Why I moved back to Johannesburg from Cape Town

I never thought I’d ever see this day coming. Me, leaving Cape Town to return to the city of gold, Johannesburg.

I had spent my whole adulthood in Cape Town, since I began my tertiary education at the University of Cape Town in 2009, until I became the well-rounded investment professional that I am today.

In these nine years, I’ve grown so much to become the person that I am today. I’ve had my heart broken more times than I would like to admit, and made friends who have shown me love that made me a true believer in humanity.

My time in Cape Town has been so magical, I couldn’t have lived a life fuller than the one I had.

So why would I walk away from a city that filled me with priceless memories?

From a career point of view, Johannesburg makes sense for me. I’m young; I’m a qualified chartered accountant with almost six years of working experience.

By August next year, I plan to see an email informing me that I have passed my CFA level III exam, and that I can proudly add the chartered financial analyst qualification to my business card.

Yes, asset management is in Cape Town, but the world of business and countless opportunities lies in Johannesburg. Johannesburg makes sense.

I wish I could tell you that my decision to move back to Johannesburg was solely career-driven. But the truth is, it was a deep and tragic sense of loneliness, and an identity crisis, that drove me to make that tough decision.

In this fast-paced, output-driven world we live in, culture and identity is something we tend to overlook. When we think about what makes us the individuals that we are, we are quick to articulate our achievements.

These qualify the angle at which we hold our chin when we walk about, yet we somehow overlook our ethnicity - only to be reminded of it once in a while, when we need to fill out an official form.

Identity struggle

Still, in the years that I lived in Cape Town, I struggled with my identity to the point that it started affecting my confidence. You cannot truly realise your full potential until you are completely comfortable with yourself.

No matter how hard I worked, I never really felt good enough, and that inferiority complex was as a result of being a minority.

A minority, you laugh. It sounds ridiculous, but that’s exactly what I was. A minority in my own country, a minority in Africa. Wherever I was, I was the only African (read: black) person. I was the only African in my investment team, I was the only African in any given coffee shop, in any given wine farm.

Bless my Cape Town friends, but none of them are black.

Don't tell Andile Khumalo, but I always secretly looked forward to doing the business and economic update on Power FM, just to hear him say my name, Tinyiko Ngwenya.

The very name that my parents thought long and hard about had been used in vain for so long, pronounced so incorrectly that it made me hate introducing myself. Many wouldn’t even bother trying to pronounce my name, and just cop out by calling me "Tiny".

How can you be truly confident about yourself, when you aren’t even confident enough to introduce yourself using your name?

Coming back home to visit my family in Johannesburg was always a culture shock. In my workplace where I spent most of my time, I would only hear Afrikaans and English.

Granted, there were a few Xhosa-speaking colleagues, but not one person to whom I could speak my home language, Tsonga.

The beauty of Johannesburg is that when you walk in a mall, you’re guaranteed to hear at least four South African languages being spoken, if not more.

Languages spoken

What’s even more beautiful is that because the languages are spoken so often, and people integrate with each other as opposed to remaining in cliques (which is what Cape Town is known for), a Sotho person can ask a Zulu-speaking individual a question in their own language and the Zulu person will understand what it is that they are asking.

So, coming home meant falling in line and speaking Tsonga, a language I only got to speak whenever I was home. So naturally, over time, one would start hearing the difference between my Tsonga and the Tsonga that my family spoke.

You can imagine how insecure I felt when I spoke Tsonga to someone from Limpopo. I’d always wonder if they would call me out for being a hybrid (my mother is Sotho).
Outside of the language shock, a bigger culture shock for me was seeing successful black individuals. Black people in suits, black people eating in fancy restaurants.

And boy, oh boy, did my head spin when I saw a black woman driving an Aston Martin!

My people were flourishing, and it was amazing to witness. Every time I would meet a friend for lunch at 24 Central in Sandton, I would meet other young, ambitious black professionals and think to myself: flippin' hell, these people are taking over the world!

In Cape Town, I had no role models to look up to. There were no self-made, black professionals who were doing so well in their fields.

How do you convince a child in Khayelitsha that they, too, can achieve financial freedom, when the environment that they’re living in constantly reminds them that they do not belong in Constantia and Camps Bay?

Blame game

Corporates in Cape Town always blame the slow progress in transformation on black professionals leaving for Johannesburg and never staying long enough to transform the organisations.

How do you expect black professionals to stay, when you continue to create an environment that is not conducive to their success?
And so one day it dawned upon me that I wanted my children to grow up seeing success in their colour. I want them to grow up in an environment where it is normal to see black South Africans running and owning businesses.

I don’t want my children to grow up feeling like a minority in their own country. I want them to be proud of being black and not hate me for giving them an African name that their teachers and classmates can’t pronounce.

I love the skin that I am in, and for me to have gone through an identity crisis is sad. In fact, it’s actually embarrassing, but I am glad that I could be brave enough to share it with you.
Dear Cape Town, you gave me memories that I will always be grateful for, but unfortunately, that’s all you gave. Memories and nothing more.

I truly hope that my generation will be the last to experience what I felt while living in Cape Town, and that the city will transform to be a proudly South African city - one that is well integrated and diverse.

I'm sorry that I was not strong enough to stay and drive the change myself. I honestly got tired of being an angry black, and I hope you'll forgive me for wanting to just be in an environment where I, too, can flourish.

Wealth generation is important to me. I want my children to be able to ask me for an interest-free loan to start their businesses, and for the first time, I feel like it is possible to do just that.

Johannesburg, I hope you're ready for me. I've never been hungrier than I am today.

* Tinyiko Ngwenya is an investment professional who has worked at the Old Mutual Investment Group and Old Mutual, among other organisations. This post first appeared on her LinkedIn account. 

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