Joburg Expat: Moving to South Africa and Terrified of all the Bad News?

October 7, 2011

Moving to South Africa and Terrified of all the Bad News?

Having lived  here in South Africa for over one-and-a-half years, it seems hard to believe that we were once prospective expats who knew next to nothing about this country and who were not at all sure we should even come here in the first place. I remember being pretty excited initially and going online to check out any available information, and my jaw dropping - this country was a cesspit of crime and we were about to be murdered. Or so it said on every expat-related forum I came across.

As you well know, we did come in the end and I started this blog, in large part to provide better information for all those expats coming after us and armed with the same questions. Which is why I was so thrilled when I read the following by Martina, a newly arrived expat in Joburg (also called Jozi):

"As soon as R’s job offer came through and we had to decide whether to take it, I booted up Google. The search results spewed out link after link to sites with negative stories – every chat forum was full of someone asking a question about Joburg to be met with vitriolic responses. I really had to dig deeper and deeper to find anything that showed Joburg in a positive light. I then struck gold, coming across the blog Joburg Expat. Reading through Sine’s posts and articles that she linked to, and then subsequently finding other blogs that are linked from her site, I found that there were these people living there that absolutely loved it, and spoke about the life that they lead in Jozi in such an inspiring way that I felt an inkling of excitement at moving there. I showed Rob the blog’s and both of us felt our confidence growing that we could actually experience a great life in SA, and not one necessarily in the prison of our home without being able to go out and see new things." (Read full text here)

I'm ecstatic that I seem to have had a hand in this, as I truly think moving to South Africa is a great experience for most people, but I also feel the weight of responsibility. In fact, no doubt Martina is cursing me under her breath this very moment, while she is still sitting at home without a car waiting for the traffic register number to be approved. And she's probably already spent 15 hours on the phone with Eskom and collected 20 reference numbers from them, although you can't say I haven't given enough Eskom alerts over the course of my blog.

Seriously, I'm very glad my blog is being found and read by the people for whom it matters most, and it's very gratifying being able to help. And one thing Martina said in her post stood out for me so that I found it worth mentioning: Crime statistics show that South Africa has gotten safer - less violent crime, and less carjackings. Of course there are those who will say these statistics cannot be trusted, but anyone who has lived here the past two years would have to admit that things have improved. Whereas London and other European cities (the model of safety in one's imagination) have lately experienced riots and murders that make you wonder how safe you really are there. With the rest of the world in recession, Africa seems to be on the rise, mainly because it has such a long way to go, but still. It is often a matter of the trend, not so much of where you are, and the positive attitude and can-do spirit is definitely contagious when living here in South Africa.

15 comments :

martina-in-jozi.com said...

Thank you so much for the link to my blog! I honestly am shocked that people are reading it and like what I have to say - I am no writer!

Plus honestly, thank you for having this blog. It really did help us with our decision reading through your experiences, but also looking through the blogs that you feature here and seeing the kind of life that those other people are experiencing too really did help immensely. I hope my blog can do the same for some of your readers too - my intention is to show that Joburg is not necessarily the big bad that it is painted to be

Jozie Days said...

Thanks for such a positive blog Sine. When we moved to Joburg from Harare 6 years ago I can honestly say our friends thought we had taken leave of our senses! They said 'out of the frying pan and into the fire'. For us it was to be a 2 year gap before making the move to Australia but we fell in love with Johannesburg . Initially it was lonely without close family nearby, but this year alone I have had visitors from Australia, USA, England, Europe.I have also made many friends in Jozie. We are blessed with a good climate and so many things to do. Durban is only a 6 hour road trip and the Kruger is even closer. I have found people here are much more positive than in Europe where the economic troubles (that they can't do much about) give them sleepless nights. We now no-longer class ourselves as ex-pats and have applied for permanent residence. This will be the country we call home as we feel that there is a bright future for us and our children.

2summers.net said...

I believe there is an international conspiracy among bitter ex-South Africans around the world, to flood expat websites with as much negative drivel about South Africa, and especially Joburg, as possible. I too remember reading these websites when I decided to move here and being shocked with the negativity. But then I realized that most of the negativity was coming from people who no longer live here, and who have no idea what it's like to live in Joburg in 2011. People who yearn for South Africa's 'good old days' before the 1980s, if you know what I mean.

