“I Am Sorry” – An Open Letter From A South African Expat

Every time I see yet another article from another South African moaning about the negativity of expats, and clearly writing with their rose tinted glasses on, I get angry. Really angry. Hulk angry.


The overwhelming theme of South African bloggers and writers lately seems to be the attack of the expat. How dare we leave South Africa and still think we have a right talk about our homeland? It’s like once we step on that plane, we are suddenly obligated to forget our lives there ever existed, or at least we seem to be expected to forget all the bad bits, lest we offend anyone we leave behind.

South African expats around the world seem to be being bashed in every direction I look. Of course we all know the expat (and this also applies to some South Africans who are still living in South Africa) who is constantly moaning and putting the country down and telling everyone how wonderful his new home country is. But not every expat can be or should be tarred with this derogatory brush.

South African expats aren’t allowed to share any ‘negative’ stories about the country, or comment on any South African news if we are judged to be being ‘negative’. I say ‘negative’, because one person’s negative is another’s reality. It seems that you are only allowed to have an opinion on the state of the country if you are residing on South African soil. Or if you are being ‘positive’ about South Africa then that’s ok too.

Which really pisses me off. Yes, we know there are so many wonderful stories and amazing initiatives happening in South Africa – most, if not all of us personally know someone who is fighting hard and making a difference to our beautiful home nation. Many people who live abroad still donate their time, money and where possible material possessions to charities in South Africa. We all fondly remember driving and hooting at each other and waving our flags from our cars after Joel Stranksy kicked that winning drop goal in the 1995 Rugby World Cup. We continued to be inspired by Madiba’s legacy of forgiveness and healing no matter where in the world we live and what colour our skin.

But what most of us cannot forget is the horrors of what we have personally experienced. Mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, cousins, friends, robbed, held up at gunpoint in their own homes, mugged in the street, hijacked, raped and murdered. Ask any expat and I would say that they or someone close to them has been physically harmed in some way and that was a major part of the reason they left. Not all, of course, but many.

Every country has ‘problems’ but not every country has a murder rate and rape rate like South Africa. A murder rate that is only getting higher, not lower, which implies that these problems are not being addressed successfully.

South Africans will say they don’t live in fear, but you should try leaving the country sometime, just for a holiday, and see how the rest of the world live. The first time I went overseas was to England I was 15 – we took a taxi from the airport to our hotel and it was about 8am. My mum remembers my amazement when I asked her why people were walking around the streets. That’s what normal people do. They walk to work, they take buses and trains to work. Yet I had never seen that!

So yes, we expats are sorry. Sorry we ever had to think about leaving our beautiful homeland. A place not just close to our hearts, but in our blood, where we grew up surrounded by family and friends who loved and cared for us. Sorry that not only did we think about it, but we packed up our entire lives and actually got on a plane and left.

Ask any expat and I am sure that 100% of them will tell you they cried when they left. They cried for their family, their friends and for the fact that they could not see a future for themselves of their children in their African homeland.

And we don’t simply hop on a plane and start living it up in our glorious new country. Often we arrive with little money because we had to sell everything just to afford the visa and relocation costs. Many of us don’t have jobs for months while we look for work to support our families, both with us and back home. We usually have to start from the bottom and work our way up from scratch, we don’t often walk into cushy jobs with fat cat salaries. It usually takes an expat years to attain a similar lifestyle which we left in South Africa, if we ever get there at all. And you know what? We are happy about it. Because we sleep safe in the knowledge that we have made a decision that is right for us. A decision that is right for our children. And a decision that will be right for their children.

So next time you want to bash an expat, perhaps you could think about what they might have gone through before making a life-changing decision that they believe is in their own, and no one else’s, best interest.

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8 responses to ““I Am Sorry” – An Open Letter From A South African Expat

  1. I actually disagree that people are bashing expats. I find that more and more South Africans are trying to get out and getting advice from their expat friends. As someone who is still living here, I don’t have any happy stories, only horrifying stories and disgusting mismanagement by our trash government. I envy you and will happily be leaving this shithole as soon as possible

  2. deon terblanche

    What you actually saying is that when the ANC took power and Mbeki followed up Mandela we just went one way. Not to mention the current asshole’s name. He is stealing from the poor and appoints people to protect him, cunning, dumb bastard!!!

  3. Andries Stucki

    God bles you in your new country and I know that South Africa will always be your home. Please, do not stop commenting on the corrupt and criminal behaviour of a high % of the population here back home, as well as the mismanagement of our (yes, yours as well, you left a lot of tax contributions behind) recources. We still staying here will slowly adapt and ultimatly accept the raw deal that this incompetent government (with the ultimate criminal as leader and example for our young kids), unless people like you remind us of what the norm is outside of this country! The best clear-minded comments I see is from people like you that are not subjected to this racism and hand-outs to incompetent so called previously-disadvantaged ‘people’ buy the current government, while they do very little, if any, to prevent the murder of the last few productive farmers.

