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Friday, 20 May 2011

"Why I give up on South Africa and why I'm LEAVING AGAIN"


fleeing_za4I do not necessarily agree with all the statements made in the following post, as I found it online and wanted to post here.  However, it does highlight quite a few things I experienced in South Africa.  The “survival of the fittest and screw everybody else” attitude.  And I’m referring to white South Africans here.  Which doesn’t mean that I believe people of colour don’t have the same attitude, but it was shocking to me to witness the mentality of many white South Africans.

The rip-off attitude towards consumers – I never thought I would see the day when red meat cost more in South Africa than on an island which can fit into South Africa about 6 times.  And this was the case with numerous goods.

I hope the guys at SAS don’t mind me using one their old blog pics…

Author unknown

2 days ago my wife and I looked at each other and made a decision. We quit!

9 months after ‘coming home’, we are ‘going home’ again with our family.

Now, simply put, most people who make this decision (and there are a lot of us) will go quietly. They will not tell anyone why they are going, and they will not say anything for fear of backlash.

I have no such fear, and as such, here is an outline of my story.

10 years ago, almost to the day, I packed up my bags and headed for England. At the time I was married to my ‘practice’ wife (the first one), and I was accepting a job offer. Unlike most people in SA, I wasn’t leaving because of politics, or crime. I was leaving because I was offered a kick-ass job in London, with opportunities that were great for my career at the time.

Leaving SA 10 years ago was a heart sore event. I left with a longing for Africa, and I had always intended to return.

Fast-forward 9 years, and I return, with new family in tow (my wife is from Durbs originally, but we met in the UK), after lengthy discussions. Homesickness had struck us both, and we chose to come home and view SA through mildly-tinted glasses.

9 months later and we sit staring at each other wondering what caused us to make the biggest mistake of our lives.

Well, it takes a lot to admit a mistake. And we made a very large, very expensive mistake. While in the UK, we always had our memories of South Africa.  We always remembered our cultural roots and heritage, and we always felt marginally superior because we knew the ‘secret’ that is South Africa.

South Africans the world over blame their homesickness on ‘Africa in the blood’ - we romanticize about how, once you have seen an African sunset, or felt an African thunderstorm, the dust of the land somehow gets into your blood. THAT is why we would always gravitate back.

So much has changed in 10 years, though, and South Africans have changed.

From my experience with the lying, deceitful bastards at FNB, through to watching the giant Pick n Pay literally destroy a friend’s life, livelihood and business in order to ‘protect their image’ (Yes, Jonathan Ackerman, I can PROVE that you are an unethical, scheming, public LIAR) and everything in between, we have had to amend our views.

You see, it’s easy to amend your views when South Africa is so broken.

I was one of the thousands of people duped by the idea that SA was on the rise, and problems were solved, and everyone lives in perfect harmony, holding hands and skipping through daisy fields. Homesickness and longing can shape your perception. You can see well in any dark situation.

We came to South Africa because we wanted to help with the ‘rebuilding’ going on. We remembered how South Africa’s ‘boer maak ‘n plan’ attitude was something to be proud of. We, as South Africans, don’t back down. We make a plan, and we make shit happen!

And so, herewith, in my public and open blog, I tell you why I give up on South Africa, and why we will be returning to the UK and how our mantra “Sunshine, Blue Skies, Happy People” has changed to “Grey Skies, Warm Beer, Happy People”.

South Africa’s ‘can do attitude’ - in the trash: I remember the days when South Africans had national pride instead of national shame. When we could make anything happen with a bit of willpower. When South Africans had faith in each other, and when we would all band together for the ‘common good’. Now we are a weak nation. We whine and complain about things, but we no longer ‘make things happen’. This is because we have lost our faith in each other as human beings. In the huge battle for survival, everyone will step on anyone to stay ahead. There is no moral justification for this behaviour pattern. What changed? We can sit and blame the government, we can blame society, but the simple fact is that South Africa has been beaten down by our inaction when it came to things that piss us off. South Africa feels like we are held hostage by our political and business systems. In the ‘civilised’ world, people act when they are incensed by something the government does that is not in accordance with the will of the people. When government ministers are caught with their fingers in the till in the UK they are sent to prison. The people do not stand for things that bother them collectively. Sure, there is a politically correct mess in the ‘first’ world, but that’s here as well.