Perhaps I'm being a bit dramatic but I can't think of any other explanation for the way people behave on these expat sites. It's just silly.

Anyway, thanks for this post, Sine. I'm proud of our little group of Jozi expat bloggers who are working to change the way the world sees this city. Obviously we're making a difference! Yay us :)

Jeroen said...

Good to see another expat refusing the gated way of life and choosing Melville.
Doing my own research on Joburg before we arrived was also surprisingly scary - though eventually we came and had a blast. Ok, so our car was stolen once, but I know people in Prague whose car was stolen three times in a year (once by the police, nogal, who recovered it from a theft an forgot to tell anyone). I happily drive and wander around the city centre, never had a problem. And one interesting result of the recent crime stats is that Joburg now officially is safer than Cape Town. Amaze your friends with that.
Joburg's a great place to live.

Sine said...

I'm loving all the comments! This is definitely a topic dear to my heart.

Martina - you ARE a writer and I know already that you will influence some other prospective expats with your blog, it is wonderfully written.

Jozie Days - I am totally with you about the people being more positive here than in Europe. That makes all the difference, and I'll take a whole lot of "danger" over "bad attitude."

2Summers - yes! That is precisely my theory. In fact, it is not so much an international conspiracy as an English conspiracy, fueled by all the ex-South Africans in England who are in a perpetual bad mood living in all that fog and need to find something to justify their foolishly having moved. And yes, I do think we are making a difference, one blog post at a time, to change the image of South Africa.

Jeroen - so true. As I said in an earlier post, the only "smash and grab" or rather "slash and grab" we ever experienced was when someone sliced through our convertible top in Germany and stole some suit jackets Noisette had left in there overnight. We've also had our wallets stolen in France, and I don't know ANYONE in Germany who hasn't had their NAVI stolen out of their car at least once.

Ok, back to writing more stories. In the space of just four days, I've been to Bryanston Organic Market, Lilieslief Farm, Maropeng, and Pretoria, and now my head (and camera) is bursting with new material to write about. In fact I'm slightly panicky with the sheer volume of it and afraid I'll forget...

Peter said...

Hi Sine!
As a keen (but quiet) follower of your blog for about half a year now I can not but agree with Martina above. Also me and my family have an opprtunity, which we have been discussing back and forth with my company for quite some while. Unfortunately, it seems that we will turn it down for economical reasons, but I wanted to say that you have definitely helped us in keeping the though of moving to Joburg real for such a long time.

Anyhow, if you don't mind me asking, since we are pretty much in the same situation as you (family of 3 who was aiming to stay in dainfern or Valley) - what is a realistic cost of living per month?

Kind regards / Peter

martina-in-jozi.com said...

Sine - I forgot to tell you about my lucky escape. My landlord has kept his Eskom account going and sends us the bill to pay. I don't have to deal with them at all! Fingers crossed that there are no problems now!

Gaijin said...

Sine (as well as all the others I have found)

Your blog has been a huge, HUGE help in feeding information to us who are about to or are thinking about making the move to Jo'burg. I'll be moving in December. However, my husband is already there on business. On his way back to his apartment from work the other day, he suffered a puncture to the car. According to the GPS, the nearest petrol station was only 70 metres away, he got there and it was boarded up and discovered that he was in Hillbrow........trying not to get too worried, he quickly made some phone calls to colleagues to ask what he should do. In the meantime, two men tapped on the car window and offered to help change the tyre. My husband is thinking 'OK, I am about to lose the car and my wallet'. However, the two men kindly changed the tyre for a very small fee and my husband happily went on his way!

On the other hand, I am here in Hong Kong dealing with the visa applications and have just discovered that we need Police Clearance Certificates for each country we have lived in for more than 12 months. For us this means 5 different countries!!!

Ho Hum.....

Sine said...

