Perfectly imperfect

May 30, 2015 § 52 Comments

Some of my best friends are expats. No, really.  I’ve been through two waves of people leaving South Africa for various reasons, to the extent that I remember lying awake at night wondering who my future children would have as playmates. (I’m pleased to report that their social life has survived.)

So now I have friends all over the world – Canada, the US, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Japan – it’s a long list, and it’s wonderful to hear about their new lives in far-flung places.

But there’s a breed of former South Africans who drive me absolutely round the bend – the type who seem hell-bent on trashing South Africa at every turn, and most notably on platforms like Facebook where they can post their “RIP South Africa” and “My country is going to the dogs” comments, ironically from the new countries they’ve chosen to live in.

I remember my journalism professor, the late Gavin Stewart, explaining how a crime wave works. You know: one granny is murdered by a talking wolf, and suddenly there’s a slew of axe-wielding animals preying on the elderly, and little old ladies are wearing their chamber pots as helmets while they sleep. The crime pops up in every newspaper and it’s suddenly everywhere you look, while other crimes seem to disappear into obscurity.

It happens as a result of something called ‘confirmation bias’ – the same thing that occurs when you buy a brand new car, and suddenly, everyone on the road seems to be driving the same car as you do. It is simply human nature have a tendency to search for, interpret, or recall information in a way that confirms your own beliefs or hypotheses. (Thank you Wikipedia for that neat definition.)

So we tend to be drawn towards bits of information that confirm what we believe. (Just ask those who worship in the cult of Noakes…). It takes hard work and a fair amount of willpower to push yourself out of that comfort zone – to read views that challenge yours, to really think about them, and to entertain the thought that you might be wrong, or that there might be another way of looking at things.

So back to those expats,the ones who send out the same negative message about South Africa whenever they can – over, and over and over again. And who refuse to believe anything other than the bad news they hear from friends and relatives at home. (And as a small aside, just as bad news sells newspapers, people also have a tendency to spread bad news stories over good.) I’m willing to bet that the vast majority of those expats left because they believed the country was going to the dogs.

I’m also willing to bet a lot of them left because ‘they’ (black people) would now be running the country. I’m willing to bet that many of them start sentences with “I’m not racist, but…” Because the subtext that comes through over and over again is simply this: “I told you so. I told you those black people couldn’t run the country.” But they won’t actually say that, you see. Because they’re not racist, but…

But here’s the thing. There are many of us who do live here. And we freakin’ love it despite its foibles. Sure, we have our problems – no-one is denying that – but I don’t believe they’re insurmountable. Nor do I think they are the whole story.

I do not drive or walk the streets of <insert sarcastic font here> terrible, crime-ridden Johannesburg in fear and trembling. Do I have security? Do I have to lock my doors when I go to bed? Yes – I’m not stupid or naive. But I don’t live in fear of my life either.

Do I fear for my children’s future? Not at all. They do well at school and they have a great work ethic, and there is place for people like that in this South Africa.

Do we have problems? Of course we do – please show me a country in the world that isn’t battling significant problems, and I will show you a country that is keeping the truth from its citizens.

Because what all the doom and gloom and negativity does is to home in on the bad news and forget that there’s just as much good news. There are all kinds of fantastic, nation-building initiatives going on, where South Africa’s citizens are mobilising to change things for the better – I’m about to join just one of them.

There are signs of improving infrastructure everywhere I go. There are potholes too, of course, but that doesn’t detract from the progress. Is there widespread unemployment? Yes, But there’s a marvellous spirit of entrepreneurship and many education and job-creating initiatives. Are there energy problems? Yes. But if sanctions during the apartheid era proved anything, it’s that South Africans are capable of great innovation. Is there corruption? Yes. But it’s not a South African or African phenomenon. I’ll just say “FIFA” and leave it at that. So please, for the love of all that is holy, leave your thinly disguised racism off my Facebook feed – because it’s offensive and vile and you should be ashamed of yourself.

