Every few years, something seems to happen in South Africa to bring things to a head, causing a sudden surge in the number of people planning their exit strategies in pursuit of a better life elsewhere. The most recent examples are all the negative publicity about load-shedding and of course the somewhat disastrous State of the Nation Address on February 12.
During the past few weeks, I cannot tell you how many of our friends and acquaintances, particularly those with young children like us, have decided they need to “get the hell out of South Africa”. I completely understand this sentiment. We all want our children to be able to play outside and perhaps even walk to the corner café without fearing for their safety. And we all want our kids to get a decent education. The list goes on.
What I don’t understand is how quickly people lose sight of the good stuff about South Africa. There must be a reason (actually quite a few) why South Africans who have been living abroad, some for as long as a decade, decide to come back home, despite what’s going on here.
I was feeling somewhat disheartened last week and decided to ask an old school friend, who has recently moved back to Cape Town with her husband and two young children after ten years in the UK, why she came home and whether she’s sorry that she did. Her response made me feel so much better: “People only leave because the grass always looks greener on the other side. I think most Europeans (and the like) would happily give up a few hours of electricity a week in exchange for affordable childcare in their own home, a clean house and car, a usable and beautiful garden, and real opportunities for proper outdoor family time. A cold, impersonal country far from your own is really tough. I’d still opt for the gas cooker!”
We live in Johannesburg. We sit on the stoep outside every night, listening to the crickets and watching the sun set. We do not live in constant fear.
Another fellow mommy recently posted on facebook: “We live in Johannesburg. We sit on the stoep outside every night, listening to the crickets and watching the sun set. We do not live in constant fear. My kids go to wonderful, creative schools run by people who left, and then came back, because South Africa is in their blood. We are not wealthy, but we have a wonderful lifestyle. Things might not always be okay. But we are aware of that. We are staying because nowhere else in the world do you find a people so rich, so spiritual, and so brave, and people who are trying to make a difference in the poorer communities.
“We are faced with poverty every day, and therefore are moved to do something about it. We are making a difference. If you want to leave, that’s okay. Maybe we will be forced to do the same one day. But don’t be so unkind as to do nothing but knock it. It is your blood, your native land. Respect those who have chosen to stay and make a difference. My kids still play barefoot in the sun every day, ride bikes and smell the bushveld. We are blessed. Be gracious in your judgements.”
There you have it. I couldn’t have said it better myself. A close friend of mine (also a mommy of two littlies), who sadly is most probably going to be emigrating to Australia at the end of the year, is one of the few people that have managed to reconcile these two concepts. “I don’t want to leave. My friends and family are here. Seeing ‘SA is f#$ked!’ spray-painted on walls is very demoralising. People still have to live here.”
Yes we do. And we should make the most of it. In closing, I’d like to quote one last person, a friend of my mom, who once said to her: “The grass only looks greener on the other side because there’s more s#*t there!”
I am a frazzled working mom who loves her husband and her children. All six of them – two human, two canine and two feline. I spend most of my day managing the crazy chaos that is my awesome life, and what’s left, writing about it … Read more