No matter who you are and which part of South Africa you live in, I’m sure you’ll agree that this country is equal parts beautiful and broken. Like a beloved problem child, Mzansi can drive you up the wall and break your heart, yet she’s still insufferably special isn’t she? One of a kind, wonderful, wounded, weird and wild – all at once.
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock these past days, weeks, months and years, you’ll no doubt have noticed a new surge of emigration too. For those of us left behind, you can begin to wonder if you’ve missed the memo (and the boat) by choosing to stay – especially when many of those waving goodbye extol that they’re leaving “for the kids.”
So upon some reflection, here’s why I’m staying in SA – for the kids.
- I have more than five kids.
Calm down Mum, it’s just a metaphor. There are no lost love-children wandering the streets. Or maybe there are – because all those lost children out there… whose are they really? If not mine and yours, then they are truly, truly lost. Most especially the 11,9 million (64% of all kids) who live in poverty. Every middle to upper-class family leaving dwindles what little hope they have. You can blame the government of course, but there are far better ways of fighting back and advocating for our collective kids than by simply leaving.
Any nation in the world is ultimately built on citizens who commit to contribute rather than consume. Someone told me, ‘If just 30,000 financially resourced, tax-paying families left SA, there would be no greater damage done – even greater than the damage of corrupt politicians.’ His point is that the economically and skill-resourced people of SA are preserving this country in a profound way – most notably footing most of the bills, and creating jobs. To leave may (or may not) help you, but it will only exacerbate the problems you leave behind for others.
- My kids need this place as much as this place needs them.
I’m not just staying because this country needs us. I’m staying because I need this country, and my kids need it too. Not just the good stuff either – the stuff we love about SA and where we live: blue-flag beaches, braais and warm people everywhere. I’m talking about the ugly stuff. The crime stuff. The frightening days when we don’t know what tomorrow holds. When the going gets tough and we don’t get going. When it’s hard to forgive one another and our fellow citizens. When we have to wrestle with our dark collective past and the hurt it continues to inflict. When we have to dig deep, deep, deep to do all of this. I want my kids to learn how to dig deep. And there’s no better place to do that, than in Mzansi.
It’s here I get to teach my kids how to stick it out, spot opportunities in the chaos and fly alongside birds of a different feather. As one 4th century author put it: ‘If a conflict or disappointment comes upon you in the place where you live, do not leave that place when the trial comes. Wherever you go, you will find that what you are running from is ahead of you.’
- I don’t live for my kids.
I believe we all exist to not just live comfortable lives, but to make a meaningful contribution in the world. Of course, raising and loving our kids is one way we can do this, but it’s not the only way. What if it’s not an accident that we were born in this beautiful, tortured roller-coaster of a country? Fleeing to somewhere like Australia, New Zealand or Canada is a surefire way to attain greater comfort for my kids. But what about the significant impact them and I can make if we stay?
For example, an Australian friend who has relocated to African shores tells me how his dream to help others made him become a doctor. In Sydney, the high point of his career was being televised as he removed a nail from a farmer’s heel. In his first month in SA he helped more people than in the previous decade in Oz. Now he plays a role in turning the tide on HIV infections, an effort that will save multitudes. When you’re chasing significance, this is the land of dreams.
Now if reading my reasons for staying has gotten you all worked up, take a deep breath, perhaps knock down a Klippies and Coke, and give me a moment to add in all the disclaimers:
I’m not saying that you’re sentenced to stay here. Of course not! I’m just asking that we are gracious to each other – understanding that those who choose to stay may not simply be doing so because they’re two sandwiches short of a picnic.
If you feel it’s right for your family to go, go in peace! Go and make a beautiful life and a difference wherever you land. Take your die-hard South African spirit with you and spread it’s warmth around the world! And when you speak of your country of origin, speak kindly please. Your words from afar still reach and impact us in profound ways… they affect how the world sees us (whether they will visit or invest here) and I believe, they affect you deeply too. Don’t be the angry, bitter ex-pat who never really gets over their ex.
And if you’re staying, I’ll see you at the beach:)
What about you? From a recent Wonderful World Survey, it turns out 50% of us have not yet traveled outside the country.
As we celebrate Heritage Day this month – why not join the Mumversation here or below and share what you particularly cherish about this crazy country we call home?
Written by Julie Williams – Lifestyle Editor