Read on: http://www.rianonline.com/2009/02/leaving-south-africa/
February 21st, 2009
As a South African currently living in the United States, I have heard every response imaginable on my decision to (temporarily) leave South Africa. The responses range all the way from “you must be glad you got out of that dump” to “how can you abandon your country at this critical time?” - and everything in between. Recently the press has picked up on what has become known as the big “brain drain” out of South Africa. This week, Newsweek got into the game with an article sensationally called “Fleeing From South Africa“. I’d like to take a few moments to respond to this article - but please read it first for context.
First, I want to say that there lives a unique dichotomy within those of us who were born and raised in South Africa. Look, we get it. We get that the crime rate is astronomical, the politics are corrupt, and things just tend to not work the way it “should” according to First World standards. Yes, we get all that, but still we can’t emancipate ourselves from this flawed, breathtakingly beautiful country - and its open-hearted, ready-to-take-on-the-future people. And then I read paragraphs like this one in the Newsweek article, and I just shake my head - not because the facts are wrong, but because it misses the point so completely:
The primary driver for emigration among all groups, but especially whites, who still retain the majority of South Africa’s wealth, is fear of crime. With more than 50 killings a day, South Africa has one of the highest per capita murder rates in the world. The same goes for rape—ranking the country alongside conflict zones such as Sierra Leone, Colombia and Afghanistan. Future Fact polling indicates that more than 95 percent of those eager to leave South Africa rate violent crime as the single most important factor affecting their thinking.
Yes, it sounds scary - and the facts are disturbing. But I’ve also recently seen a remarkable uprising of positivity in South Africa that I haven’t seen before. I’m increasingly seeing a “good riddance” attitude towards those who leave the country loudly and for negative reasons. A hope that all the complainers would leave already, so that those who would like to stay and build can get down to business without the distracting and annoying voices of the nay-sayers. I still remember a high school teacher who once asked me, “Do you want to ride the wave of a place that has already accomplished everything, or be a part of building something that has huge unmet potential?” I choose the latter.
I know what you’re thinking though - how can I be judgmental about this while I sit “safely” in another country. Sure, point taken. But I can say that my reasons for leaving had nothing to do with the crime rate or the politcal environment (Yep, I left to pursue a girl…). And I can also say that we will move back, we will definitely move back, and that I’m using my time here to develop skills I can use to help build the future of South Africa.
Why do we plan to go back? Because there’s no place like Africa. Chaos and beauty exist so close to each other, often within the same place and the same moment, and it creates an energy that you just cannot describe. Yes, it’s not for the faint-hearted, and the decision to live there, especially if you’ve lived somewhere else in the world for a while, is made for reasons that transcend the traditional Western values of consumerism and security.
You live in Africa because you can’t get it out of your blood. You live there because you are placed there to make a difference. You live there because you are compelled by the red earth and the redder sunsets to make a small contribution to the ongoing effort to save it from itself, to preserve both the chaos and the beauty so that it can co-exist in harmony. And you do it not for yourself, but for your children, and for generations to come. You live there because you believe that Africa is not the dark continent it is made out to be, that it cannot be written off, that it is too precious and too fragile and too robust, that the world is making a big mistake if it thinks African countries cannot be successful, peaceful democracies.
And so I’ve had several conversations with my country over the past few years. We’re still fighting with each other, my country and I, not quite coming to an agreement about my future there. But I’m ok with that for now. Because I know Africa will never retreat, never stop talking, never condemn me for taking so long to come back. Make no mistake — I know that Africa does not need me. But I need it, desperately. I need it to blow life into my calloused bones. And I need it because I was born there. I am an African.
And that is why I will return.