If there ever was a time to go back to South Africa it was now. Around the globe multi-national corporate companies are planning their strategies to enter the emerging markets of the African continent. The highest potential growth markets are in fact in Africa and the world still acknowledges South Africa as the gateway to those greenfield margins. As Europe stumbles through the euro crisis and the US teeter on their fiscal cliff somehow home does not seem so bad. But what am I giving up when I go back to SA? I have come so far to earn that elusive permanent residential status. Isn’t this where personal resolve is indeed demonstrated?
There is of course no right answer. The question is fit. Does this new place provide a fit for you or me and the future that we wish to provide for our families, or does it not. If it does we should enjoy the good times of our new home and bear the tough moments and long winters. If it does not we are likely to be as miserable in whichever country we move to as that from which we came. Attitude goes a long way. Money makes it easier to acquire luxuries that allow for comfortable living. Often the decision to move sprouts from a belief that the people in South Africa are no longer “our people”, do not share “our beliefs” or “our culture”. And culture is very important, by far the most important of all reasons. This is the most important reason to move back to South Africa. We have far more in common with our fellow black, white, coloured, indian & chinese South Africans then we will ever have with any Europeans. Comparing the Dutch and the South Africans are like comparing Parisians and Canadians. Yes they both speak French but they are by no means necessarily kindred spirits.
There is of course crime but that is why God invented watchdogs. Corruption is rife in South Africa as it is in the rest of the world but not yet as sophisticated and subtle as the arms deals and politics in Europe making it more visible and vulgar. People steal our things at night but I would certainly also steal if I was as frustrated, neglected and plain hungry as many South Africans are. How do you teach a child “A is for Apple” when his or her stomach rumbles every time they look at it? You simply cannot. Perspective is so important. Do yourself a favour and Google the 10 worst places in the world to live and you will really see what desperation and despair looks like. If you think it is too gargantuan a task to change SA perhaps start by changing your perception of it. Much easier. My Italian colleagues often joke when you travel to Italy that if you do not have a gun you need not worry, one will be provided to you at the airport when you land. Another colleague in Belgium noted that his car lights were not working properly. Upon closer inspection the cause was that they had been stolen. A regular frustration on my way to work is that taxis and couriers stop anywhere – even in the middle of a busy road – and expect that by turning on their flashing hazard indicators they have full right to park right there to pick up passengers. Where in the world could madness like this be commonplace? It sounds a little too familiar. And yet we don’t understand why crime is so unusually violent and vengeful in South Africa?
The Belgians have many immigrants. Entire districts in Antwerp and Brussels are now referred to as immigrant ghettos where there is neither French nor Dutch spoken and there are no chocolate waffles or frites sold on street corners. Immigrants are from Eastern descent and mainly speak Turkish or Arabic. The most common boys name in Brussels in 2009 was Mohammed according to statistics by the Directorate-general Statistics and Economic information. As crime was on the rise the Belgian government realized that citizens were not relating to one another any longer. The divide between language, ethnicity and especially culture was stripping familiarity between Belgians. These were not necessarily bad people, but when they did not relate to one another anymore they stopped caring about one another and started to lose their conscience towards one another. And if you have no conscience towards your fellow citizens it becomes easier to take from them and consequently crime goes up. The Belgian government realized they have to take action. For example, if you have permission to live in Belgium you have access to free language training in Dutch or French and integration programs for expats. They are very keen to make you a Belgian because Belgians care about one another and respect each other and live in relative peace among each other. There are rich and poor, French and Dutch. They may not always see eye to eye but they work towards the future because they relate to one another in a progressive, inclusive and diverse culture. No one is left behind. They have their problems sure. Who doesn’t?
If we can solve the infamiliarity between South Africans from different cultures there should be no reason not to live in peace and prosperity among one another. I am constantly amazed at how many languages Europeans speak: dutch, french, spanish, italian, polish, english. I realize that if I return to SA I am going to have to make the effort to learn Zulu which is spoken by 22.7% of the population. Not only to speak to my employee or colleague but to develop my appreciation and familiarity with the people and their culture. Only then can I earn the respect of my diverse peers and start a conversation on the future of South Africa. Tolerance and courtesy are such simple ideas and yet they have such immense power over our relationships. Wikipedia states that the golden rule or “ethic of reciprocity” is to treat others as one would like others to treat oneself. Be kind. Can it be that simple?
The first European forefathers of white South Africans were people like some of us who were fed up with their circumstances in Europe. They faced miserable prospects of a future and the fit just was not there anymore. They came to South Africa because they were convinced that the answer to their troubles were in virgin lands. I sometimes wonder if my future children who I could possibly one day provide a European passport to would appreciate the sacrifices I would have had to make to offer them that opportunity, and if I also like my forefathers seek familiarity in countries where the grass is literally greener although soggier. I will basically live my life without my close family or my varsity friends in the comfort of kindred expats who are like-minded and strong-willed. It is by no means a daily punishment to live abroad. It is often very comfortable if the fit is there. Or will my kids return on their own to Africa blissfully unaware of my struggle only to live their days in this great country anyway. Or soak up the culture of their surroundings and become foreigners themselves. If you are a South African you know as I do that the feeling you sometimes get when you are overseas never goes away. Sometimes you drift off and think of that place that you miss, or a person that you hold dear or the delectable food. It may be a group of friends around a dinner table laughing merrily together. Or that sweet sweet sweet South African sunshine.
Wake up! Pack your things and go home. Our people are by far the most idealistic of all I have met. We keep our nation to a high standard which is why we get so upset when things go wrong. Don’t let that get you down. South Africa is so ready for people to get involved. People are poised to integrate and work together, they often just don’t know how to start. Some have made great strides. Some like Mr President Nelson Mandela have run marathons for us all. Vote for the DA for all that they do right. Vote for the ANC for all that they have achieved and aspire to. As long as you exercise your constitutional right to breathe that sweet SA air and cast your vote in a democracy that is still a teenager, throwing a fit, making poor choices and just learning what it can be one day if we give it the love that it needs to grow.