January 18, 2023 — 10 min read
I am writing this post sitting comfortably at home in supremely beautiful, sunny South Africa.
In the coming weeks I will be moving from the ever present, blanketing warmth of South Africa to the austere cold of the United Kingdom.
I’m deeply blessed to live the way I do in South Africa.
The room I’m writing this from is a large one. Big enough for two office desks with accompanying chairs and a nice spacious bed. Oh yes, and a nice array of cupboard space to boot. I’d be remiss if I didn’t highlight that this generously sized room is only a spare room.
I’m acutely aware that when I get to the UK I’ll be rather lucky if my entire home is marginally bigger than the spare room I’m currently sitting in. I’m also quite aware that whatever small space I do find to call home in the UK will be obnoxiously priced. I find the rental prices in London offensive quite frankly.
Owning a car here is fairly achievable for most middle class individuals. If I want to go somewhere I can just jump in the car and zip off. It’s easy, it’s liberating. When I stop to put fuel in, I don’t leave my car. A petrol attendant will run out and assist. Their friendliness will undoubtedly be infectious.
Come dinner time, if I find myself without groceries I can jump back into my car and nip off to a restaurant. Whichever restaurant I attend will have countless waitrons weaving throughout, generally efficient and friendly. I can get a great burger and chips for £6, approximately R130. If I felt like a beer I could get one for just over £1 (if that). Oh, and if I need to Uber home I can do so for £2.
For most of the year I would be able to get home from this hypothetical dinner before the sun even sets. Moreover, for the majority of the year I am able to go for a run at 05:30 in the morning in shorts and a shirt. The sun would already be floating around above me, no flashlight needed.
We recently decided to immigrate to the UK, leaving my heart strings splayed in all directions. My wife and I had a long chat about it before making the decision. We are young, with practically no responsibilities rooting us in South Africa. It’s not an irreversible step, instead just a potentially rather laborious two way door.
That said, we’d be turning our backs on resilient South Africa, our home.
We’d be leaving behind a very comfortable standard of living. By going to the UK we'd be deserting our comparably palatial domicile, being thrust into a tiny little cupboard house.
On top of this, we'd no longer be surrounded by the unmatched friendliness of our fellow South Africans.
Our warm, glorious, brightly lit days would lose their spritely glow, replaced by their gloomy, grouchy, hagged step-sister. Our furtively cheap manual labour would be no more. The price of just about everything would skyrocket.
We’d be contributing to the already rampant brain-drain pandemic gripping the country. We’d be throwing in the towel, turning in our #ImStaying cards (Google is your friend).
So that begs the question: why are we leaving?
When I started writing the post I told myself it wouldn’t be to vent about South Africa (I can’t tolerate people that complain endlessly). I told myself I would write about the things I look forward to most in the UK and contrast them with South Africa (without slighting South Africa). I wanted to put a novel, positive spin on it all. However, as I tried to do so I found myself coming back to many of my frustrations with South Africa. It became apparent to me that in order to write this I would have to dive into the nasty stuff.
As such, I’m about to vent quite a bit.
As you may or may not know, I’m a software developer. I sit at my computer for most of the day writing (questionable) code. I use electricity to power my internet router, computer and monitor. Unfortunately, South Africa has abusive power outages everyday (cutely named ‘loadshedding’). Loadshedding makes performing the basics of my job a nightmare. Fortunately I can do quite a bit to get around it (e.g. buy a UPS for my router, ensure that everything is charging when we do have power, etc). Regardless, being a developer and having an unreliable source of electricity is exceptionally frustrating.
If you are in the workforce, pause for a moment and consider trying to do your job (or parts of your job) without electricity. Then think about the ripple effect of having no electricity for all the components that make up your job.
We’ve been experiencing loadshedding in South Africa since 2007 and it feels like it has only gotten worse. I am very fortunate to be in a financial position to work around loadshedding and mitigate most of its impact. For the majority of the South African population this isn’t possible. Their jobs and general welfare are at the mercy of our government (Eskom, a public power utility, provides South Africa with electricity).
