4 Reasons I could never leave South Africa

Let me start with some context: I am a well-off white male – the international trifecta of privilege – and Afrikaans to boot, just to add some local flavour to my human stew of oppressiveness.

Born 8 years before the end of apartheid the only thing I really remember about the dark days are oddly vivid memories of plastic wall mounted posters – with tactile examples of different kinds of bombs and landmines – usually found in the waiting rooms of nervous white South Africa.

My facebook friends list is definitely not as demographically representative as it should be, not by preference, but because I honestly just haven’t had the pleasure of meeting that many non-whites (shocking to admit, having lived in Africa for 30 years). I am acutely aware of domestic politics, but not especially active. I was born Afrikaans, but I don’t really feel a deep connection to any South African culture or creed.

Sometimes I feel hopelessly lost in the country of my birth…

…but I am not unique – there are many others like me and many of my kind have already, are in the process of, or are planning to leave the country.

I, however, cannot leave. I won’t ever be able to, and neither should you if you identify or agree with the following four reasons why:

I Have an Overwhelming, But Inexplicable, Emotional Connection to South Africa

I love this country; I absolutely adore it with all my being…

…but I am unable to tell you why. Can it be the usual rhetorical rhyme of ‘beautiful backdrops’, ‘friendly faces’, and ‘comforting cultures’? Maybe, but these reasons seem stale and trite – a regurgitation for the benefit of others.

Why I love South Africa remains a mystery to me, but I can tell you the following:

I can loudly declare that my chest wells with pride every time I hear the opening lines to Nkosi sikelel.

I can unashamedly admit that I religiously followed lawn bowling during the last Summer Olympics purely because SA was competing.

I can also tell you that recently I couldn’t stop replaying the video of the racial confrontation on the rugby fields of UFS – frozen, my emotions were constantly fluctuating between sadness, anger, and disappointment. A dormant pain steadily rising and swelling with each replay, until it became too hard to follow the now blurry images on screen.

These proud admissions are to me the expression of a deep rooted South African nationalism. If the definition of nationalism is “the strong belief that the interests of a particular nation-state are of primary importance”, then I believe the definition of Safronationalism is the strong belief that the interests of South Africa and the wellbeing of its citizens are of primary importance – this is my culture and creed – my emotional connection that I can never abandon.

Although my safronationalism may often lead to a naïve and apologetic view of the current state of my country – an imperfect blemish on my otherwise vehemently rational world views – I still contend that…

Honestly It’s Not All That Bad

…at least not for me, and probably not for you either if you are the type of person who can afford to emigrate.

Firstly, on the topic of crime, especially violent crime, I will not assume to tell those who have been personally affected by it and have lost loved ones, whether on a farm or in a taxi, that it is not as bad as it seems – such a loss is deeply personal and I shall not belittle it.

At the same time, besides the unsolicited removal of a few material items throughout my lifetime, the closest I have come to fearing for my life is in a varsity bar when a couple of runner-ups in the Bakkies Botha look-alike contest drank a few to many Castles and got in the mood for an impromptu game of punchies.

Although my naiveté does some-times get the better of me, the economist in me still remains a sucker for numbers and statistics, and these indicate that violent crime mostly affects the poor (as if they don’t have it bad enough). In 2015 you were actually 30% more likely to die in Paris than Cape Town… if you were middle class. Similarly, the current national unemployment rate is around 26% while the unemployment rate for engineers (and other professionals such as doctors) is 0.4%, and because South Africa is so cheap to live in (currently the cheapest in the world actually) they also have a much higher purchasing power than their peers in the UK, US & Australia. South African professionals can afford more than those in other English speaking countries.

The point is that unemployment, like violent crime, predominantly affects the most vulnerable in our society – the poor- while the middle class are largely left to read about it in the media.

Anecdotally, on the issue of Joburg – that ‘cesspool of crime and violence’ which I will proudly call my new home in a few months – I have to relay a recent comment by an older and well-travelled German acquaintance noting that this bustling metropolis had the diversity and vibrancy of New York in the 1980’s – complete with high levels of crime and an AIDS epidemic. Not perfect circumstances I know, but who wouldn’t want to be part of the African New York?

My Children Need the South African Experience

I want my children to grow up in South Africa. I want my children to know the reality of life – the good and the bad. I want my children to see and to know that apathy and indifference leads to row upon row of shacks surrounding obscene opulence in the cities of Cape Town and Johannesburg.

My children should understand that unique (and entitled) little snowflakes quickly melt in isolation. Snowflakes only last the winter when they are supported by many others of its kind – I am because you are.

The world can be a harsh and unforgiving place and, in reality, medals are not handed out just for competing. This South Africa teaches our youth every day.

And even though I never truly embraced it in my own youth, this country also provides rich opportunity for any  young person to learn and share with one of the most diverse populations in the world (8th most actually). We have struggled with exceptional diversity for much longer than the 22 years of political freedom would suggest. In contrast, only now, at the rising crest of globalized migration, are many of the developed countries starting to notice the cracks at the base of their ivory towers with their, previously thought unshakable, foundations of multi-culturalism.

With heterogeneity comes conflict, clashes of cultures, and awkward but necessary compromises that are perhaps not always perfect for raising children safely, but definitely conducive to raising children with character, talent and ambition – evidenced by all the fine individuals that our small little third-world country at the tip of Africa has managed to produce over the years.