And as for the word ‘normal’ – please don’t tell me that our lifestyle isn’t ‘normal’. Normal is a very relative term. I think people who put signs up telling me to keep off the grass are abnormal. People who require me to have a licence to use a ladder in my own home aren’t normal. You can keep your normal, and I’ll keep mine.

Because this is my home, these are my people, and I love living here. I love the crazy, eccentric, boer-maak-‘n-plan, rule-breaking, creative, noisy, busy, chaotic way we live. I love the sky and the savannah and the mountains and the sea and the wild, wild wind that sweeps down our coastline. I love the many-hued people and their many-sounds languages, and the many many ways we meet and greet each other in the street. I love the way my country can exasperate me one minute and leave me with tears of joy and pride five minutes later. Because when it counts, South Africans know how to pull together – I’ve seen it over and over again.

This is my home. I love living here, and I believe we’ll get there in the end. We might have to walk on the grass to do so (gasp), but we’ll get there.

So, if you really must pronounce on the state of South Africa, expats (and really, I question if you even have the right), how about focusing on the positive for a change?


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§ 52 Responses to Perfectly imperfect

  • Di Brown says:

    YES YES YES YES. I have been saying this for years. South Africa is imperfectly perfect for many of us, and while well aware of the problems, I do not need some person living in another country trying to tell me their version of the reality of mine. Proudly SA all the way. #DontNeedaNanny
    Fantastic post Mandy.

    Liked by 1 person

  • MRJones says:

    Well said, Mandy. I hear the same horrible “I’m not a racist….but…” here in America. It is time to say “We are human,” and go about living in harmony.

    Liked by 2 people

    • It astonishes me that we are still having this discussion in the 21st century.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Mandy, it felt like you were writing the words that I have said to friends and family for years…thank you…I LOVE this country, warts and all and am proud to call myself South African…. few things rile me more though than people who have left who have to justify their leaving by bad-mouthing South Africa….thanks again


      • I’m so glad it resonated for you. 🙂


      • Craig Stephens says:

        To quote the words of Bill Murray from the movie Caddyshack – “I have to laugh”…

        The individual who authored this article has missed a crucial point, namely: Who informs ex-pats?

        My guess is the very profession of which she is a member – the journalist community, via the press. It’s not the ex-pats who are hell bent on trashing South Africa – it’s South African residents themselves, and their information comes largely from journalists, via the media. I’m on Facebook to keep in touch with my SA family and friends, and never a day goes by without reading some or other post on a negative SA issue – from a media report, posted by an SA resident, not by an ex pat!

        I don’t think it’s appropriate to minimize the problems of SA, particularly violent crime, by putting it down to confirmation bias. As for the future of our kids, for my part I saw little opportunity, largely because of the BEE legislation and racism of the government, let alone the quality of education which accordingly to global standards is deficient.

        Yes, all countries have problems – but it’s what they do about them that matters, as well as the scale and gravity of those problems. It is therefore somewhat ridiculous to justify the problems of SA with reference to the problems of other countries. As for the fantastic nation building initiatives and the signs of improving infrastructure everywhere one goes, I haven’t seen evidence of any meaningful initiatives and maybe journalism should be accountable for the lack of publicity given to these great accomplishments of infrastructure improvement. And yes, I do have the right to comment on South African issues, being an ex-South African, having friends and family living there, and pension money invested in the country. Besides which, South Africans have more than their fair share to say about the rest of the world.

        From Mandy Collins’ comments I’m left only with the conclusion that she’s NOT particularly well travelled, and that she may well have been commissioned by or is looking for a commission from the ANC and government as a spin doctor to cover up for their sins, past present and to come…


  • So well said, Mandy. I don’t understand the mentality. As a former expat, I have a wider view and more positive outlook on the world. Your love of your country, lumps, bumps and all, is inspiring!!

