Thursday, May 8, 2008


Recently I posted on Africa-as-everything-bad, which got me thinking about some of the most common perceptions of South Africa as an individual country. When Australians think of South Africa, they think of crime. When I was first considering visiting there with Dave, one relative informed me that I’d be “raped and murdered”.

About a week ago, someone told me of a conversation they’d had with a South African ex-pat who’d recently gone back for a holiday. This person, I was told, “didn’t bring back your glowing reports” but instead had tales of relatives being hijacked, fences with barbed wire on the top, and gates that block off the area of the house where the bedrooms are.

I suddenly felt like my “glowing reports” were embarrassingly na├»ve. Apparently it is suspicious even to enjoy South Africa, and appreciate its beauty and its people, on a holiday. I’d stayed behind barbed wire fences with people who’d been hijacked and tied up in their own home. I’d seen the security signs everywhere, and the “car guards” at the end of every parking place.

Yet somehow I’d failed. I’d still managed to feel positive about being in South Africa. The crime stories weren’t at the top of my list of perceptions of the place. I remembered a beautiful garden and a happy dinner behind the fence and the laser beams. I remembered a spectacular view from the well-secured apartment complex. I remembered how much fun it was to see my husband’s old home and school, even though every house in the street had a security sign on the fence.

I think ex-pat South Africans also have mainly positive memories of their homeland. Most would readily admit that the lived a reasonably good life in South Africa, but envisaged a better future somewhere else. Some, like my husband, came here for reasons completely unrelated to the social problems in the land of their birth. They came to pursue study or work, and never intended to remain indefinitely. Dave and I still hope to spend substantial amounts of time in South Africa, perhaps even years.

It is probably Australians, not South African ex-pats, who are at fault in the creation of the mental phenomenon of South-Africa-as-fear-and-violence. The crime stories are so much juicier than the tales ex-pats could tell of the jobs they enjoyed, their trips to other countries in Africa, the people they loved and still love, the opportunities for service to the community, and the cultural aspects they miss? Who wants to hear about those when you can hear about the time Uncle Bob woke up to find a masked man at the end of his bed?


  1. Hi Sherrin

    I totally agree that sensational stories sell - why do you think people always slow down when they pass an accident? There is a morbid fascination with terrible things - accidents, hijackings etc. I am generalising here, but I basically agree with you that people are sometimes more open to hearing about the bad than they are about the good.

    I think having visited SA and leaving with glowing reports is great. I am South African and worked overseas for many years. I was always very proud of SA and would 'sell' it to my colleagues. I returned to SA permanently a few years ago and have not been disappointed or disillusioned since my return. Yes, there are problems and yes, crime is one of these. But, that said, there are problems in every country - developing or first world.

    I don't deny there are problems and we do take certain measures to avoid being victims. I do think we need to question why ex-pats tend to have a negative outlook. I think sometimes they may feel they need to defend/justify why they left a country. I suppose we don't know the history that informs their view of a country or the world.

    I am maybe naive, but I prefer to consider myself an optimist. I look for the good, or at least try to, and I am aware of the not-so-good stuff too. So it gets to me when others can only see the bad.

    Thanks for all the posts.

    Cape Town, South Africa

  2. Hello LH,

    I thought you would like this post!

    I think the best approach with SA is to be very realistic about the problems, but also to be realistic about the many blessings in SA.

    My theory is that those who are the most vehement "SA advocates", who don't want to hear a word against it, are likely to flip. E.g. something will be the last straw and all of a sudden the will hate the place and emigrate as soon as possible. A balanced approach like the one you describe is the best, I think.

    Yes, you are right that the crime and other issues would come up with ex-pats more because they are always going to be asked "why did you leave?". Those reasons are often related to the negative aspects of SA, and so that will be the topic of discussion. And yes, I do think people often feel the need to justify their decision.

    What type of work did you pursue when you lived overseas?

    God bless,


  3. Hi Sherrin

    Yes, I did enjoy the post - thanks.
    I worked in publishing in London for a few years and was fortunate enough to find a job in educational publishing soon after my return to Cape Town.

    Keep well and have a good weekend.


  4. Hello Sherrin,

    I have never been to South Africa, so I don't have firsthand knowledge of the situation there. I am glad, however, that you were able to see past the problems and enjoy the people and the land.

    There is no place on this earth where there are not troubles but to focus on them only brings fear, division and suspicion. I do agree with LH, we need to use wisdom and avoid being victims, and that can be done and still have a different perspective.

    Glory to God that He gives us those different eyes.