Goodbye South Africa – We Will Miss You
It’s sad to say goodbye to a country that gave me a good life for many years, to all our friends and colleagues. But eventually I realised I had no choice.
I first came to South Africa as a young man on a backpacking holiday, keen to explore new places, discover new cultures, meet new friends. It’s true to say I fell in love with this country shortly after arriving.
After I finished learning my trade, I took a long break from the damp, cold weather of Yorkshire which I spent backpacking around Africa, and South Africa. I inquired about getting a job in this sunny, friendly land. The possibilities looked good. Skilled, qualified tradesmen were wanted in those days.
I went back home, worked for almost a year, but all the time I was thinking about South Africa.
I Decided to Move
It was easy in those days (early 1970’s) for a Brit to work in South Africa. I wrote to a few of the people I’d met before, and was offered a job! So, there and then I decided.
Marriage and Citizenship
My first employer was in Cape Town, and this was where I met my wife, Jen. When we decided to marry, I decided to become a South African, and applied for citizenship. Eventually, I was granted this (it took a while). I was proud to call myself a South African.
I served some time in the army. This I chose to do, believing if I was to become a citizen, I should do what was required of other citizens…
I stayed away from politics – until I became a South African, it was none of my business. My own political beliefs are modern democracy, and bigotry isn’t something Jen or I understand.
A Good Life
Yes, South Africa was good to me. I eventually owned my own small business. I never become rich – I never wanted to be rich, but I made a decent living, owned a nice (if somewhat shabby) house in Mossel Bay. Jen and I were happy.
Joy at Freedom for the People
Yes, I was one of those (white) South Africans overjoyed when Nelson Mandela was released from prison, when the ANC was unbanned, and FW de Klerk announced South Africa would become a free and fair non-racial democracy.
Jen and I had tears in our eyes the day the election results were announced. We joined our ‘black’ and ‘coloured’ friends in celebrating; shouting “mayibuye africa”, “amandla” and singing “nkosi sikilele iafrica” along with them.
My only regret is we weren’t in Hillbrow that evening – I’m told it was incredible to be there.
It’s hard to say when the disillusionment began. I don’t think there was any particular point in time. Everything was great and wonderful for some years after ’94. We all had hope this country would achieve it’s potential, and give a good life to all.
Maybe the out-of-control crime wave was part of it. As outdoor people Jen and I found it becoming more and more dangerous to go to the bush, fish in remote places, even go out in the evenings. By 2010 Jen wouldn’t go for walks by herself, and even together we were always on the lookout for danger.
Maybe the break down of systems contributed. Failing electricity supply, failing telecommunications, roads falling apart, declining health care standards. Maybe the rising number of people living in abject poverty, the corruption present everywhere in every aspect of life, the lack of future prospects for all of us.
Maybe the hypocrisy of a government that in one breath says it stands for a non-racial, non sexist, free democratic society where everyone is equal, then with the next breath demands more and more racist practices like BEE, helped grow my disillusionment.
Yes, I’m sure all of these things helped.
When the ‘black’ people Say “It Was Better Under Apartheid”
Hearing ‘black’ South Africans who were treated poorly under the old Apartheid system say life was better then shocked me to my core. How could this be? Surely not? But they tell me they were less poor, more people had jobs (even though the pay wasn’t good), more people had homes, fewer people starved
But, these past 10 years I hear this more and more. Not only from ‘blacks’ but from ‘coloured’ people too. Especially those of my generation and older, and today, the current generation of under 20’s.
Unwanted in My Adopted Land
I guess this was the last straw, and helped my decision to leave. When I found out last year I could no longer get the work I had done my whole life because the industries I worked at “had to hire BEE approved contractors”.
It was a shock to realise I was no longer wanted, my work skills unwanted because of the colour of my skin.
I considered several things – I mentioned some of these in this blog, even spent money on seeing if they were possible. When I had decided on a path to follow, I then found how hard it was for a ‘white’ person to access finance, even though it would create employment for a number of people, in areas where jobs are desperately needed.
Even then I Still Didn’t Think of Leaving
Even then, I never gave a thought to leave. I always could have returned to the UK – citizenship is never lost. Jen and I would be secure in our old age – the support for the elderly is terrific. But we are not there yet – both of us have a good number of productive years left.
But we do have to think about the day we can no longer work. Clearly, if we stayed in South Africa, while we own a home, have some savings – although most of our capital was in the business and the home, we would have a very hard retirement…
But we still never thought of leaving…
But I got an Offer
Then last year I got an offer – “an offer you cannot refuse” to work and live in Australia. It wasn’t an easy decision. Eventually it was Jen (a born and bred South African) who told me she had enough of the nonsense that goes on here, and “we were going, like it or not”…
So there you have it. I’m now in Australia: I don’t get to fish so often – we are some way from the coast. I don’t own my own business (yet!), nor do we own a home (yet!). But, I have a really good job as a team supervisor. The boss is an ex-pat South African and has helped us re-locate and settle in.
Here’s the thing. What capital we had is so little in Australia… So we had a very tight budget at first.
But, 5 months later, and a few pay checks in the bank, thnigs are much easier. No, I don’t earn a whopping great income – I’m just a simple tradesman after all. But, we have disposable income. We can afford to eat well, go out at night (in safety), buy some luxuries, and still have enough over to save a little.
And Jen isn’t working full time yet. In fact it’s only the last month she is working part time. Although at the time we didn’t realise it, looking back we see how expensive life in South Africa had become, how many simple things had gone by the wayside, simply to meet day to day costs.
I have to talk about fishing… I haven’t done much fishing lately. There haven’t been too many opportunities. We have been down to the coast a few times with work colleagues – a good bunch of fellas.
The boss says we are going to do a week trip (he calls it “team building”, I guess so he can claim the cost as a business expense) soon; he want’s to see how we did things back home, and no doubt show off better ways to fish Australia – I’m looking forward to it.
Yeah mate, Jen and me are happy here. We at least now have future prospects. And the only power cut in 5 months – the local council notified residents a week beforehand!What a change from the almost weekly outages back in SA. The internet works – so much faster it’s unbelievable. You can actually watch a YouTube movie without waiting half an hour for it to stream in.
The only thing – I really must learn to call a braai a “Barbie”…
Ray the (ex-pat) Fisherman