Faatimah Hendricks

South Africans should stop whining and take action

2016-08-12 08:04

Faatimah Hendricks

A famous and all-time favourite quote by Mahatma Gandhi: “Be the change that you wish to see in the world”. There couldn't be a better sentiment that needed to be expressed among our people today.

South Africans should stop whining about the country if they don't plan on doing something to change what they dislike and disapprove of. This applies especially to the privileged South Africans that decided to emigrate for “greener pastures” before, according to their predictions, the new “black government” could run the country into the ground.

I did an internet search to determine what made South Africans leave and what they said about the country abroad. There are only statistics for the number of white South Africans that left. After all, they were the ones with the economic privilege to be able to pack up and leave any time they wanted. In addition, many held dual citizenship, such as with England, because of their colonial ancestors. This made it easy for many of them to leave for greener, yet colder and more overcast, pastures.

One of the main reasons South Africans cited for leaving was better economic opportunities. Other reasons they expressed were crime, corruption, poor service delivery, high unemployment, the weakening rand and, of course, affirmative action, which were all symptoms of an “incompetent black government” that they did not want to support with their taxes.

More than 300 000 South Africans left between 1986 and 2000. More than 130 000 left between 2001 and 2005 and from 2006 to 2011 112 000 had left. Only 16 888 left between 2011 and 2015. There is a reason South Africa has suffered a "brain drain" - many of those that left did so with education and skills the country needed.

South African pessimism

Let's face it. South Africa has not been doing well on many fronts. We don't have a booming economy, our electricity supply cannot meet the demand, crime is everyone's nightmare and we seem to have no choice but to accept government corruption. The country is far from perfect, but so are most countries, including the ones that South Africans have fled to in search of a better life.

You can't completely fault someone for leaving when there are employment opportunities in countries with less crime and some economic stability. If anyone feels like they are getting a raw deal out of life and they are able to live a better life in another country, then by all means go for it. However, where I draw the line is at South African pessimism. So many South Africans that have left felt entitled to complaining about their own country like a disgruntled employee who decided to quit because the boss wasn't giving them the promotion they wanted.

I have met quite a few South Africans while abroad. Generally speaking, they miss a good braai, koeksusters and the easy access to a rugby game without needing to find a dodgy, smoke-filled bar crammed with locals looking to score with a foreigner. While they do miss SA, the comments from my white fellow countrymen and women matched the many racist and disgruntled comments I found online. They complain about the politics, the protests and how the "country is going down the tubes and becoming another Zimbabwe”. It is laden with racist undertones and some are not beyond pointing out that the country is struggling because it has a "black government".

Life was fabulous for white folk during apartheid. The present generation's parents and grandparents were the primary benefactors of a regime that oppressed their non-white counterparts. Let's not forget that some of the things they complain about, like crime, stems from decades of poverty and oppression that was largely caused by a racist government. Drugs and gangs on the Cape Flats are a result of social engineering by the apartheid government, and it has become a growing problem ever since. As far as protest action goes, it is much needed in a democratic society where people need to ensure a better quality of life. Many of those South Africans who have left did so with the wealth and privilege granted by decades of apartheid. Complaining the country is going to the dogs is rich considering they've left. The way I see it, if you're not happy, either leave - and complain far less - or stay and fight.

We can make a difference

This is not to say that government's failings should be excused or blamed on the past. But the poverty many black people experience today is ingrained in South African society because of generations of oppression. Few people are able to break cycles of poverty, crime and addiction without some form of intervention. Even fewer can do so on their own. South Africa's challenges are such that they need a collective effort to overcome. It is easy to live in an uncaring society where we are not concerned with the plight of others, but is this the sort of society we want for future South Africans? It is easy to be an armchair critic, to claim your taxes should be enough and to complain about your country. But what are you doing to improve the situation?

It doesn't matter which country you run to, politicians will always be self-serving. Unfortunately, we also don't live in an ideal world where our taxes solve all of a country's problems. While it might seem like there is nothing we can do about South Africa's problems, it is merely an illusion. South Africans have already expressed their discontent with the way things are through protests and through their democratic right to vote during the recent local government elections.

If we are united in our goals, we can make a difference, whether it be in our communities or on a larger scale. Every South African would love a future where crime, corruption and poverty are non-existent. Even the privileged would love to sleep a little safer at night, but until they see that a poor, hungry person's battles are theirs too, South Africa will continue to be a deeply divided and unequal country.

Some ideas for getting involved:

- Volunteering time to help improve the language skills of youth in poor communities

- Contact your local police station to find out which community organisations they work with and how they provide services to the community.

- Donate time and/or money to the organisations that help to improve the safety of your community, as well as to those who provide services to nearby struggling communities. These might be your neighbourhood watch, feeding schemes, animal shelters, homeless shelters, drug rehabilitation centres or even a mobile library.

- Join your local residents or ratepayers association. They provide valuable information about your community, what developments take place and how they affect you.

- Faatimah Hendricks is an award-winning journalist and freelance writer. You can find her on Twitter, Facebook and at selfwriteous.co.za.

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