Peter - I'm not sure I can be of much help with cost of living. I'm not diligent about updating our budget and we also are six, not three, so it would be different from you. I do know that we always seem to spend more than planned! Our biggest expense by far is travel, but even taking that out of the equation you won't live very cheaply here. Groceries are more expensive than the US (and probably some European countries), eating out might be a bit cheaper, electricity is more than the US but might be similar to Europe, cares are very expensive, gas/petrol more than US but less than Europe...

Sine said...

Martina - same here, our landlord has the Eskom account, but that doesn't keep Eskom from charging us weird things like overdue interest, that we then better well pay or else the power gets turned off. But if it's working out for you I'm really glad!

Sine said...

Gaijin - what a great story about the tire change! That is so typical for here. You get totally scared when you're in a "bad area" and approached by black people, even though they are usually the most helpful people you can find. what a great intro to South Africa for him!

I can commiserate with you regarding the police clearances. I thought we had it bad with 3 countries, but 5? I can practically see your kitchen counter and the stacks and stacks of documents waiting to be completed and sent off to South Africa. I wonder if you couldn't "hide" one country or other from your list...

PETER said...

See now that I my writing wasn't very clear - family with 3 children, it should have been... Anyhow, thanks for your reply (I wasn't hoping that you should download your budget, sorry if my post could be interpreted that way). My picture is that South Africa will not att all be cheaper to live in, in comparison with for instance Italy (where we are on expat-adventure for the time beeing). Meanwhile I found another interesting website for cost-of-living:
http://www.earthcosts.com/south-africa/147-johannesburg-south-africa-2.html

Sine said...

Hi Peter, you are definitely right. I don't know Italy, but I suspect your cost of living would go up. Especially groceries are not cheap here. I checked out that cost of living site, and it seems to me most of those are way under what's realistic for your family as an expat. There was one that seemed just about right and someone else thought he was "living it up." But his costs like for rent and electricity looked in line with a place like Dainfern.

Well, good luck to you, even if you don't move here, and thanks for sharing the link, I will recommend that as another place to check for people who ask!

W. A. Jeffrey said...

I suspect that 2Summers is likely onto something. My main reason for saying this is that if you google the other countries that have similar crime rates you don't find the same level of panic (if any at all): Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Columbia, etc. And some of these countries are likely more dangerous but don't get the bad press. There are even American cities that have similar stats in some categories yet most people don't give a second thought to moving there.

As to the sour grapes... well it is easy to criticize those who supposedly yearn for "the good old days" but it pays to look at it from their point of view. It is always hard to let go of what you know and because the changes were largely imposed on them rather than agreed to willingly like the original implementation of segregation was in 1948, there is bound to be some resentment. It is easy for outsiders like us to see the clear advantages of the transition to democracy, not to mention the majority who suffered under apartheid. It then becomes easy for the formerly privileged to look at every single negative and use it as an excuse to denigrate what SA has become while not acknowledging the positives. Also, there are some things we will never know the answer to. While I figure that had the colonial governments respected the rights of the majority from day one the country would be in much better shape today, I think there would still be all sorts of lingering challenges equal to what SA faces in the here and now. Why? Because it is always hard to lift a poor majority with a different history, race, and culture to the same level of development enjoyed by a wealthy white minority. Those challenges would not have disappeared regardless of who was running the country or when the change happened; whether in 1910, 1948, or 1994.

Forgetting the history for a moment and focusing solely on crime it is important to remember that with SA or any country with similar statistics, you are kind of playing the odds. Crimes occur quite frequently and the news media isn't making it up. But even then you have to take note of the fact that most violent crime is in the townships, at night, between blacks, and often between people that know each other. The whites and the affluent (often the same thing) deal mostly with break-ins and petty theft. The key is to take the same precautions you would anywhere else and then some. The longer you live in SA the greater the odds you may become a victim but at the same time it is not written in stone that things will stay the same or get worse. They might just get better.

Sine said...

Very good points on how difficult change is, regardless when it would have occurred, and on crime. Yes, you must take precautions and "be sensible" - those are the words every South African will tell you upon arrival. And yes, some other countries are considerably more dangerous and get less bad press. I believe it has changed slightly for SA but I could be wrong. it could be that I simply no longer pay attention to it because I now know reality.