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We have to prove Afro-pessimism wrong

Published on News24: 7 July 2017

Heaven forbid the day my overseas South African family members are able to say: ‘We told you so!’

The sad truth is that many South Africans have had to deal with the emigration of their families over the last five decades. In our case, it started with both my mother’s brothers having left for Australia by 1973, with her sister and parents following in the early 1980s.

All of them were against Apartheid, but also feared rising instability in South Africa and across the African continent. In 2017, together with their spouses and children, they include: five doctors, three lawyers, two IT experts, a geologist, an agricultural specialist, a music teacher, and a botanist/artist – all of whom enjoy comfortable lives and high standards of living.

Following in their footsteps were my brother (risk analyst) in 2006 who emigrated to Hong Kong; and my sister (maths teacher) and her husband (mining executive) who emigrated to Australia in 2008. Not to mention my wife’s mother (HR specialist in education) and brother (IT expert), and various cousins (engineers and technicians) who also emigrated to Australia.

At this stage, it is only my parents and my own family who remain in South Africa.

As I’m sure many South Africans can attest to, having family members living in stable, first-world countries is not easy, because they constantly (and irritatingly) remind us that life is so much safer, carefree and full of opportunity in their new countries of residence.

They go on to say that their children have no obligation to repay the debts of Apartheid, do not live in fear of crime or rape, do not face racial persecution from majority groups, and don’t have to put up with discriminating economic policies like affirmative action.

Not only that, their net-worth is significantly higher than ours having worked in these first-world nations where they enjoy either low taxes (15% in Hong Kong); or high taxes (40% in Australia) offset largely by reliable, first-class state services that negate the need for ‘duplicate’ expenditure on private security, private schooling, private health care, and more recently, private water storage and ‘off-grid’ electrical generation capability.

But this is certainly not new. From 1973 to now, as the complement of family emigrants swelled, so their assertions that we should also leave South Africa compounded.

1973 – 1980

They said: “Look at the rest of Africa … SA is doomed – you had better save yourselves.”

We said: “We love SA. It’s natural splendour courses through our veins. We cannot leave.”

1980 – 1990

They said: “SA is on the brink of civil war – get out while you still can.”

We said: “There’s a growing wave of change across the nation, we remain optimistic.”

1990 – 2000

They said: “The ANC will take over and destroy SA – now’s the time to jump ship.”

We said: “The ANC has promised us that SA will be governed as a non-racial society with an inclusive economy, that land rights and pensions are secure, and that we all stand together as a united team with one goal – to obliterate the scourges of illiteracy and poverty … and thereby realise the full potential of our ‘rainbow nation’.”

2000 – 2010

They said: “SA will follow the same path as Zimbabwe – it’s time to run!”

We said: “The ANC is more sensible than you give them credit for, and besides, our constitution protects us from this kind of madness.”

2010 – 2015

They said: “Corruption is taking hold of SA, and you will be held responsible for all of the ANC’s failings – come and make a better life for yourself in a country that wants your skills and will treat you as an equal.”

We said: “The ANC is a movement of historically high principles – they will not let corruption undermine their moral values.”

2015 – 2017

They said: “SA has descended into a dictatorship synonymous with so many other corrupt African countries – escape this escalating racial victimisation before it’s too late.”

We said: “The ANC will come to its senses – there are many in its ranks who are determined to root out this corruption and propaganda to ensure the party regains its former glory.”

2018 – If those looting the state are not held to account and corruption prevails…

We say: “Our property has been taken from us, my savings and pension is now worth nothing, and we live in constant fear for our lives. Do you have a spare room for my family in your home in Australia?”

They say: “We told you so!”

2018 – If those looting the state are held to account and corruption is thwarted…

We say: “By liberating itself from the curse of corruption, the ANC has demonstrated the courage and integrity we came to know and trust during the era of Nelson Mandela.”

They say: “When can we come and visit you for a holiday!”

Last words

Like I said, it’d be a sad day indeed if the first 2018 scenario materialises and my overseas family were able to say: “We told you so!”. It would inexcusably vindicate their long-held, pessimistic belief that SA could not succeed and that the ANC would eventually turn it into yet another African disaster story.

Let’s all hope the latter 2018 scenario unfolds, not least so we can prove the Afro-pessimists wrong, but mostly because the extraordinary people of South Africa deserve it! 

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