There Is Still So Much Left for Me to Contribute

Lastly, I simply cannot leave, because there is so much left for me to contribute to my country.

JFK famously asked his fellow countrymen, on his presidential inauguration at the height of the cold war, to put the needs of their country before those of themselves. So too is South Africa at war. A war that is equally cold – a brooding passive aggressiveness threatening to spill over into full-blown violent conflict at any moment – but in this case it is domestic rather than international in nature.

Perhaps then it’s time to implore my fellow South Africans, like Kennedy did 50 years ago, to “ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”.

Every day should be another opportunity to positively contribute to, rather than detract from, the upliftment of our nation, and every day I will try my best to seize this opportunity – for the sake of my family, my children, and for the sake of South Africa.

Can I make a difference? Hopefully. Will my actions ever have a lasting impact? Maybe. Am I perfect? Definitely not, but then neither is my country and I’m fine with that, because I think the real South Africa is not perfect – it is interesting, contradictory, and a little bit funny at times…

… and it is, and always will be, my home.

P.S. Tell me you don’t have goosebumps after watching this amazing rendition of Toto’s Africa.

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7 thoughts on “4 Reasons I could never leave South Africa

  1. Dear Safro

    What a brilliant article. I’m like you, very niaeve (spelling) when it comes to our country. I am one of the few in my place of work who remains consistently optimistic and proud to be Safrican. I will confess to a massive wobble when Nene was removed from office, and poophall van Rooyen got the job. Our pension relies on our interest generating investments, and, I’m ashamed to say, I reacted like I did because I was personally affected.

    I LOVE the centre of Johannesburg. It is vibrant, colourful, smelly, dirty, chaotic and just wonderful. We have so much going for us. My husband is retired already, and I have three years to go before retiring after what will then be 30 years in education. (Sounds grand, but I’m just a school secretary). I see just how hard our teachers work. I see just how much cr*p the Department demands from them. I see just how many children are crammed into each classroom. But each parent just wants to get the very best for their child that they can afford.

    I’m going off at a tangent here – but believe me – I agree with everything you wrote.

    We live so well here. Yes, the Rand has fallen, but so what? I buy at PnP using Rands, not Pounds. Not US Dollars.

    I applaud you for your positive outlook, for your pride in our country. I too get cold when I hear Nkosi being sung. Wait until you hear it being sung by 1,000 primary school children in our school hall. I am so hopeful.

    OK. That’s enough now.

    God bless you and your family. And I hope your attitude will rub off and have an effect on all the nay-sayers.

    Megan O’Donnell
    Meyerton (Vaal Triangle)

    1. Thank you for your inspiring words and for giving me hope as well. It is easy to forget, being surrounded by safro-pessimists and nay-sayers on a daily basis, that there are still so many people of all colours and creeds that do still believe in our wonderful country, and do still believe that they can make a difference everyday, no matter how small.

      For this I commend you. Thank you Megan.


  2. I find this part interesting…..

    “Similarly, the current national unemployment rate is around 26% while the unemployment rate for engineers (and other professionals such as doctors) is 0.4%, and because South Africa is so cheap to live in (currently the cheapest in the world actually) they also have a much higher purchasing power than their peers in the UK, US & Australia. South African professionals can afford more than those in other English speaking countries.”

    My wife and i are middle class and i couldn’t find work in SA as i am a white male over 40.We made the move to Europe 6 years ago and are very happy here.My kids go to a private school,we change our cars every 3 years and can hop on a plane and travel anywhere we want at anytime.We purchased a house over here and when paid off will be a solid asset in Euros.

    Im not so sure how you can say that SA professionals are better off than those abroad.

    1. Dear Brett,

      I’m not saying they are better off, I’m saying that the data and statistics confirm that engineers in SA are far more employable and have much higher purchasing power than their peers in the UK/US/Aus. If you follow the link in that paragraph you quoted then you can see all the data for yourself.

      I’m very happy that you are happy oversees – if you are then who am I to tell you that you are not – but your story is a single anecdotal experience while these are numbers from thousands of engineers and experts and reports and studies and internatioinal institutions that have been compiled to come to this conclusion.

      That is how I can say that engineers have more purchasing power and lower rates of unemployment.


  3. I feel exactly what you feel. I’ve been very scared in both Paris and London. I have lived in Paris for some years. Their attitude to women leaves much to be desired. South Africa tugs at my heart strings like a loved, naughty child. I could never live anywhere else ever again

  4. Inspiring article Safro! Despite what the media portrays there’s so much to live for and love about South Africa. Like anything worth having, it’s worth waiting for, and change is on the horizon. So with a bit of luck and a lot of votes, we could see a true and competent democracy come into effect at the 2019 general elections.

  5. I was born in May 1990. I have always had a love for South Africa. And with that love comes hope. A naive hope for peace and love. And though there is so much hatred and anger all over the world. My home country has made me feel worn out and scared. I am tired of explaining to my white friends that I don’t see the point of hating all black people just because one grabbed me between my legs in the street or murdered my loved ones just for money. I am tired of apologizing to my black friends for white people treating them like thieves or judge them as dumb just because of their skin colour. At the end of the day both sides experience the worst of the other side and blame all the others too. I’m tired of feeling bad for my skin colour that was not my choosing. I am exhausted. The constant hoping for things to get better and only seeing it get worse has made me feel like a stranger in my country of birth. I have to young girls and everytime I look at them, I fear for their future. I applaud your hopefulness but I on the other hand, I am just exhausted.

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