    Liked by 1 person

  • brettfish says:

    This is freaking incredible and just resonated with every single bone in my body and a whole lot of the squishy parts as well. GREAT great post Mandy. This should go viral but it’s probably a bit good newsish to do so… i have been going on about sharing the positive stories over the negative ones [or at the very least alongside them] for so long on my blog and tried to do a one positive story per week vibe: – where i tried to enlist average South Africans in sharing one story about one person they know who is doing hopeful things and ran it for 6 or 7 weeks i think but it was hard to get people to share stories… urgh.

    But yes, loved this and keep on being a voice of this here in South Africa …

    love brett fish

    Liked by 2 people

  • Great post! I love your insight. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Vivi says:

    And we are absolutely frigging marvelous – each and every one of us! Thank you for a great post


  • Avril Dames says:

    Well said Mandy, I love South Africa we have
    to be positive

    Liked by 1 person

  • An Ex Expat says:

    Clearly none of you have been directly affected by the horror stories and clearly none of you even know anyone affected. Well I do. I live happily here too, but am under no illusions to the truth. I know people who now live with the memories of: A dead grandmother whose face was smashed to smithereens with a spade while she watered her veggie garden & her 5yr old grandchild discovered her body – no theft. A dead baby burnt alive in a coal burning Aga stove while the parents had to watch, whereafter they were raped & sodomised – just for 2 cell phones. A petrol station owner shot 17 times over the space of 5 years. He too was determined to be positive, until his wife had her face literally blown off – money theft. All in the Muldersdrift area… Try any one of these stories on for size – then come write this glib article again. I”m very happy for you all, that you manage to survive so happily in banana republic LaLa Land. I took my rose coloured glasses off 4 years ago & will only leave when the water runs out.


    • Joslyn says:

      I agree! Good to see a difference in opinion here!

      I still live in South Africa and I love it. But its time to realise what it has become and I will be extremely surprised if it ever comes right!


  • Duncan says:

    Just wanted to say thanks for your article. As an expat who is living abroad an plans to return it really is encouraging to hear people like yourself focus on the positives and there are many. I can tell you from personal experience that the negativity that emanates from your average expat (I’m not innocent either) is little more than a deep personal desire to return to their country of birth, the country they truly love and feel that they belong to. It isn’t easy to grow up in a prospering, peaceful society and then to wake up one day and realize that you can’t afford the lifestyle that you had become accustomed to, that your vote really doesn’t make much of a difference, that you won’t climb any corporate ladder despite your best efforts, that your family may be the victim of a senseless act of violence. I admire your positivity and determination and hope and pray that things do change for the better in the next decade. For now I suppose I’m one of those expats who will do my best to say positive things and pray for the country to which in all honesty I’d love to return to. God bless! Hopeful South African Expat.


  • Alison North says:

    The irony of the whole article is this excerpt

    ‘It happens as a result of something called ‘confirmation bias’ – the same thing that occurs when you buy a brand new car, and suddenly, everyone on the road seems to be driving the same car as you do. It is simply human nature have a tendency to search for, interpret, or recall information in a way that confirms your own beliefs or hypotheses.’

    This is not only what expats do to justify the fact they left but also what south Africans and the writer is doing to justify staying in South Africa, it’s the human condition.

    Equally as she questions our rights to have an opinion on the state of south Africa, I question the rights of south Africans who have never travelled to have an opinion on the choices and opinions of expats.

    It just really rowls me up that expats are judged because south Africans feel judged. It’s got nothing to do with the state of the country… which at the moment is very obviously going to the dogs! All south Africans love south Africa, that will never change just because you leave. We all have a right to am opinion on how things are in south Africa and the right to express those feelings.

    We shouldn’t however judge people’s decisions to stay or to leave, this is where the problem lies.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sampie says:

      You are right Alison, dont judge the world if you haven’t travelled the world. I have been fortunate enough to have been travelling far and wide for work, but mostly for pleasure, since 1992 and have been in more than 20 different countries and many more cities and regions. As a family we’ve had great times and have wonderful memories, but except for once (returning from a place called Evans in Georgia and that was mainly due to the lovely friends we have in that town), I have not returned to South Africa that I not felt than I’m back in a better place than where I’ve just come from. You have to weigh up every piece of your life and in doing so for South Africa is the country where I want to live.