    Kind regards

  4. I am so happy for you and your family that you got out.
    I want to tell my story if you don’t mind. Because I am only one out of many single parents.
    I am a widow (husband murdered in a high-jack) & mother with two sons. Struggling my butt off just to feed my boys with no help from anyone. But that’s also who I am and how we were taught since we were kids. You never ask or beg “hou jou hande bak” for anything from anyone. You have to take care of your own. You have to work hard for what you want in live even if it means you have to work 2 or 3 jobs or make something to sell in your spare time.
    I am glad I was raised this way because in this new S.A it is helping me a lot.
    I make fudge, meat pies & muffins every night and sell to my colleges (mostly the bosses) for extra money also fill in online survey’s, ptc sites just to keep my boys in school. My day only ends at 1 am. I make about R2 000 – R2 500 per month extra this way.
    The school fees for just 2 boys alone are:
    * 9yr old – R1 080-00
    * 15yr old – R1 200-00
    Total – R2 280-00
    I don’t get any grants or discount for schools or any other place as I have a job that pays me R8 700-00 p/m but I only get out R5 738-00 after uif, taxes, medical(hospital plan only) and pension has been deducted.
    I plant most of my own veggies but don’t have the space to plant enough. My expenses on housing, water & electricity is R4 800-00 . I am struggling but me and my boys are surviving.
    I don’t get to go out and meet someone as I don’t have a single second for that.
    This is the way of life for many many many single or widowed mothers here in South Africa but many don’t have the equipment, space or ability to do what I do for extra money. And finding 2nd jobs is nearly impossible these days because many night jobs like restaurants, pubs or bars don’t employ white people anymore.

    I have been trying to find a way to emigrate for the past 8 yrs now since husband’s murder but I have not been that lucky so far. I was told that the fact that I am a single parent to underage kids counts against me. I wrote to Ireland, England, Australia, Canada & American embassy to flee as a refugee or to seek asylum but the replies were that South Africa is not a war zone so I don’t qualify as refugee or asylum seeker. This was just after the murder. I was so scared, depressed & still in shock…I did anything to just get out.
    I still have no Idea what to do to get out besides seeking work abroad via recruitment companies & hope for the best. But so far most insist that I would have a work permit already but the embassies insist that I have to have work first and a letter from the new employer before I can apply for a work permit in that country. It feels like a vicious cycle blocking every chance I get.
    Last week we got news that within the next 6 months there will be retrenchments.

    I know of many single parents mostly women that has the same problem I have. Some begging for food & clothes or any kind of work on Facebook’s job seek sites. People have no idea how many women are left widowed with children after their men are murdered. Many schools don’t accept applications where the mother is the only breadwinner & need discount to keep kids in school. Many school grant applications are denied where the parent earns more that R4 000-00. There are no housing Assistance or programs or centres for white single parents who earns a living above R2000-00. Get this out to the international world. How the families of the murdered are struggling to just get by or to make a living.

    There are so many white squatter camps outside the cities where our people are denied school grants, child grants and even pensions. The hospitals & clinics send them away claiming they are full. Churches and the community does everything to help them. We donate our old clothes, have “soup kitchens” every Wednesday & Sundays and pay school fees for some of the kids. My church helped me with material so I made a couple duvets for this winter for Middelburg’s hope city. But this is not enough. There is not enough money or donations to help everyone and there is a lot. Our towns white Squatter camps has already got 3732 homeless white men, women, children and elderly people.
    Government completely refuses to help.

  5. Oh I also wanted to add:

    Thank You very much to those expats that tells the world whats really going on in South Africa. I am sorry for those that attacks you guys. They are only a few. A lot of us South Africans appreciate the fact that the expats tells the world the truth. Let the world know what this “rainbow nation’s” really about. How crime effects every one of us. How most of us have gone through the horrors of the African ways. How we live in terror, horror & discrimination every day of our lives.

    Thank You Guys

  6. yes the expats must tell the whole world the truth about South Africa and that patato head that never went to school.

  7. @Widow.. I can understand where you are coming from as my mother is a widow who helped raise us in challenging & difficult times. I am now in New Zealand. I suggest you go to forums like expatforums under NewZealand and ask for advice etc. on how to get here or to any other country that interests you. Apply for jobs via Trademe nz and Seek nz and see what sort of response you get. A work permit is required or you can get a tourist visa and try your luck when you are here, but the cost of living and plane tickets is double that of SA. I really do sympathise with you and wish you all the very best. I can also suggest that your kids learn a useful trade like electronics, diesal mechanic, or any sort of engineering field or IT networking and they will have a good chance of getting a job overseas and here in NZ. If you can’t put them through University then i suggest an internship/apprenticeship through a company and they will train them up and gain the necessary certifications etc. to eventually move on 🙂 Hope this helps.

  8. Thanks for the ideas you shared