Every time I see yet another article from another South African moaning about the negativity of expats, and clearly writing with their rose tinted glasses on, I get angry. Really angry. Hulk angry.
The overwhelming theme of South African bloggers and writers lately seems to be the attack of the expat. How dare we leave South Africa and still think we have a right talk about our homeland? It’s like once we step on that plane, we are suddenly obligated to forget our lives there ever existed, or at least we seem to be expected to forget all the bad bits, lest we offend anyone we leave behind.
South African expats around the world seem to be being bashed in every direction I look. Of course we all know the expat (and this also applies to some South Africans who are still living in South Africa) who is constantly moaning and putting the country down and telling everyone how wonderful his new home country is. But not every expat can be or should be tarred with this derogatory brush.
South African expats aren’t allowed to share any ‘negative’ stories about the country, or comment on any South African news if we are judged to be being ‘negative’. I say ‘negative’, because one person’s negative is another’s reality. It seems that you are only allowed to have an opinion on the state of the country if you are residing on South African soil. Or if you are being ‘positive’ about South Africa then that’s ok too.
Which really pisses me off. Yes, we know there are so many wonderful stories and amazing initiatives happening in South Africa – most, if not all of us personally know someone who is fighting hard and making a difference to our beautiful home nation. Many people who live abroad still donate their time, money and where possible material possessions to charities in South Africa. We all fondly remember driving and hooting at each other and waving our flags from our cars after Joel Stranksy kicked that winning drop goal in the 1995 Rugby World Cup. We continued to be inspired by Madiba’s legacy of forgiveness and healing no matter where in the world we live and what colour our skin.
But what most of us cannot forget is the horrors of what we have personally experienced. Mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, cousins, friends, robbed, held up at gunpoint in their own homes, mugged in the street, hijacked, raped and murdered. Ask any expat and I would say that they or someone close to them has been physically harmed in some way and that was a major part of the reason they left. Not all, of course, but many.
Every country has ‘problems’ but not every country has a murder rate and rape rate like South Africa. A murder rate that is only getting higher, not lower, which implies that these problems are not being addressed successfully.
South Africans will say they don’t live in fear, but you should try leaving the country sometime, just for a holiday, and see how the rest of the world live. The first time I went overseas was to England I was 15 – we took a taxi from the airport to our hotel and it was about 8am. My mum remembers my amazement when I asked her why people were walking around the streets. That’s what normal people do. They walk to work, they take buses and trains to work. Yet I had never seen that!
So yes, we expats are sorry. Sorry we ever had to think about leaving our beautiful homeland. A place not just close to our hearts, but in our blood, where we grew up surrounded by family and friends who loved and cared for us. Sorry that not only did we think about it, but we packed up our entire lives and actually got on a plane and left.
Ask any expat and I am sure that 100% of them will tell you they cried when they left. They cried for their family, their friends and for the fact that they could not see a future for themselves of their children in their African homeland.
And we don’t simply hop on a plane and start living it up in our glorious new country. Often we arrive with little money because we had to sell everything just to afford the visa and relocation costs. Many of us don’t have jobs for months while we look for work to support our families, both with us and back home. We usually have to start from the bottom and work our way up from scratch, we don’t often walk into cushy jobs with fat cat salaries. It usually takes an expat years to attain a similar lifestyle which we left in South Africa, if we ever get there at all. And you know what? We are happy about it. Because we sleep safe in the knowledge that we have made a decision that is right for us. A decision that is right for our children. And a decision that will be right for their children.
So next time you want to bash an expat, perhaps you could think about what they might have gone through before making a life-changing decision that they believe is in their own, and no one else’s, best interest.