  • Karen says:

    blah, blah, blah!
    Wow thank you so much for this beautifully written drivel on how to really apply confirmation bias to ones life.
    I don’t need to say which country I love. There is love and beauty in every country on this planet. Let’s not turn on each other but rather suppot fellow South Africans near and far.
    Hate speech comes in many forms subtle and overt and also has a definition.
    I’m proud of South Africans that stay and thrive and are happy and I am proud of South Africans that leave and discover and are happy.
    Let’s celebrate South Africans and leave the negativity ( on both sides) at arrivals and departures.


  • Ang says:

    Well said Mandy. Thank you for people like you.


  • John Chandler says:

    Superb Mandy …. put my thoughts into words exactly…. so nice to see the positives in our stunning country.


  • Linda Rooney says:

    Thank you Mandy for putting into words all that I feel and thank you for your positive outlook on our beautiful, wonderful, magic country. I salute you…… and all the wonderful people that make our rainbow nation

    Liked by 1 person

  • Shannon says:

    You took the words right out of my mouth. Thank you for having the courage to stand up to the naysayers….as you say, it’s absolutely fine to leave the country but don’t spend your new found life slating the country that gave you life.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Stephanie Davies says:

    At one time or another, depending on the day, I agree with you and all of the above commenters. At one time or another, happily or sadly, all are valid.


  • Mandy, Great article, and i commend you on still having positive thoughts on the future of South Africa. However there is the other side of the coin, South Africa has not improved in over 20 years, it is getting worse and worse day by day for all people still living in the country, what I have found however is that people who still live in South Africa have an amazing ability to develop very thick skin, and become hard and to a point cold and immune to feeling empathy. The current state of affairs in South Africa with the government and there policies and decisions are ruining a once promising country, as you have said people are creating their own opportunities, and the reason for that, is that the people of South Africa are not able to get work, so to make a living they need to find other ways, however this will not sustain economic growth and build a strong society. Corruption, violence and murders are totally out of control, and there is no value for human life. People in other countries who as you put it ‘ Lambast South Africa’ are not saying South Africa is the problem, but the people who live in South Africa, we see what is happening from the outside, and see that it is not Normal to live the way South Africans live, in jails with high walls and security, and burglar alarms and in constant fear that you may be burgled, you may say but you don’t live in fear, but I will argue that it is subconscious and that you as South Africans are always looking over your shoulder in the event there are issues.

    I live in the USA, and am happy to say I live with no walls, alarms, my kids can play in the streets and visit friends without worrying about being killed for a cell phone, Human life is valued, now I am not saying there is no crime and murder, however it is isolated, and not just anywhere.

    I hope that Mmusi and the DA can help South Africa change the course it is on, however they will need help with the majority, and unfortunately the majority are a bunch of sheep and believe what Zuma and his cronies believe.

    So in a nutshell, positive or negative, people have their opinions and they have the right to voice their opinions in any form as long as it does not physically harm anyone.

    Thanks for your patience



    • Joslyn says:

      I agree whole heartedly! People that haven’t had the opportunity to stay or holiday abroad can not understand the concept of “safe living”.. It is a luxury!


  • Lyn says:

    Mandy, thank you for your honest honesty. South Africa will always be my country. The place that holds the most wonderful memories of our childhood, family and friends. We were blessed to have been able to make the decision to move to another country. Our reasons were far from political, social, family prompted, and the usual etcetera’s. We moved because we WANTED to explore the world with all her options. Opportunities came and went, we grabbed and didn’t grab them. I know that we could have made a great life in SA, and we live with no guilt about our decision to leave. Having been raised in South Africa gave us the FREEDOM to make these decisions and always ponder on our great values and freedom to choose. South Africa, especially Cape Town, is a country of profound beauty. We are grateful and blessed to have roots there. It will forever hold the opportunity for us to add her to our preferred destinations to visit list whenever we want to. Thank you for your article. It dispells for some the “illusions of not so great living” some may have about SA.


