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Andrew Baxter
 
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A view from Russia

24 November 2010, 11:07  - Andrew Baxter
I am a South African living in Russia and I’ve been reading with interest the articles and comments on living abroad. As a brief background, I left in 1994 for a gap-year of travelling and working abroad, with the full intention of returning home.

While on an assignment, I met my Russian wife and we took the decision to initially live in Russia, mainly for the reason that we believed Russia offered more opportunities for the progress of my wife’s career. Since then, my wife has stopped working in order to bring up our children, while I have been fortunate enough to establish a successful career in Moscow.

We often talk about moving to South Africa and in this regard publications like News24 are an important source of information and insight into life back home. Unfortunately, what we see is not very encouraging, but first let me tell you a little about living in Russia.

I think there are many parallels between Russia and South Africa, not least because both countries have undergone massive political change since the 1990s. Russia seems to suffer from much the same problems that I keep hearing about in South Africa - a high proportion of underprivileged people, deteriorating infrastructure, very little of our hard-earned tax money being spent on social and infrastructure improvements, a high crime rate (albeit different in nature to that in South Africa) and full of bureaucracy and corruption at every level of the government.

Not easy

As you can imagine, living in Russia is by no means easy, especially for someone who grew up with constant sunshine, an outdoor and open culture, and the smell of African earth in one’s nostrils. Over time I have adjusted to this new way of life and discovered that the people are welcoming and kind, despite their fierce façade, that the culture is rich and opportunities abound.

I cannot speak for all expatriates, but I believe I am probably speaking for most when I say that I am, and always will be a South African. Nobody can take that away from me – I was born, bred and educated in South Africa. I am actively interested in everything that is going on in South Africa, I am a proud ambassador, and I strive to only spread good words about my country.

Nobody in Russia thinks I am anything other than a full-blooded South African, yet I see in numerous comments to the News24 articles that many South Africans would consider me a traitor because I don’t live in my own country.

While I understand where these people are coming from, it hurts, but worse than that, it demonstrates an underlying problem that is more serious. Why is it that so many South Africans feel such bitterness toward those who, for whatever reason, live in another country?

It is noteworthy that the Diaspora of many countries is seen as a huge advantage. Take a look at the examples of India, Ireland, Israel and the Phillipines to name a few. The citizens of these countries can be found happily living and successfully spreading their tentacles around the world, and they serve an important function for their country - usually in the form of cash remittances, support and investment back home.

One-dimensional views

They do not get accused of running away from their problems, as would be the case in South Africa. Yet it is the South Africans who call themselves the Rainbow Nation - the ones who are supposedly tolerant of others, accepting each other for who we are and what we do. The reality, however, seems to be quite different, making a mockery of the notion of a Rainbow Nation.

While I accept this is a generalisation, I get the impression that there is an important milestone that many South Africans (or at least many of those commenting on the News24 site) still need to overcome - and this is the laager mentality.

This is demonstrated in a high level of one-dimensional views with almost arrogant intolerance of the opinions of others. This comment applies equally to blacks and whites commenting on the site and I just hope that this disturbing attitude is limited to the few who have access to News24 rather than the country as a whole. If this attitude is prevalent in South Africa as a whole, then I would say it is a strong deterrent for people moving to our beautiful country.

I also have a brief word for those of you who have left South Africa and write about how much better it is on the other side. Take a long hard look at yourself and give some thought about what value you bring by goading those who have remained back home.

Proudly South African

In most cases you have made a life choice by giving up many things that are dear to you in order to move to a safer environment. Well done to you, but you’re stating the obvious to those who remain back home, while conveniently ignoring the fact that you are now an alien in your new environment.

South African people and politicians need to take measures to encourage their talent to remain at home, and at the same time need to embrace their ambassadors who live abroad, while encouraging them to come back. We need to cast off the bitterness and accept one another for who we are.

I remain proudly South African.

- Are you a South African living abroad interested in sharing your views? What is it like for a South African living in a foreign country or how do you view South Africa from a distance? Send us your columns to feedback@news24.com and you might get published in our new Beyond Borders section.

Disclaimer: All articles and letters published on MyNews24 have been independently written by members of News24's community. The views of users published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24. News24 editors also reserve the right to edit or delete any and all comments received.


Disclaimer: All articles and letters published on MyNews24 have been independently written by members of News24's community. The views of users published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24. News24 editors also reserve the right to edit or delete any and all comments received.

 

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