B.E.E is Apartheid in reverse: Like it or not, we have Apartheid in South Africa in 2010. It is alive and well. FNB, for example, issuing bursaries for ‘blacks only’ in accordance with the law, is simply institutionalised racism. The constitution allows for laws to be made that disadvantage one person over another based on skin colour alone. We have not learned from the past, we have only allowed lawmakers to exact revenge on the very people who voted for change in the referendum of 1992. I see signs all over the place advertising things for ‘blacks only’, financial support, business start-up packages, in-company bursaries - there is nothing in law to prevent the government from dialling it up a notch. Why is it that ‘whites only’ in the 1980s caused economic sanctions and pressure to end racism, but ‘blacks only’ is allowed, accepted and even lauded? The hypocrisy in the country is rife. Living in foreign countries for many years gives me a different perspective. Racism is not an issue in the UK, although they did enslave and disadvantage people of colour all around the world until the turn of the last century. The difference is that a country like Britain abolished slavery, but didn’t apologise for the past. They acknowledged that the past was the past, and that is where it ended. They moved forward, without government-inspired revenge. I have spent 10 years where skin colour is not a factor in anything (of course, there are those who would play the race card in the UK, but - oddly enough - they generally originate from Africa - Nigerians, Congolese, Somalis etc.). The point is that the UK has NO LEGISLATION about race. Race isn’t an issue, therefore people are not filled with racial tension and aggression because people are being given a helping hand because of skin colour. People overseas do not qualify for legal benefits purely on the basis of skin colour. South Africa, of ALL countries, with her history of racial strife, should have learned from the past. Instead we are a nation who is so weak that we have allowed legislation to keep racism in the law books, albeit in reverse.

South Africa is a society based on corporate greed: The world is a technological giant. Technology is in place to make the lives of billions of people even better. South Africa’s corporations have not yet begun to understand that value for money + customer satisfaction = more profits. Companies here still believe that they have to anally rape their customers, and it is accepted as ‘the way things are’. Let me put this in perspective. In the UK, for the princely sum of £10 per month (approx. R120) you can have 3G internet bandwidth. Unlimited, unrestricted 7.2Mbps bandwidth. You can get a 50Mbps internet line installed at your home, and they will throw in a phone line with free national calling and cable/satellite TV package with over 300 channels. This will set you back about £80 per month (About R1000). Installation is done within a couple of days, and if they don’t turn up when they say they will, you get apologies, and free shit to compensate. Corporations in the developed world can somehow afford to make their shit affordable to the masses. You could argue that there are more people in somewhere like the UK, and therefore it’s easier to market to the masses, but the simple fact is there aren’t THAT many more people in the UK than in SA. So how do British Telecom, Virgin Media, Sky and all of the other giants make these unlimited bandwidth options available to the masses? Well, it’s because they make customers happy, and they compete. As a result, the subscription figures are higher, and justify the investment in bandwidth. Europe doesn’t know what ‘capping’ is. 3 litres of milk at the 24 hour Tesco supermarket will set you back about £1.50 - that’s CHEAPER than here in SA. What is more shocking is that Biltong, a typically South African delicacy, is now available in UK supermarkets - at about HALF THE COST that you can buy it here - where it is made! When something goes wrong, the consumer has recourse. In South Africa, the customer is a turd to be cleaned up and flushed away. In business, we are expected to step on and destroy our fellow human beings, because we want more for ourselves personally. We are so primitive that we have not yet grasped the concept that we CAN act morally and ethically, and still make a healthy profit.

Technology, or lack thereof, has stifled us: In the ‘90s, we South Africans were top of the pile. We were sought after because of our IT and technology know-how. We were considered to be among the best in the world. Not only were we great problem solvers, but we had a strong work ethic, respected by employers the world over. Now, we don’t get looked at. From 2000 onwards, South Africa has been stifled as far as access to technology is concerned. Apple announced the iPad this week. It will retail in the UK for about £600 (about R7500). In South Africa it will be double in price. International and local bandwidth are terms that don’t exist outside of South Africa (I stand to be corrected there, but this is the only country that I have heard the distinction be made in relation to the consumer’s offering). South African corporates are still run by greed and monopolistic attitudes that detriment the consumer and the economy as a whole, and the nation suffers as a result.

