After a decade on the expat trail, which included stints in Beijing, Hong Kong and London, Zanine Wolf and her husband packed it all in and moved back to sunny South Africa with their two young boys in tow. She writes about her decision to return home, and how there is always a push and pull between wanting to stay and wanting to seek greener pastures.
Some of us are riding out the uncertainty. Some of us, packing for Perth.
Some of us are desperate to leave, but being economic prisoners, we can’t.
Some feel like we should leave (it’s only a matter of time we’re told), but we don’t want to.
There are those who bash the country from afar, swapping crime stories at braais with their mukkers, saying phew we’re lucky we got out, the country is going to hell in a hand basket.
Shame we say, you have to clean your own house and look after your kids 24/7. And shame, you have to hack on the Tube everyday and the sun never shines.
Ag, you might have a clean house but you’re barricaded inside it, you remind us.
We write about our love for this country, you lambaste us. You’re like frogs who don’t realise you’re in boiling water you say. Oh, you might be safe, but are you happy is our comeback.
Don’t you miss it, we ask. The beaches, the bush, the skies, the gees, the winefarms, the warmth, the spirit, the connections, the diversity, the entrepreneurial opportunities, your families?
How do you cope with it, you counter. The instability, the political shitstorms, the crime, the escalating cost of living, the loadshedding?
Perhaps your Facebook feed of cuzzies hanging together on weekends, sunkissed with bruised shins, gives you a pining so visceral it takes your breath away. Perhaps you feel just a gentle pang of nostalgia that’s eclipsed by excitement for an upcoming weekend in Croatia or the relief of living without high walls.
Perhaps you left for an adventure. Maybe you were pushed out by a trauma.
For every South African who kisses the tarmac or presses their face into the red dirt when they move back home, there is one who is thriving overseas and has never looked back.
For every patriotic story on #I’mStaying there’s another on #IAmStayingOverseas, swearing allegiance to an adopted country.
I emigrated twice and both times I came back. South Africa never really loved me (like Trevor Noah, I was born a crime), but I loved her, regardless.
I kak about the future, but I can’t bear the thought of leaving. With every year that passes, my roots here sink deeper, but goddam it’s a beautiful thing to walk through the world without looking over your shoulder, and I miss that. We may move to give that to our children one day.
South Africa is immensely beautiful, immensely troubled. Whether we stick by her or leave her shores, perhaps we should be mindful of what a privilege choice is, because those most affected by the country’s travails have precious few.
This country’s stories, like ours, are many and varied, complex and singular. There’s no right or wrong, there are zero guarantees.
There is always the push and the pull.
Choosing is never easy. Let’s have each other’s backs.