in Cape Town in 20. Yes, South Africa has its issues, but it’s still in very good condition, and no country is perfect.

  8. mmmmm funny how those who have chosen not to leave are so bitter about those who have and take every opportunity to tell the expats how amazing SA is. If that was true, we would all still be there. I am happy that I can walk down the street without feeling scared. If I loose my wallet at the mall it is handed into the helpdesk – intact! You don’t have to be wealthy to be able to be safe and live well, for your kids to get a decent education. Sure, there is crime and it is not a perfect world, but my kids and grandkids will have a future in a first world country and if I have to sacrifice my BMW and champagne at sunset on Clifton’s 4th because I have spent money on immigration, it is a very small price to pay for a much bigger picture. Yes, SA is a wonderful place, but there are a lot of other wonderful places on this planet, so put on your big girl panties and get over yourselves!

    1. Well put Anne!!

      The key take away from this article and all the comments should be that we are all capable of making our own decisions (for whatever reason) and they should be respected.

  9. I am an expat living in the DR Congo….I came here for a geat work opportunity and no other reason. I loved SA and had no problem with the changes, in fact seriously supported the end to apartheid.Having said that, life here in congo is not nearly what the rest of the world thinks….we are not afraid of being chopped up in our beds at night. Here the people are poor, but truly free…there is no crime in the streets as in JHB, no racism, all people just get along and try to make a living. I am enjoying living in “deepest darkest Africa” and making a contribution to improving the quality of life for people here.My contribution is appreciated here while it is not wanted in SA just because i am white, so i will stay here. Eventually though, I will return to SA and the juicy steers burgers and woolies goodies.

  10. What is “disgusting” is the bitterness so clearly evident from the tone of your response, Trisha – “David” also had some comments on my observations and although his perceptions are rosier than mine, he chose a polite and adult approach to his rejoinder. I have many family and friends in the Gauteng area who daily “tell it like it is” in our communications, or on Facebook. They live where the government live and not in the scenic Cape Town bubble (my sister and family live in Hout Bay, incidentally and we were both born and raised in the Mother City). Not a few family and friends in the Gauteng vicinity have been held at gunpoint (some multiple times), car jacked or subject to home invasion…tell me again how this favourably compares to the first or second worlds, socially speaking ?

    Regarding Zuma…how about HIS credit card? I’m sure you’re aware that the overblown extravagance of Nkandla, fully paid by the SA taxpayer, has darker implications – heli pad, barracks and other amenities consistent with a dictator’s bunker…why? As for Malema…you better hope he obtains no greater traction with the “electorate” in the coming elections…in his own words, “skiet die boer”. No smoke without fire…

    As for my “adopted government” I am waiting with anticipation for the train-wreck of a White House occupancy we currently have, to finally implode and vanish in ignominy – this world class buffoon and his cronies, have racked up more debt in five years on his own than his predecessors combined – but that’s another conversation…

    In conclusion, my advice is to extract your head from the sand, head for the “Mug And Bean” and down several stiff espressos…’nuff said!

  11. What lovely readying your posts have made-just when I was feeling quite homesick your blog has certainly lightened the mood :) I am an expat, but not of the angry variety… My husband, daughter and I have been in the UK for almost 5 years and not a day goes by where my heart doesn’t ache for home. It does not matter how organised and “civilised” the society is here: everything works, public transport is generally quite efficient, its really safe and Europe is just across the pond but its not home. It never will be.

    Having grown up in a country that in so many ways runs in a perpetual state of organised chaos makes it very difficult to fit in in a society as ordered and structured as it is in the UK.

    We are fortunate enough to have many South African friends here and most of them intend to return to SA at some point (many have already). We love SA for all its quirks, the good the bad and the ugly and look forward to returning home in the not too distant future. Thanks for a fab blog :)

  12. Your article is lovely. I am south African. I have been away from SA for 14 years. I left because my husband was offered a job overseas. I still return to SA to see my family. I love SA but it does break my heart when I hear about the bad things that happen there. I pray for the country to come right and for everyone to be safe there and be able to live in peace together. I think the people who wrote hate emails and angry ones are those who are unhappy where they are but cannot return to SA for whatever reason. Dear friends of mine have been killed in SA in robberies and that is terrible but the country will always be beautiful. Our choice was made to live abroad for the safety of our children so we will continue to live abroad but we do not judge nor criticize those who chose to stay. I wish you all the best in SA. Keep safe!

  13. We have lived overseas and we are back now. All I can say from both sides, that there are good and bad on both sides of the fence!
    So! You damned if you do and you damned if you don’t!!!

  14. Very well written blog Susan and definitely an interesting read.

    It is my opinion that the world is much more accessible place than it ever has been before, to those who have the funds to pay for flights. And it doesn’t matter where you go because you’ll probably come across expats who will either be positive or negative about where they have originated from.

    I am a British expat living in SA and I meet British expats that moan about Britain. So this is not solely a South African issue it’s a global one. I happen to love Britain and miss it very much but that’s because it was my home for many years and even now after 23 years I still fit in there like a “hand in glove”. I believe that people shouldn’t be so incredibly self righteous about their idiotic life in any Country as their counterpart that left may well have had a very different experience and are entitled to seek a safer, freer, more prosperous life anywhere they choose to.

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