  • Gerald Francis says:

    What a great article Mandy, as somebody who has lived and worked in Australia and Europe for 17 years and has now returned to SA to impart my skills I could not share you sentiment more.
    I always knew that I would never leave SA permanently as this is HOME.My kids along with my wife have decided that they will return to Ireland next year to study and I am absolutely comfortable with that as they feel they spent more years in Ireland than they did in SA and regard Ireland as home.Not for me…..thank you very much.Let me say this ……I have lived worked and visited more than 20 countries around the world and I in my humble opinion there is no place like Cape Town on gods earth.
    Do we still have problems in SA? yes we do…..Will we fix them ? Yes we will , however long it takes.
    I know a lot a lot of ex pats that are living miserable lives overseas but because of pride they wont come back.
    I am very happy in my country of birth and have no reason to ever want to leave again.
    Why would I want to leave when I live better than I lived anywhere else in the world and even on the conversion rate earn more in rands than I would in dollar, Euro or Pound.


  • EpicGran says:

    Enjoyed the read Mandy especially as I had recently had very similar thoughts…..


  • susanhayden says:

    Yay for this much-needed voice! I wrote this blog a few years ago and also got the chorus of ‘you obviously haven’t lived through real crime, blah blah…’, which just kind of proves the point. Such a bore and go live in Perth already. Good for you! Keep on going.


  • Eben Visser says:

    Mandy, you have no idea just how important this read was to me! I had this very same mindset all of my life (45 years now). The last couple of years have seen me grow wary of our “situation” in this country, but I still remained positive. Until about two weeks ago when I read a few articles in one day about how our President and even a low-level neighbouring President are insisting that xenophobia be directed at whites and not on blacks. That totally flattened me. I actually told my wife that for the first time in my life I am becoming scared of living here! This read has taught me, once again, how we can overreact to selective news bits. Overall we have the most beautiful country in the world and, as you point out, not with insurmountable problems. Thanks so much for this reminder. Faith restored!


  • Margie Thomas says:

    Can’t agree with you more, Mandy. We returned to SA 10 months ago after being out of the country for over 10 years. We can’t be happier. What makes South Africa a great nation are the people – we greet one another, we chat to strangers and we enjoy a vast range of experiences together. Yes, we do have problems but we don’t deny them – we simply work on them and life in SA is different after 21 years – in many ways it is far better. And, for the most part, we have greater respect for one another. What matters is our attitude – negativity breeds greater negativity. We mustn’t allow ourselves to be bogged down in it. Our national motto should be something like ‘a Boer maak ‘n Plan’ – a positive one, and we could then achieve amazing results in so many aspects of our lives in SA. Let’s ensure that the next 21 years see us growing from strength to strength – after all, SA has recently been awarded the title of the Most Beautiful Country in the World’ – let’s include the phrase, ‘and the friendliest, most positive people’ too!


  • Jules says:

    Thanks for your positive article Mandy! I’ve been propagating the same sentiments and felt like a lone voice crying out in the wilderness. As for crime (which is a big problem in ZA), I encourage these negative people to watch some of the many crime programs on TV where the most horrendous crimes are perpetrated especially in the country they speak of as, “living the American dream!”


  • Steph R says:

    To be rather frank I find this piece of writing rather offensive what with it’s subtle undertones of smugness at standing your ground & remaining in South Africa. It also stereotypes all expats. Never mind people’s true intentions for leaving.

    My father immigrated from Scotland to South Africa & married my mother who is an Afrikaaner. I chose 11 years ago to move (not run away) overseas while my entire family still lives in Cape Town. It doesn’t mean I love the country I grew up in any less but London suits me better. I love winter! Go figure! When asked where I am from I reply: Cape Town! The best city in the world!

