No-one’s got a problem with people who choose to emigrate. We really do now live in a global village.
Freedom of choice and freedom of movement are (practically) universal rights, and the trade in human skills, or simply the expression of human preference, means that millions of people cross borders every year in search of a better, happier, more satisfying existence.
Sometimes they get it, sometimes they don’t. Either way, it is considered normal behaviour.
In South Africa, though, the emigration issue is fraught with angst and agitation. Given that we can’t even pick a sports team in this country, or attend a job interview for that matter, without a seemingly irrelevant politically motivated distraction to consider, perhaps this is just the way it’s got to be.
But wouldn’t it be nice if it wasn’t?
Wouldn’t it be that much more pleasant going to bed at night knowing that there weren’t scores of bitter and twisted expats out there trolling internet forums, posting comments on South African news sites and generally belittling the country of their birth from abroad?
It really shouldn’t be this way. Just think of the hundreds of thousands of emigrants who have disappeared across the waters, often to our great loss, and who haven’t looked back.
Or who look back regularly, and even visit regularly, but when they do it’s with joy and magnanimity in their hearts. They love and miss South Africa – it’s just that they’ve found a more satisfying, more lucrative and/or more love-filled life in another country, like so many other migrants around the world.
“As opposed to the quiet expat who just heads off overseas and gets on with his new life – and good luck to him – the bitter expat loves nothing more than painting his adopted land as a modern Utopia while prophesying the imminent social and economic implosion of the country he’s left behind. The sinking ship, the dying beast, the next Zimbabwe. Oh, it’s coming. Just around the corner. Promise.
Never mind that the UK’s a bit wet or New Zealand’s a touch average or Australia’s full of Australians or Canada’s a wee bit boring – those of us foolish enough to stay behind are all destined to be murdered in our beds, for sure.
The doom mongers have been proselytising for years now, ever since the end of apartheid loomed on the horizon in the ’70s and ’80s.
Mandela freed, 1994 elections, Mandela retired, rand through the floor, ANC with a two-thirds majority… With every historical landmark the fire and brimstone becomes that much more imminent, and yet somehow, amazingly, astoundingly – infuriatingly! – South Africa has not yet fallen apart at the seams.
Even when JZ finally wormed his way into power, the surest sign yet that we were about to tip into the sea, nothing really changed.
In fact, not that much has changed in the past 30 years. We still get by, we still bitch about the idiots in charge, we still have a jol – which is particularly galling for the bitter expat out there living in First World mediocrity, because even though he secretly yearns for home a part of him wants South Africa to fall apart, to justify schlepping across the world to Brisbane or Vancouver or Galway or wherever the hell he finds himself. Whether it happens now or later is neither here nor there.
Because in 2187, when South Africa does finally come apart at the seams, when inflation maxes out at a gazillion percent and the cryogenically frozen Julius Malema returns to install himself as dictator for life, there he’ll sit croaking with glee into his oxygen-replacement vat… ‘See? See? Told you so!’”
– Extract from Complete Kak! by Tim Richman and Grant Schreiber
There’s a good explanation for this vocal minority of disaffected Saffers living abroad, and it boils down to insecurity.
They’ve made the effort, they’ve paid the money, they’ve uprooted their lives and, because they’re not really satisfied where they are, they now need to justify their actions. A bit like bumping into your saucy ex down at the pub and then spending the rest of the night explaining to your mates why you broke up with her.
Essentially, it’s therapy – though, it must be said, not particularly effective therapy. (And in fairness, the nearly-as-vexing corollary phenomenon exists, too: the defensive stayer, who refuses to countenance any news or opinion on South Africa that is not considered 100-percent positive.)
So, one asks, how has the bitter expat stuffed up South Africa?
Surely, his departure is good riddance? Well, yes and no. Yes because that’s one less bore at the braai to deal with, going on about “they” and “them” and the good old days.
But no because these people are becoming our modern representatives to the rest of the world; cliquey narrow-minded Saffers happy to do a hatchet job on the country they’ve left behind. It’s just not good marketing.
And besides, you can avoid those braais if you want – or at least you can call out the individual in question on his comments (if the mood happens to take you). But the internet is a platform for sheer, unadulterated madness. And sometimes you just want to read the news or the sports or the Daily Maverick in peace.
This extract was taken from 50 People Who Stuffed Up South Africa and was published with permission from Burnet Media.
About the book:
A collection of the 50 greatest villains of South African history, from Jan van Riebeeck to Shaka to Cecil John Rhodes to Hendrik Verwoerd to Thabo Mbeki to Julius Malema. These are men – mostly, but not exclusively – who have steered South Africa firmly in the wrong direction, affecting our history, our national psyche and our way of life, often wasting guilt-edged opportunities to do the right thing along the way.
But the obvious heavy-hitters are just the half of it: there are also lesser-known but influential historical figures (Bartle Frere, Lord Milner), nameless icons of our modern social problems (The Minibus Taxi Driver, The Man I Sat Next To At The Polo), criminals (Ananias Mathe), chancers (Mark Thatcher), traitors (Kevin Pietersen) and punks (Kevin Pietersen).
Part history, part social commentary, this is a fascinating read that delves into South African politics, war, sport and culture. Appropriately, Alex Parker’s irreverent but scathing writing is brought to life by Zapiro, who adds the finishing touches with his iconic caricatures.
Visit Kalahari.com to buy a copy of the book.
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