When SA actually decides to put the consumer back on the pedestal, they will see that their profits will adjust positively. They won’t do that, though, because there is too much personal greed for those at the top, and South Africans now have an attitude of ‘rape and pillage’ toward each other in order to ‘survive’. Import duties and taxes on technology are among the highest in the world, and as a result, the government has managed to stifle our growth. In the ‘90s SA had access to certain technologies BEFORE the rest of the world. We were good at what we did. Now, we can’t even build a website that can compete with international standards. We do not understand e-commerce, and we do not harness the power of the technology at our fingertips for the good of everybody. There is no justifiable reason for companies like Vodacom, Neotel, Telkom and the other bandwidth providers to be upgrading their technologies and allowing South Africa to stop disconnecting from the rest of the world. There is no real basis (other than revenue pluses) for capping, speed restrictions and stupid cut-offs on your internet connection. There is no reason why bandwidth cannot be available to the masses in an affordable way. The conspiracy theorist in me likes to think that government understands that as long as we are stifled, we won’t realise the benefits the rest of the world get from technology being affordable. I spoke to a lawyer the other day that seems to be of the opinion still, in 2010, that the internet will never catch on. We are primitive.

Cost of living in South Africa is HIGHER, and the standard of living is LOWER: Unless you are a super-elite living in Sandton, or a happy tree-dweller delighting in still remaining in the caves, you’ll notice that the only things more affordable in SA than the rest of the world are the things that will kill you. Cigarettes and booze - undeniably cheaper in South Africa than most countries, but that does not compensate for the skyrocketing cost of living here. I used to pride myself on showing off to my British friends about the low cost of living in South Africa. In 2010, even fuel prices are closing the gap on the developed world. A litre of milk is drop-for-drop cheaper in Britain. A box of Corn Flakes is far cheaper, and all-round shopping is generally on par with, or cheaper - in Britain. How do they manage to sell Mrs. Balls IMPORTED chutney in Britain for 50c less than you can buy it at Pick n Pay? Ahhh, that’s right - lower margins mean higher customer satisfaction. Do you think that PnP’s “inspired by you” slogan means that? No, it means “Inspired by profits to be made off you at YOUR expense, because that’s what everyone does”. Our cell phone costs are among the highest in the world, yet we claim to be a developing country. We used to be a powerhouse, now we’re poor as a church mouse. In the past we could boast that house rentals were so much cheaper than the UK. Granted, houses are generally bigger here, and gardens are more generous, but there isn’t really an advantage to being in SA, property-wise. Plus, the added costs to maintain a garden we don’t really use, are restrictive.

Access to basic essential services: In South Africa, we joke about state hospitals. We joke about the nursing staff being really sucky, and we jest about the quality of public medical care. The simple fact is that all of the good doctors and nurses are overseas, where they are appreciated (with salaries) and put in environments that are clean, healthy and safe. My daughter was born on the British National Health Service. While it was amusing at times, the facilities in the public hospitals are world-class, the doctors are well paid and sourced from around the world. My wife’s pregnancy and my daughter’s subsequent birth cost not a cent. In fact, each time we went to the hospital for a check-up, we were offered a refund on our transport costs. When my daughter was born, the local government put £250 in trust for her to use when she’s 16. When my children get sick, the local GP will treat them, or even make a house call. No charge. Medicine is free for them. No matter what. In fact, medicine is free for EVERYONE in Britain, although you may have to pay a surplus ‘prescription fee‘ which is never more than £7.50 per prescription. Kids under 16 are waived from this fee, as are the disabled, retired and unemployed. Regardless of the condition, the medicine is available, and the government’s health service provides it.

