And now for the not-so-nice things about living here as an expat…
The Most Frustrating Things about SA:
The impenetrable job market: Foreigners have a tough time finding employment here through the direct application process. There is a dearth of skilled labour in several major fields and yet SA Immigration/Home Affairs makes it extremely difficult for people to find jobs. Employers know this and so do not want to take any chances in hiring somebody that does not already have a work permit. The person could be qualified to the high heavens but without a permit they hardly stand a chance. And without a job offer, one cannot get a work permit. So it is a frustrating catch-22 situation. It seems that one needs to have a contact or friend in a company in order to get through… meaning that the employer must be interested enough to wait through the tedious process of securing a work permit. I understand that the high unemployment figure here of 25% in combination with the Black Economic Empowerment reservation system is what is causing this disinterest towards hiring foreign labour. But I wonder… how does a country progress if it closes its mind to skilled labour, whether local or foreign? Just take a look at the US of A. The country has been brought to where it is now, thanks largely due to immigration. And I don’t get the whole argument of “previously disadvantaged hence automatically entitled”. This BEE policy is not that far removed from the caste-based reservation system in India. I know that some races and communities were discriminated against many years ago. But if we want to start again at square one, we must have merit-based equal rights for all, surely!
Political apathy: After Nelson Mandela was freed and Apartheid ended in the early 90’s, it was amazing how people of different races came together in order to move the country forward. One still wonders how SA did not slip into the total chaos of civil war. Now about 20 years after Apartheid, the ruling party African National Congress (or ANC) seems to have taken a lackadaisical approach to everything. They were persecuted by the white regime for many years, so now they want to enjoy all the riches and play a game of tit-for-tat while the country goes to hell. From President Zuma’s many personal jets to the ineffective corruption-riddled policing on the roads to a textbook supply fiasco that is part of a worsening education system, it is clear that these guys are more interested in getting rich than getting things right.
Essential services failures: Unfortunately due to a general electricity shortage and a growing water problem, there are a fair amount of power outages and water supply issues every now and then. Initially we were trying to move from one housing complex to another in an attempt to dodge these problems. But later on we found out that it is a general problem and can occur anywhere in Johannesburg. The thing is, these kinds of problems can occur anywhere in the world, even in the so-called developed countries. It is how fast the concerned authorities respond to the problem that makes the difference. It is often close to impossible to get through to the Johannesburg Water complaint phone line. And the main electricity provider Eskom had to do load shedding a few years back in order to combat the electricity shortage. They do try to educate the public through adverts, talking about how one must turn off all unnecessary lights in the home, turn off the geyser when not needed or use less water in the bathroom etc. So that’s a good thing.
Internet: South Africa has still not fully caught up on telecommunications. There are a handful of wireless internet providers and each of them offers limited, capped bandwidth at not-so-cheap prices. Uncapped internet is still very expensive for the average computer user. Of course, one can get uncapped ADSL through a home telephone line for a somewhat decent price. But the terrible state of telephone lines provided by Telkom makes this option more difficult to choose, especially in newer suburbs and neighbourhoods where there are simply no phone lines installed. And getting a new line installed would take several months if not years!
Bad drivers: I see an increasing number of bad drivers on the roads every day. Either they drive way too fast (160 kmph in an 80 zone) or they just do not know the rules of the road – that one must indicate before changing lanes (not just for turns) or that one should keep a safe following distance etc. The omnipresent minibus taxis cause the most accidents with their reckless driving and careless abandon for any kind of rule of the road. The lack of proper policing only makes this problem worse. Thankfully there are initiatives like Lead SA which continuously try to educate people on civic sense.
Crime: No matter how much crime has reduced since the Football World Cup, it is still there. Of course if one uses their common sense and takes adequate precautions, nothing untoward happens. But we still hear about things like burglaries, cable theft and gang rape, the latter being mostly in townships or poor neighbourhoods. But I have to say that I’m not all that surprised. With an apathetic government, high unemployment and pathetic policing, it is no wonder that there are people out there who would rather resort to crime than struggle from day to day. All that said, the South African crime problem is way overblown in foreign, especially western media! It is really not all that bad. If one exercises reasonable caution and avoids certain areas after dark, one is generally safe.
Ever since I found out that Pink Floyd’s 1977 album Animals is based on George Orwell’s novel Animal Farm, I had wanted to read it. And I finally did it. The story is a satire on dictatorship and is an absolutely riveting read! The basic setting is as follows: There is a farm somewhere in England where the animals are getting restless and sick of their cruel human owner. So they decide to revolt, drive him out of the farm and run it themselves. That is when the fun starts! The tale brilliantly narrates how absolute power corrupts even the most sincere, who generally start out with the best of intentions. The characters that stand out here are the pigs who behave like know-it-all tyrants, the dogs who are sycophantic with the pigs and ruthless to everyone else, the horse that does all the hard work for the farm but shows an ill-advised loyalty to the top pig and the sheep that mindlessly believe everything that the pigs say. This is not all that far removed from Roger Waters’ songwriting on Animals. I’ll quote the best bits of the 2 main songs from the album to illustrate my point, especially ‘cos the lyrics here are fantastic and deserve to be quoted. As for the book, it is a must-read if you enjoy political drama, satire and such.
You got to be crazy, you gotta have a real need
You gotta sleep on your toes and when you’re on the street
You got to be able to pick out the easy meat with your eyes closed
And then moving in silently, down wind and out of sight
You gotta strike when the moment is right without thinking
And after a while, you can work on points for style
Like the club tie, and the firm handshake
A certain look in the eye and an easy smile
You have to be trusted by the people that you lie to
So that when they turn their backs on you
You’ll get the chance to put the knife in
Harmlessly passing your time in the grassland away;
Only dimly aware of a certain unease in the air.
You’d better watch out!
There may be dogs about
I looked over Jordan, and I’ve seen
Things are not what they seem.
What do you get for pretending the danger’s not real?
Meek and obedient you follow the leader
Down well trodden corridors into the valley of steel.