This, coupled with already existing challenges – such as the country’s high crime rate, unemployment, rising interest rates, perceived pervasive corruption and what some would call unsettling developments on the political arena – no doubt nudged some to consider joining the stream of South Africans moving to other climes.
But after reading Don’t Panic! A Book by South Africans, for South Africans, many people about to succumb to the urge to emigrate to the supposedly safe and opportunity-endowed havens of Australia, the UK, the US and Canada will, no doubt, think twice.
The compilation of Don’t Panic! was triggered by an email iBurst MD Alan Knott-Craig – the son and namesake of the outgoing Vodacom CEO – distributed to his staff at the beginning of the year, to reassure them in the face of the prevailing negativity about South Africa.
While admitting that 2008 looked set to be a tough year, he pointed out that this was not the first time there had been doom and gloom. “It happened in 1989, when South Africa defaulted on its inter- national loan repayments; it happened in 1994, when the African National Congress took power and everyone thought war would break out; it happened in 1998, when interest rates hit 25%; and it happened in 2001, when a fairly unstable guy by the name of Osama arranged for two Boeings to fly into the tallest buildings in New York . . .
“Make sure you make a mental note of every- thing that is happening now, because it will happen again and again, and if you don’t recog- nise the symptoms, you will be sucked into the same nega- tivity and forget to look for the opportunities.”
This call to not to despair was picked up by others, who submitted their contributions through the publisher’s blog and by email, with a few sending their comments by SMS. Those who felt the urge to comment included little-known individuals and well-known personalities, such as Didata chairperson Andile Ndcaba (a former director- general of the Department of Communications), talk-show host Noeleen Maholwana-Sangqu, Talk Radio 702’s John Robbie, Jewish chief rabbi of South Africa Warren Goldstein and clinical psychologist Dorianne Weil, besides others.
All these people, who include those in the diaspora and those who have since come back, are unanimous that nothing beats living in one’s own country, among one’s people.
A businessperson who now lives in London complains: “I am an invisible, anonymous person. I have to start from the beginning – just a number in a queue. There is no family history, credit rating, general practi- tioner or greengrocer – it’s hard to start all over again.”
And while the immigrants make new friendships, these miss the ‘remember when?’ aspect.
A contributor who signs off simply as Johann, who has lived in the UK for ten years and is planning to return to South Africa, warns would-be emigrants that the grass appears greener on the other side because they do not have anything to compare South Africa with. He says: “Yes, crime is a problem in South Africa, but don’t think this place is crime free and, of course, over here, we have the extra fear of the suicide bomber on the underground.”
The key message of Don’t Panic! is that, rather than packing our bags and heading for Perth or some such place, we must do something to help resolve South Africa’s problems. As Patrick Smythe counsels, we must take a leaf out of the Zimbabweans’ book. “Many thousands of Zimbos working all over the world remit money every month to create a future for their families left behind. When Bob goes, they will return. Their combined remittance is bigger than the foreign aid donations. They do it because they love their country!”
And we must also love our country.