- we are whiny. We whine about our new countries and we whine about the state of South Africa.
- we are miserable and wish we were back home
- some expats actively badmouth South Africa and seem to wish harm upon the place.
- some expats are very bitter about the situation in SA and/or are racist.
- we don't move on with our lives and leave South Africa behind.
All of these accusations are true of some expats. However many of them can be applied to South Africans in South Africa too. So why is there this bad name and strong negativity directed at expats?
Because we are a minority. The sins of the few always stick to the many with minorities. It would be ludicrous to imply that all South Africans are whiny and miserable and racist just because some are. But when it comes to expats we are all lumped together.
I often encounter the attitude that expats no longer have valid opinions about the country, that we don't count because we are not there, and our views are treated as insignificant. The fact that we may show an interest in SA and care about what happens there is seen as not moving on. It seems we are expected to forget we ever were South African, and should miraculously become something else. Unfortunately things don't always work that way.
I ask, moving on from what? How can I move on from what is within me?
I am a South African, a woman, a climber, a scientist, an expat, but none of these things are all there is to me. I don't walk around obsessing about South Africa to everyone I meet. But I cannot move on from something that makes up my psyche.
I feel that I will always be passionately interested in SA, even if I never live there again. I blame studying Philosopshy and Literature via UNISA (both subjects have strong African components); it keeps SA closer to my thoughts than I expected. I have to write essays about things like affirmative action, ok, and I have to research these things. How can I not reflect on the socioeconomic situation, the attitudes, the prejudices and the confused attitudes that make up the country?
Why do expats from other countries not have such strong and cliched connotations attached to themselves? Why is it such an emotive subject for South Africans? This question has been flying around for ages, and I do grasp the basic psychological theories, although I am sure there is more to it than these.
Firstly, expats sometimes leave because they feel forced to, either due to crime, or an inability to get jobs, or because they are afraid of the future in what they perceive as an unstable country. They are therefore angry or bitter and go through a phase of badmouthing the country and those who choose to stay. You who stay represent expats' disappointments and frustrations.
I had a friend who, because of bad personal experiences, went through this bitter phase. And yes, it was just a phase. He got over it. He now recommends SA as a holiday destination to everyone, and he is no longer bitter. People get over it. Expats are not all permanently bitter and twisted. Any that are do damage only to themselves.
Then of course there are the people who are still in SA who lash out at expats. They are possibly feeling insecure about their decisions and take it out on expats, because we are seen as cowardly, apathetic or whatever other pejorative terms have attached themselves to this evergrowing cliche of a word. We are your scapegoats, people. We are an easy target. We represent your own insecurities.
Stop falling for the cliche. Nothing in life is as cut and dried as we so desperately wish it was. We all have our reasons for staying or leaving. Some of us in both cases are interested in the country, some are not.
If we are, it is not always because we cannot move on, or are sad, or whatever. Maybe we have phases where these labels are true. But they are always phases. And being interested in your home country is natural.
I know that I achieve nothing and provide no benefit to the country by being "interested" in or "caring" about what goes on in SA. I am not so egotistical as to think I am a better person for taking an interest. I just do and I have the right to and I am not going to defend this any more.
I am what I am, a South African who has hybridised to England, and may rehybridise somewhere else, and who mostly grapples with being the only non-Chinese person at her workplace.
I think what I am trying to say in my laboured and confused way is that we are all stumbling about trying to make sense of life. None of use know what is going on. We all go through phases, and we all change constantly. Nothing is fixed. We are all processes. We have to work it all out in our own ways.
Don't tell us to move on, as if we can discard South Africa like a piece of litter. We will if that is something that is necessary in the process of our lives. It is not a necessity for everyone. An expat is not only expat. And don't try to simplify complex issues by dismissing them with cliches.
I am unapolagetically South African, now and probably in the future. That is just me. I don't claim that for all expats. So write me and my opinions off if you want, but I am not going to subdue them any more just because I feel that you feel that they don't count.