There is no such thing as medical aid in the UK. There are ‘health plans‘ for the elite, but the advertising for these plans is along the lines of “Buy our health plan, and you’ll be able to jump the queue”. It’s not a case of better care, and the health plans are all optional. If you don’t have a medical aid, you will not get worse treatment or care. Schools: Schooling is free for all. Not “Oh, if you can afford it we’ll charge you school fees” free, like in South Africa, but it is free. Gratis, no charge - for ALL people. You can opt for a paid-for private school, but my experience is that more problems are bred in the private school systems anyway. The standard of education, like everywhere in the world, is not as high as it used to be, but it’s THERE. If you are a single parent, the government will help you with child-care costs if you are working. If you choose to be a stay-at-home single parent, the government will make sure you can survive in relative comfort.

Public Transport: The idea of being able to get around is a good one. In South Africa, if you do not own a vehicle, or have access to wheels, you’re screwed. There is no public transport infrastructure that is reliable or safe. In the developed world, a car is really optional (and cheap). I can pick up a 2001 ‘skadonk‘ in Britain right now for under £400 (less than R5000) - it’ll be in decent condition, and will not fall apart on you. Cars are optional because there are buses, trains and minicabs/taxis everywhere - and they are affordable. In SA, I made the mistake of taking a taxi from Fourways to Honeydew, and spitting out nearly R300 for the privilege. Restrictively expensive, and unmetered so there is no real recourse. In the UK I can buy a bus pass, giving me unlimited travel in a region for a specified period. Basic services that we took for granted in the UK - we only missed them when they weren’t there.

These are 6 of the reasons why I have decided, with my family, to leave Africa - again - for good. If you are overseas, and Africa is in your bones, and you’re feeling duped by SA’s advertising that it’s all getting better (yes, Homecoming Revolution, I am talking about YOU) then don’t believe the hype. If you are white, you are unemployable, no matter how many skills or how much experience you have. Unless you are coming to participate in greed culture, and are willing to risk everything you have saved overseas (yes, overseas we have disposable income - we CAN save), then don’t be tempted by summers and blue skies. Get a UV light to combat the winter depression, but think very carefully before putting South Africa back on your radar. We have made the mistake, like so many others, and we are rectifying it, after losing everything in the process of ‘keeping the faith’. The banks in South Africa are trying to attract you because they want your foreign currency - every little helps. Just remember - if you are coming from the UK - the banks want to charge you your foreign currency. Something else that South Africans get a raw deal on is bank charges. I don’t know about bank charges anymore. In Britain, on personal accounts, there is no such thing. I do not get charged £1 to withdraw money from an ATM, and I certainly don’t get charged to DEPOSIT money into my account. Actually, the banks in the UK are so happy with their customers that they don’t charge them anything for having a bank account. The banks are attracting South Africans to ‘come home’ not because of some revolution going on with the country ‘rebuilding’, but because the country needs FOREIGN currency. It has nothing to do with the ‘brain drain’, as I have found you can be the best in the world at what you do, but corporate policies are ‘blacks only’ with employment. Don’t believe the bullshit of ‘come home and together we will boost the economy’. Translate it as ‘Your Pounds Sterling are a much needed revenue for South African banks, and we want YOU to give up your safe, stable and secure life, bring all your pounds, and when you’ve spent them ALL in South Africa and have nothing left...... Well, then you can fuck off!

Goodbye South Africa. This time, when I leave, not a single tear will be shed for ‘Mama Afrika’. I will not look back, and I will not come back. I am sad that I have to turn my back on my country like this, but you turned your backs on ME!

I’ll check in on you from time to time, while using free Wi-Fi at Starbucks or Burger King, watching the latest movies via the iTunes store, taking credit card payments with PayPal into my bank account, and reading the SA news on my affordable iPad, while talking on my iPhone. ANC - You are screwing your people, and I hope that - before you become Mugabe II - that the revolution will happen, and you will be deposed by an angry population. Even then, I won’t come back, because South Africa - your PEOPLE need to heal. I will return when South Africans once again stand proud, stand tall, ‘maak plan’ and unite. When South Africa has the South African put back into it - then it will be my home. Until then, I am British now, and I am proud that - despite the country’s shortcomings, we have a society that gives a fuck about its citizens.

Au Revoir, Goodbye and Good Luck.

THIS is why we leave.