Our astoundingly inept government has let down its people and done little to remedy the problem. They have laboured to allow corruption to thrive. The entire debacle makes me seethe. I recognise the situation is a lot more nuanced than the narrative I am putting forward, but ultimately I feel that the South African government rules without accountability or fear of consequences and it is wreaking havoc on those most destitute. I can confidently say one of the key reasons I’m looking to move across the pond is loadshedding. I do see the irony in moving to a continent with a looming energy crisis.
In second place is crime. South Africa has the 8th highest homicide rate in the world. A number of sources put South Africa high up the list when it comes to crime in general, with Numbeo putting it at 4th worst globally and the Organised Crime Index putting us at 19th overall.
South Africa has an inhumane, complicated, immoral history. I could write pages about the grotesque actions of white people and its impact on the country. I’m not going to unpack that now but couple Apartheid, a lack of repercussions and a spineless, broken ruling party and poverty and crime were inevitable.
I don’t know anyone who has not been impacted by crime in South Africa. When I go for a run I have to take pepper spray with me. Locking your car doors before even turning the car on is second nature. Keeping a good distance between cars at traffic lights in case there is a hijacking is sensible. Again, I speak from a position of privilege. I am blessed beyond measure to have the life I do. My soul hurts for the people who are impacted most by this. The people who will be without food if they are robbed, the people who know no better than to resort to crime. As heartless as it is to say, all of this doesn’t soften the practical impact on me and my safety.
It must be said that, unlike the UK and Europe, we have no serious risk of major criminal catastrophes like terrorist attacks. Nonetheless, having to always look over your shoulder or double check doors are locked is unsettling.
On a very practical level, loadshedding and crime are the two main factors for me wanting to leave the country.
I hate that I am even complaining about the issues above. I live a comparatively marvellous life, yet our ruling party’s arrogant, fragrant disregard for its people and country’s health is despicable and cowardly. Ever present hateful poverty, lusting to tear apart families and desecrate people’s livelihoods.
All of it can get one quite riled up (clearly).
I must acknowledge that I am also anxious about South Africa's future in general. I wish things would turn around and still cling to the hope that they will.
I like to believe I’m an eternal optimist (I wouldn’t blame you for thinking otherwise), always striving to remain positive when negativity abounds. There is so much to love about South Africa. We are resilient, able to stare down adversity, concocting ingenious solutions to difficult problems. We are quirky, gregarious people. Our country is also so damn majestic. We have unparalleled sunsets, long meandering coastlines packed with marine life, game reserves teeming with creatures.
However, being a somewhat risk averse person, the coward inside of me isn’t able to wait out the storm and see where we end up. I have the opportunity to go to a new country (not without its own problems) and think at this moment in time it makes sense.
Enough complaining though, gross.
There are many reasons I want to go to the UK.
The counterpart to the sombre grey skies of England are the amazing summers. Most of the year is depressing (quite literally, I’m looking at you Vitamin D) but when gorgeous Summer reveals herself, she does so without inhibitions.
The tech scene is more mature in the UK, offering more opportunities for someone in my industry. That means I’ll be able to grow and learn as a developer. I’ll be closer to the forefront of tech innovations. On top of this, investors have a larger risk appetite, more willing to take a chance on a budding startup. As someone with startup aspirations this is appealing.
I’ll also be next door to Europe, able to explore diverse cultures and places. I love travelling and I eagerly await being able to jump onto a plane and immerse myself in some part of Europe I have yet to experience. Even the UK itself is a new world for me to dive into and explore. Furthermore, I have lived my whole life in South Africa and feel life is too short to shy away from trying new things when possible.
I have many amazing life long friends in the UK. I genuinely miss them all dearly and I am giddy at the prospect of being in close proximity to them (I am dubious of them feeling the same way though). Collectively we are a hot mess and I can’t wait for it.
Every corner of the world has its own problems. No country or place is without flaws. All parts of the world have their idiosyncrasies. You have to take the good with the bad. It is remarkably easy to find fault with a country, its government and so on. As my wife likes to say, the grass is not greener on the other side, it's greener where you water it.
Let's hope all that rain in the UK produces nice green grass.