I love South Africa. There it is, right off the bat so you know. I love my country, I have travelled it extensively and I’ve made it my personal mission to know as much about it as I can. But we all know the drill; you pitch up at a Saturday night braai just to hear about another friend deciding to go build their life elsewhere.
The reasons for immigrating is different for everyone. From safety concerns to taxes, healthcare and educational opportunities; it seems like people everywhere are choosing to find out if the grass is greener on the other side. BusinessTech estimates that in 2017, at least 900 000 people born in South Africa are living in other countries. Apart from the massive amount of much-needed skills the country is losing, a lot of wealth is also being taken from South Africa.
I’m getting married in 2020 and my fianceée and I have often sat down to discuss the reasons we choose to stay or go. We quickly determined that if we want to make a move, it’ll probably be best to do it after the wedding and before we start a family. Both his siblings have emigrated to North America, where they are very happy, and he would love to be closer to them as well.
The more we talked, the more we realised that we are exactly where we need to be. We spent hours talking about our love for the South African countryside, the people and our heritage. We narrowed our list down to four main points, which we keep handy for those braais, and which I will share with you.
Way back in 2015, I moved from the Free State to the Western Cape. Taking the leap from my uber-conservative religious hometown to the bustling city of Cape Town was quite an unsettling change of scenery. If I learned anything during this time, it was that if you are able to find a sense of happiness or calm, cling to it with both hands.
Right after the move, and sometimes even today still, I battle an overwhelming feeling of displacement. I’ve lived in Stellenbosch for two years now, and it still does not quite feel like home. As soon as I find someone from the Free State, I feel a sense of relief and camaraderie.
And yes, everyone will always feel nostalgic about their place of birth, but as I’ve contemplated emigrating over the years, I kind of have this feeling that I’ve already made the big move in my life. Five years down in the Cape, and I’m only now settling in. When you move overseas, especially if the culture is very far removed from your own, you’ll have to make peace with the fact that there will be a lot of loneliness, feelings of displacement and absence of a sense of belonging.
I never limit my family to blood relatives, and there are therefore a lot of people that I would hate to leave behind. My mother passed a few years ago, and since then I’ve come to value familial relationships more than ever. And it is kind of weird how things change over the years, but my brother and his family are extremely important to me and I would hate to be unable to see them often.
As mentioned, my fiancée’s siblings live overseas, but his mom still remains in South Africa. Leaving her behind would be extremely hard and one would love for one’s future family to have easy access to their grandparents. Even more than that, I’d love to be able to tell my children about South Africa and to show them the country I love on a daily basis.
Over the years I’ve seen more than my fair share of people emigrating, only to come back and then having to start their careers from scratch. In the same sense, both my fiancée and I have jobs that we’ve spent a lot of time building. He is an entrepreneur and the reality is that he might need to go back to a corporate job if we move to a new country.
I think we can all agree that living and working in South Africa can be tough at times and therefore, for us, it is a big consideration leaving behind a steady business that is seeing profit against these odds, to go and start over professionally in a new country. That’s not even taking into account the extra skills they might require you to attain.
#4: For the love of the land
As mentioned earlier, I love South Africa. When I make the drive from the Cape to the Free State and venture through the Winelands, to the Karoo and finally the extremely flat Free State countryside, I’m always taken aback by this beautiful country. I hope every South African has the opportunity to do Route 62 at least once, as well as visit the Garden Route and the Kgalagadi. I hope someone treats you to a holiday up the east coast, through the Transkei to the Mozambican border.
But even more than that, I hope you get to meet the people. In the Free State, where there is nothing to do, people have house visits and farm braais. In the Winelands, we meet at a wine farm for a glass of wine. In the Namaqualand, they tell stories under the stars, while in the Bosveld they go for drives. Storytelling is at the heart of South African culture and wherever you go, someone will be ready with a story and something to serve for lunch.
But probably my favourite part of remaining in South Africa is the humour. South Africans have such a unique sense of humour; I’ve never come across a situation that a South African couldn’t face without a joke. We know how to not take ourselves seriously and how to face adversity with a smile. And as I am writing this, we are knee-deep in the #AmINext movement, and therefore I can also tell you that South Africans stick together.