The Expat Confessions


Sunday Times, South Africa
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Expats bare their souls about leaving SA

Some are racists, but others long for pap and wors


15 January 2006
South African authors Jenni Baxter and Ted Botha
THE E-TEAM: Author Jenni Baxter with her family and her co-author, Ted Botha , during their first meeting, which took place in France last year. With Baxter and Botha are, left to right, Tara, Jade and Cassie Baxter and Baxter's husband, Tony (wearing sunglasses)

SOME left because they were "sick and tired of blacks", others because they were hijacked at gunpoint or because they wanted better futures for their children.

These revelations by South Africans who left for greener pastures are revealed in a new book, The Expat Confessions, written by two former South Africans living on opposite sides of the globe.

From "I don't miss the Castle, there's better beer here", to someone missing "being open about freedom of religion", the book exposes the truth about the lives of 500 expats.

The brutally honest account has surprised and even shocked the authors, Ted Botha and Jenni Baxter.

The Expat Confessions explores people's reasons for leaving, their yearning for guava rolls and how they have become the butt of jokes in their new countries.

"I was hijacked in broad daylight in a petrol station — dragged out of my car at gunpoint. Here my car does not even have an alarm or a gear lock," said Janet, who works in sales in San Diego in the US.

Schalk, a consultant now living in Adelaide, Australia, said: "I left because I was sick and tired of blacks. I loved South Africa and I always will. My heart will always be there, but I had enough of blacks and their never-ending wanting more, taking more, their ‘bugger the whites' attitude."

But the book also contains a section on "ex-expats" who returned home because of family ties and because they found life in South Africa "easier and more natural".

"No amount of money can make me go back [to Britain]. I'll happily get paid half of what I earned there and stay in beautiful Cape Town," said Skye, a web designer.

The authors found that "while [expats] previously might have been judgmental of South Africa, they suddenly go to extremes to be understanding".

Things expats missed most included the humour, the language, the food, the weather and the countryside.

"There ain't no substitute for pap and wors," said Anonymous from Australia.

Others have learnt to make do with substitutes in their new country, such as dried Lapland reindeer meat instead of biltong in Sweden, or Lincolnshire sausages instead of boerewors.

Botha, a freelance journalist who lives in New York, and Baxter, who lives on Australia's Gold Coast, met on the SA Reunited website.

During e-mail correspondence they found themselves having lengthy conversations about South Africa, leading Baxter to suggest the book.

It took them 18 months to complete, and responses were captured on a website.

Botha said they hoped the book would spark a debate between South Africans and expats. He said he hoped expats could be lured back to South Africa to share their knowledge and their money.

Botha, who left in 1995, "frustrated with journalism in South Africa", said he was shocked and surprised by the hate some expats had for South Africa, and the number of people in South Africa who remain antagonistic towards expats.

"It's like [the expats have] never come to terms with why they left, or they have never forgiven South Africa for having ‘made' them leave," he said.

He thought such respondents mostly left during apartheid and some "because of job discrimination in the new South Africa".

Baxter said that after reading many heart-wrenching responses, she was surprised that "those same people, who occasionally shed a tear for their homeland, still have no regrets at having left".

The authors found that many expats sought out other South Africans to cope with life in their new country by joining expat clubs and websites or even churches and synagogues.

"I go to both the Catholic Church and a Baptist church and many of the leadership roles are filled by South Africans. Makes you think," said one anonymous respondent from New Zealand.

Many expats were also surprised by how little people in their new countries knew about South Africa.

Ridiculous questions expats were asked included:

•"Do you have a beach in Johannesburg?"

•"Most South Africans speak Swahili, don't they?"

•"Is it difficult to learn to cut your own diamonds?"

Of the 500 expats who responded, more than 300 were married. About a third earned $50000 (just over R300000) or less. Fewer than 10% earned between $100000 (about R610000) and $500000 (R3-million).

The largest number of responses came from Britain, followed by almost equal numbers from Australia and the US. Most of the respondents worked in information technology and were from Johannesburg.

Botha and Baxter wrote the entire book by e-mail, and only met face to face more than a year after it was finished.

Baxter, who has not returned to South Africa in 10 years, said she missed afternoon thunderstorms in Johannesburg, Vicks inhalers and a South African "passion for life".

"I haven't seen hail since I left. [I miss] South African magazines and the Sunday Times. I still haven't found an Australian newspaper I love."



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