Sunday, 21 August 2011

How it feels to be back home again in South Africa after 10 years...?

Well it's been almost 3 months now that we've left the UK and settled in South Africa.  Only last week did I get broadband ADSL and a telephone line installed, life is slowly achieving a sense of normality again.  The first two months was hectic, although we were sorted in terms of accommodation - but that in itself also took a little getting used was new for all us!

Let me start off by saying that Multichoice, despite what products they have currently on market that is causing many people great pains, the corporate services handling my relocation was absolutely tremendous. Although it had taken a lot of effort on my part in terms of organization (visas, relocation quotes, car shipping quotes, travel arrangements, facilitating payment, B&B booking, etc) - once everything was finalized, the relocation pretty much went smoothly.

We spent 3 nights at the Holiday Inn  prior to making our final departure to SA. It was a challenging 3 nights because the family shared a large bedroom (1 double bed, 2 single sofa beds) with the 3 kids - we'd emptied our house of all furniture and needed a couple days to tie up the loose ends.  We flew Emirates, London-Dubai-Johannesburg, business class - it was a very comfortable experience. The kids loved it, unlike our last trip cramped in economy class - so when we reached SA, the family was all fresh and relaxed.  My brother and parents greeted us on arrival, and we were chauffeured to the guest house which incidentally was a flatlet in my brother's property.

Initial Impressions of SA
To be honest, I was blown away by the sheer contrast of it all. On the one hand the place is sprawling with impressive buildings, suburbs, the latest model of cars being driven around, the rush and pace of it all was a little overwhelming -- on the other hand, the evidence of poverty quite literally knocks on your windscreen at every robot (traffic light), intersection, junction, etc...Bear in mind, I've never really lived and seen Gauteng (Johannesburg) before...On face value, without thinking too deeply about it and not involving the complex politics to understand the sheer magnitude the current government of SA has to solve; just looking at the infrastructure alone, around developed parts of Joburg - one can't help but get the sense of how great this place once was, in terms of buildings, residential estates, etc. One can noticeably see the decay, the lack of attention paid to what was once well looked-after estates -- yet at the same time, one naturally thinks about how well the white guys had it in SA -- they really had it made for themselves, enjoying all the luxuries of Apartheid...only recently opened to the Blacks (includes Indians & Coloureds).  That's just looking at historical, old settled neighbhourhoods.  Traffic lights are always offline, the use of the four-way stop is dominant in Gauteng - not sure why the road planners didn't opt for roundabouts (traffic circles) which IMHO is more efficient than forcing motorists to stop-in-turn even when there's no traffic...

So you do get a sense of decay, it’s quite evident in most places that once-upon-a-time the areas were quite nice, roads in good condition, well maintained and well looked after. Some areas are trying hard to maintain that state, but the majority of the areas it’s quite evident that maintenance of the basic services are falling short. Interestingly enough, this isn't just my opinion - others also relate this was the very first impression they got too  "I could not believe the decay in areas that were once beautifully maintained. I am talking about the public areas of course - once inside the gardens of the private houses things seemed ok…" -   But they’re working hard to improve, no roads have turned to mud/dirt tracks yet, and the new developments are looking great.  The world cup was a boost to most parts, so for most of the time you could get away with thinking you were driving in UK.  We experienced a few power cuts, most of the traffic lights (robots) are out-of-action when it gets bad – again, don’t think there’s enough focus in the services area...

Despite what people say that kids adapt well to change, my two boys aged 5 & 4 -- at first thought they were on holiday visiting family just like last year -- until we enrolled them into school the third day on our return!  What a shocker it was for them. Coming from the caring UK environment where the teachers are loved almost more than the parents themselves, where the learning environment is through fun and games rather than structured "listen to me and learn" routine -- my boys absolutely hated school. For two whole weeks they resented going to school, crying almost daily to go back to the UK, they don't like the teachers, the teachers are not friendly - the children are not friendly, making fun of them, etc, etc.  We put them in a private school, Greenside Primary - which apparently was supposed to be a good, decent-enough school.  Perhaps it is, but my initial reaction wasn't that great, I still have my reservations about the school, but haven't had the time to sit down seriously to consider the options.  On the strength of my brother's and sister's-in-law opinion the school is suitable for their daughter (who happens to be the same age as my son), we went with the flow and sent our kids to Greenside.  Anyway, this school is a privately run organisation, and charges a flat fee of R14300-00 per year per child, regardless of age - that is, a 4 year old pre-primary child pays the same school fees as a 12-year old primary school leaver. Obviously to me this didn't sound quite right because little kids demand far less resources and time that older kids, and when I asked a bit more about this policy, my wife was given a very curt reply "This is how it is in SA. If you don't like it, you can find another school. There a plenty of people wanting a place in this school. All school fees are flat fees and count towards paying teacher's salary". I also inquired about the extent of school supplies needed to the level of toilet roll and soap dispensers -- so really, we pay for everything, right down to my child's usage of toilet & toilet paper!!  You can of course imagine that this is non-existent in UK, that parents don't need to pay for anything, in fact the government provides almost really, it's a big disadvantage that my kids have left the UK educational environment for a South African substitution - this is conscious decision on my part, I can only hope that the cultural experience the kids come out with would surpass that of the UK (On the other hand, if you look at the recent riots in London one would question the worth of UK education system)...
I've been speaking to a few people who've had family members as teachers, and from what I hear is that teachers are not passionate about the job anymore. Teachers that were once very qualified and passionate are left disenchanted, repugnant and ready to leave. Those that cannot leave stay behind doing the bare-minimum.
It is a sad situation really, the kids had their first sports day a few weeks back.  One notices the sheer lackluster of the event, the sports ceremony and procession lacked enthusiasm, fun, passion and joy.  As parents we didn't even realise the sports day was on, we were notified two days earlier!  Anyway my kids seemed to have some fun, my 5 year old did come out third for his race; my 4 year old completed some races as well -- but the little fellows weren't even rewarded any medals.  So the 4-6 year olds were forced to attend from 9AM till 4PM, stretched the whole day to see the all the sports events through to completion, coming back home drained and tired...
I do have a bone to pick on the schools subject, one that I'd like to participate in future, once I've sorted all the other stuff to get the house and family settled down.
Currently though, the kids seem to have transitioned - a little too well maybe, because they've almost lost their British accent, and are speaking like real Gautengalengs!

