By Helene Leonard
Among those who leave the country, it is quite surprising how many people do not flee the country. A few “thick necks” are still here: Basil Hersov, who took over the enormous Anglovaal empire, lives in Johannesburg. Harry Oppenheimer died at home in Johannesburg, and his son Nicky and daughter Mary Slack still live on the same family plot in Parktown.
My admiration for these people is simply boundless. Dozens, perhaps hundreds, of extremely wealthy people remain here when they could all tap into the general despair and leave South Africa. All four founders of the Rand Merchant Bank empire, now retiring, are here and very active. I wish I could thank them personally for their decision to still hold South Africa’s hand.
Johann Rupert may have put his money abroad, but he is still very involved in and in the country.
For me, the message of emigration is that being a South African citizen matters. I understand the desire to leave the country. If you are 43 years old and specialized, with a young family, you only have one chance to build a new life in another country. I myself am 25 years old and my whole life is ahead of me. But how am I ever going to be happy in another country if my family (the people I love the most) stay here? How am I going to be happy abroad if I can’t eat chips and porridge with my people on a Saturday afternoon?
I understand that if I have children one day I may feel compelled to settle them in another country, but you have to be honest with yourself – you leave the country for your own selfish reasons. Your children, who were educated here, will have no problem building their own lives in another country. South African labor is in high demand. We are easy people to get along with and we work hard.
I will never regret staying in South Africa. Even with the slow collapse of our economy, I’m glad to be here. I choose to live in an African democracy.
Of course, if my life were threatened, I would have to think about leaving, or if something happened to my family and friends. But until then I’ll just stay here. I like being here for the same reason, I suspect, why all the rich people live here. South Africa is still a wonderful place to live. The weather is excellent. South African wines are always great and so is the company. All the meat is good, porridge is so good and the people and friends are also wonderful. The rugby is good and my neighbors are friendly.
Even though I lose almost my entire salary to taxes and all my money goes to some minister’s fancy car, I still live here.
You have to understand how different other places are. Even if you are an accountant or a doctor with opportunities, you will never be able to get the quality of life you have here overseas.
Quality of life has nothing to do with money. These are the people you love. It’s your favorite food and your animals that sleep in your bed every night. It’s the lump in your throat when you sing “Somerkersfees” on Christmas Eve.
- Heléne Leonard is a communication practitioner at Solidarity who has a passion for community.
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