I used to live in South Africa.
And then I left.
I left while I still loved her, while I wanted to stay. But circumstances changed and opportunity and the world beckoned. So I left with my family and moved to a cold and wet island off the coast of Europe.
I mourned for my loss; for the sunshine, the beaches, and the biltong. I mourned the loss of domestic help, my swimming pool and Wimpy breakfasts at the beachfront. But time heals and I started to enjoy my new home – the freedom to walk everywhere, even at night and not be afraid, seeing my taxes at work in free schooling and healthcare and the fact that most people obey the rules.
I began to think more and more about my homeland, and wonder why had I loved her so much, when she didn't love me. She never treated me with respect, only contempt. She squandered my taxes and then still made me pay for everything. She didn't protect me from harm. It was like an abusive relationship and I see it in so many South Africans. They defend her, and they keep going back for more. She keeps hurting them, letting them down, abusing them, but yet they stay and try to make it work. They stay for the sake of the children, they stay because they are sure it will get better, they stay because deep down, they have a need to belong. A lot stay because it is their only option and they have nowhere else to go.
I went back to visit 4 years after I had left. It was wonderful, but it also wasn't. I was filled with an unease that I had never felt when living there. When we were a the beach with family or having a braai and a catch-up with old mates, I couldn't stop thinking about the fact that while we were all relaxing and eating and drinking to our heart’s content, not 5km down the road, there was horrific poverty and crime. I was shocked to realise that I had thought it was normal to live in fear of hijackings and home invasions and muggings. That homes are fortresses and that stranger danger isn't just for kids.
I read News24 every day. The reason is twofold – I want to know what is happening in my homeland and I want to feel good about my decision to move my family away from the only home they had ever known. Isn't that terrible – I read it so that I can pat myself on the back, and say, “At least YOU don’t live there any more”.
However, I don’t feel the need to defend myself or my actions. It was a hard, sad, wrenching decision to leave but one which we felt was best, and fortunately for us it has worked out well. I am quite shocked sometimes at the attitude towards those who leave South Africa to make a new life for themselves. Yes, there are some who are just racist arses who revel in criticizing SA, but I know that most people who have left, whether it be for the UK, Aus, NZ, Canada, the US or anywhere else, have found it extremely difficult and are only trying to make a better life for their families.
I no longer mourn for South Africa itself, but I do feel for her people who are trying so hard to make it right and good. For the kids with no school books, to the dads and moms working hard to pay for schooling and medical aid. For the nannies who work all day in someone else’s home then travel for ages only to have to start it all over again in their own homes, late at night. For those policemen and women who are trying, against all odds, to be an effective and honest force of good in their country. For all South Africans who are trying to live their lives in a positive way, I think of you every day and pray that things will get better. Until then, stay safe.