As I said in the opening, I've nothing but praise and kind words to offer Multichoice HR and the hiring managers. They've been very supportive, patient and generous. I'd run into a few hiccups with getting my car imported, which the company graciously attended to.  Professional-wise, well - you'll just have to read some of my other posts on working.  Suffice to say, working in SA does take some getting used to. A clash of cultures and personalities exist, the apparent lack of professionalism and due diligence is apparent in most places, with the cow-boy attitude of just getting things done, quickly to market, ready to launch without any thorough detailed analysis...lets just say I'll be kept busy for a long time.  I am however appreciative that people are not discounting my ideas and push for process changes outright, and so far no one has come back to tell me "Shut up Mo, this is SA. Don't try to do what you did in UK/BSkyB/NDS as it won't work here" - so I'm treading lightly, and building upon that patience that one so desperately needs in SA...

Alhumdulillah, so far so good.  Whilst nothing has happened directly to me and the family, we are always attentive and on-the-lookout.  Our house is currently burglar alarmed, plus have security gates inside the house. As I write this post, my house alarm doesn't work because I recently requested two remote controls to control the garage door, and activating the alarm system remotely. It so happened the garage door now works, but I can't engage my alarm anymore without setting the alarm off!! So the technicians failed to carry out detailed regression testing.
One of the friends I made at work, whom I attend Friday Jumma prayer with - had an incident in his home about a month back. Early one morning, three men entered his house and burgled it, whilst his elderly mom and dad, and wife was still in the house. They were all tied up, trampled upon, father was beaten - and thieves went away with almost all monetary goods.  It was a terrifying experience indeed - and what was more concerning - is when this colleague was recounted the story in the kitchen, another female colleague chipped in and said she also experienced being house burgled first hand, and the most awful thing that plays in your mind is "wondering if they're coming back to the house to kill you once they've done loading the car"!!!!
To most South Africans this is normal, I've yet to build that sense of normalcy -- it's hard to come to terms with the unpredictability of it all. 
I worry every day, and pray for not only my family but for everyone to be safe and not experience a spot of crime...
Even now as my security system isn't fully operational, I wake at the slightest of noises. I'm not sure if the security on call is actually patrolling the area, but was told they will be doing regular drive-throughs... this is another conscious decision on my part to return to SA, but then again - look at the recent riots in UK where three Birmingham muslims lost their lives to an irrational event...
One has to take precautions for example when purchasing cars - don't get high risk cars like BMWs, VW Golf, Audi, try to rationalise this with faith, that everything is predefined in destiny - regardless of being in UK or SA, if it was meant to happen to you, it'd would happen...but still, you are responsible for your own actions, take the necessary precautions and you gotta live with hope, otherwise the more you dwell on the negative, then negative things start to happen to you (or seems to happen all around you!)

The Future
I really can't put hand-on-heart and say that moving back to SA is permanent. I can however say it was definitely the right decision at the time, taking into account the various scenarios that were playing out: family dependencies, career aspirations and start-up opportunities. As it so happens, the EU is in a bad shape at the moment, the first world economies are struggling, and people are looking at emerging markets as a safe haven for future investment. Apart from China and India, Africa especially South Africa has tremendous potential for growth, opportunity and a promising cultural evolution that I'd like to be part of....

1 comment:

  1. Going back to the school issue, take a look at the Stationery List for Grade R (5 year olds):
    1x 60/100 piece puzzle
    10x HB pencils
    2x blunt nose scissors
    8x Pritt
    4x Bostik
    2x Art & Craft paper
    2x A4 Reams paper
    3x 24 colour pencils
    1x oil pastels
    2x sharpeners
    1x eraser
    2x 12 khoki markers
    3x glitter / decoration, not the glitter glue
    2x wood glue for crafts
    3x liquid hand soap
    4x box of tissues
    1x 12 toilet rolls
    1x wool any colour
    2x crinkle/tissue paper
    1x flip file
    1x money bag
    1x book bag
    1x apron
    1x chair bag
    R150 for excursion per term - includes class photo and innings/outings
    R260 for workbooks for the year
    All stationery must be clearly marked and placed in a clear tub and brought to school by end of the first week of school