    Even though my parents have experienced countless break-ins, petty theft etc.. And one of my childhood friends’s father was robbed & murdered in the street I grew up in, I was caught in cross fire during a bank robbery in a shopping mall.. Yet my mother tells me constantly how much she loves her country besides the issues & will never leave.
    All countries have issues yes.. Man made, mother nature or both..
    And all countries have their own beauty too..


  • […] The below opinion piece was written by freelance writer and editor Mandy Collins.  […]


  • phillip lourens says:

    Hi Mandy great posting.I have worked in England, Ireland and New Zealand to learn the country’s law and accept them is more difficult than just staying where you are.S A is still the best.


  • […] The below opinion piece was written by freelance writer and editor Mandy Collins.  […]


  • sascja says:

    Great post, WELL SAID… I use the theory of “cognisance bias” in trauma debriefing… very real that your mind seeks to justify your beliefs, because if you can’t trust your beliefs, then what can you trust? After a trauma your previous belief about the world are shaken as your fundamental belief that “I am safe” has been shattered, so the mind makes new beliefs and seeks to validate them. That’s when it can be debilitating and invade other areas of your life. We have to work hard to cultivate positive beliefs that the brain can then do it’s thing and validate them 🙂


  • Nigel says:

    Each to their own, if you emigrate thats your choice, we all have different priorities & experiences, that said we are all still South Africans, no matter how much you sing the Kiwi or Aussie national anthem or pretend to be Irish, you make up the South African diaspora & SA is your origin & it is in your DNA. So we ask those that have emigrated to keep those that have chosen to stay (or want to emigrate & can’t) in mind & support the people of South Africa (not the useless Government) rather than to make it a past time to run us into the ground for whatever reason. Maybe, just maybe with the DA gaining in support we can turn this thing around reach our full potential with all your support 🙂


  • Shelley Simpson says:

    It’s true there are some expats like you described but according to my fb newsfeeds (I cannot speak for every one) there are more South African’s living in South Africa complaining about the potholes, crime, load shedding, Zuma and other political frustrations etc etc. Our international news (I live in NZ) VERY rarely comments on South Africa and certainly doesn’t comment on those sorts of things so if Expats are forwarding things on fb, one must consider where they got it from? Just saying. The grass is not altogether greener so to speak on the other side of the fence because like you said, just like South Africa is “perfectly imperfect” well so too are the rest of the countries around the globe. My reasons for leaving had everything to do with violent crime, and yes I was affected. I made a choice and not an easy one, and for the record not everyone is able to make the choice to immigrate for various reasons, and so at no point in time would I ever like to see South Africa crumble because ALL of my family are back there. I can understand how you get annoyed with some Expats – I do too – to the point that I am selective as to which ones I associate with here in NZ because yes, some of them can be negative, but would I return and am I home sick and the answer after 7 years is “certainly not”. I have no bad thoughts either way for people who choose to immigrate, and people who choose to stay. Stay happy and positive and enjoy your choice, but please don’t assume all Expats are the same, because that is like me assuming all South Africans remaining behind are the same.


  • […] piece originally appeared on Photo by de […]


  • Carl says:

    You write horrible boring articles. Please die!


    • Beemerang says:

      Carl, you’re an idiot. Tell your mommy to stop reading things to you that you don’t understand.


  • Paul Turner says:

    Glad to see you have hope! You have dreams of a betterSA. Dreams it will only be! Get your head out the sand!
    Every dog has its day, so it is with country’s ……. South Africa has had its day. When my friends and family back home tell me it’s not getting any better end life is getting harder, you start to wander ” what’s next?”


  • Marie Keates says:

    North Africa is as far as I’ve ventured but I loved the madness of it. Every country has its merits and its bad points. Personally I’d rather look for the good.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Gary says:

    You are my hero

    Liked by 1 person

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