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John Patterson
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American thinking of moving to SA

16 November 2010, 07:05  - John Patterson
About 18 months ago I married a South African woman from Pretoria. It was the culmination of a three-year very long distance relationship. I came to know her through a visit that I made to my sister and brother-in-law who are with the US State Department and at that time stationed in your beautiful country.

On that first visit I did the usual tourist things going to Cape Town including a trip to Robben Island and of course going to Cape Point, seeing a game park (Pilanesberg), De Wildt Cheetah Park, visiting Soweto and the TLC Aids orphanage that my church helps support etc. I was in awe of the beauty and diversity of your nation and your culture.

I then made four more trips to SA; these visits had other objectives, but did get to see other things in SA like Hermanus and Kruger Park. SA does wild life conservation better than any other nation I know and no I didn't expect to see lions roaming the streets as Jean Barker said we Americans believed we would see.

Race relations

After returning to the Unites States with my bride and my step son (I found a rugby team for him to play on here in Virginia and he was even noticed by our World Cup team - not on the same level as the Springboks but still rugby), I follow events in SA on

As I listened to the discussions on the "most commented" I saw that race relations were often involved no matter what the topic. That didn't surprise me as apartheid only ended 16 years ago. Some on this forum seem surprised that race is still such an issue.

If the readers would indulge me for a few moments I wanted to share a perspective on SA from an American thinking of making SA his home for part of the year in retirement. Those would be the months of January-April. I have no desire to experience winters here anymore. If you've been to the Washington DC area in winter then you know what I mean. My step-son had never seen snow before the winter of 09-10 and during that winter he got to see over 1½ metres of the stuff.

My first observation is that 16 years isn't a very long time. I'm 54 and remember the Civil Rights movement and the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Slavery in the US ended 147 years ago. Yet we continued with discrimination through the Jim Crow laws and into the 1960s with forms of segregation like separate but equal for schools. Whites went to one school and blacks went to another and they were supposed to be equal but they weren't. It has taken a long time for my country to grow out the anger between the races, in fact we still fight the battle every day. My encouragement (from the outside looking in) would be to be patient with each other. To keep the dialogue going and try to ignore the reactionary fringes. And I mean ignore them. My country too often gives them a stronger voice by protesting to vehemently what they say.

My second observation is one that will greatly influence my coming to live in SA, and that is crime. One of's writers (in the states to further her education) wrote a week ago about what Americans don't know about SA. One of the things that Americans who travel and spend money do know that travel to SA can be dangerous because of the crime.

Tourist revenue 'important'

Crime doesn't just hurt the victims of the crime it hurts your entire nation. Just one example.  When I fly to SA I pay approximately R3 000 in taxes on that ticket. When I stay in a hotel I pay 14% VAT, when I eat out I pay VAT, when I rent a car I pay VAT, when I play golf (you have great golf courses) I pay 14% VAT.  You get the picture.  Multiply me by the 2.8 million visitors who came to Cape Town in 2007, that's the only statistic I know that Cape Town got 2.8 million visitors in 2007 and it was the second most visited place in all of Africa and that is a big part of SA's revenue.

I don't know what the gold, diamond, and platinum mines that Mr Malema wants to nationalise bring into the economy but I would say that the tourist revenue is nothing to sneeze at. What would keep my fellow Americans (who know that lions don't roam the streets and that South African's have electricity and roads and houses and most of us were taught that Christian Barnard was a South African) from coming to your beautiful SA is crime.

I still remember first seeing my sister and brother-in-law’s house in Pretoria with its three metre wall with metal spikes on top of it with an electric fence on top of that. The bugler bars on every window and the alarm system that could be armed as a motion detector in the lounge and kitchen while the family slept behind a six centimetre thick door. Before I came that first time I knew that this was the way that many people lived in SA, but still it shocked me to see it. And they lived right beside the University of Pretoria.

I'm sure that I have exceeded the limit on the number of words that I was supposed to write but as an American thinking of buying property and living in SA I thought perhaps the views of an outsider might be of interest. As Ronny Mervis (South African) of Mervis Diamonds here in Washington DC always says.  "South Africa what some call the most beautiful place on earth" is truly is a place of beauty both in its landscape and its rich culture and diversity.  It would be a shame if it somehow weren't preserved.

- 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 and you might get published in our new Beyond Borders section.

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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. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

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