“Sometimes I am so ashamed to say that I am South African.”
“Oh! I think the South African language is a very angry language. I have heard when mums speak to their kids and it always sounds angry!”
“When I hear people speak Afrikaans I immediately tell my kids not to say anything, for fear that people will identify me as a Saffa.”
I heard all of these statements since I have moved to Australia. Actually, I have heard it said many times in the past eight years.
And the best reply I have heard so far is from a friend who said, “It has nothing to do with the nationality but everything with whether you are an ass or not.”
If anything, these days I find myself very proud of where I come from.
In the last two weeks, I have spoken to a person who said, “I think that South Africans are making a huge contribution to this country. I have found them to be very hard-working and incredibly focused and committed.”
I have recently attended a conference where Dr. Caroline Leaf was the speaker. An expat making a global difference. And I eagerly put my hand in the air when she did a shout out to her former countrywomen.
There are many high achievers amongst South Africans – whether they are still living in South Africa or whether they have immigrated to Australia or any other country of their choice.
There is also everyday folk who have packed up everything and came here to start over.
Amongst these everyday folk are ‘oupa’s en ouma’s’ who have made the move. I think they deserve special mention. To leave everything behind that you have worked decades for and to come and start over at 60, 70 or even 80 takes a special type of courage.
A year ago I sat at Kalahari Clarkson and listened to a group of senior citizens discussing the type of visas that they had, and how much money they had to spend to enable them to be close to their children. It was quite an emotional conversation to ‘eavesdrop’ on. Most of them were definitely older than sixty when they made the move to be with their kids and grandchildren.
I spoke to the octogenarian whose birthday it was on that specific day, and he mentioned that he had difficulty uprooting from Africa. All I could think of saying was that he should not think of uprooting, but rather of putting down new roots. I cried with him when he said that it really was hard some days.
Moving countries are not easy. In fact, it is the hardest thing that I have done, and I some days entertain the thought of a day that I may just move back. Just this week I met a beautiful couple who is going back to be with their children and grandchildren. It happens, and there is nothing wrong with doing so.
Dear Migrant to the Great South Land
You do not have to uproot yourself from South Africa when you move to Australia. Keep your roots in the soil that made you the strong and courageous person you are today. Come and put down new roots. Stay anchored for as long as you need, while you build up new networks of friends, and get settled.
There will come a day when you find that you speak of Aussies as ‘us’ and not as ‘them’. That is the day that you know that you have become part of this new country that you have adopted.
Never be ashamed of saying that you are a South African. We are known as hard workers, generous, welcoming and friendly.
You do not have to lose your culture, you can take the best of what we have, and combine it with the best the Aussies have, and in doing that, learn new things about yourself. I think that is what most expats will say – that they have gotten to know themselves better during this whole process.
A word of advice to the Afrikaans speaking mums – don’t ‘skel’ your children in a loud voice. People can pick up on your vibe, and your face tells the story in any case. Bend down and say in a soft, smiling voice, “As jy nie nou na my luister nie, gaan jou gat by die huis brand.”
If you hear Afrikaans in the shops, you can say “Haai” or “Hallo” or something in Afrikaans, if you want to, or you can do what I do – just keep doing what you are doing. (Though I must say that live in a part of Perth where Afrikaans is a very common second language, and the people immediately pick up my accent. There are places where you almost want to ‘soengroet’ a fellow South African when you meet them!)
If you are ever in Perth’s northern suburbs, let me know and we can grab a coffee. I know a few great coffee shops.
See ya, mate