South Africa: Should I Stay or Should I Go?

By Marc Sydow

This is a conversation that I have been having with clients for many years, but it is now becoming more and more prevalent in their lives… writes financial consultant Marc Sydow. To leave SA or not?

All pictures sourced: marcsydowcfp.wordpress.com/2

It has also become quite a hot topic around the dinner table, it’s almost like we feel the need to have the conversation, but that’s not the type of conversation I’m referring to. The dinner conversation tends to always stay around the table…

I’m referring to real people battling with the idea of raising their children in South Africa. A South Africa that on the one hand offers so much and on the other takes it all away with the thought of all the uncertainty.

These conversations are being had with people from all walks of life – those in corporate positions, entrepreneurs and those who are skilled but unemployed. The common thread running through all the conversations is UNCERTAINTY.


While South Africa has so much to offer, the only thing she guarantees at the moment is UNCERTAINTY. The unknown frightens people and when the unknown revolves around those things closest to our hearts, it CONFLICTS people.

The lack of security, job security, income security, securing your children’s future, your family’s safety and security. All of these plant that seed in our minds about whether there are greener pastures out there and can it work for me?

We all have that friend or colleague who has left South Africa and has managed to set up a base in the UK or OZ or NZ. They have found a job earning a decent income. Their children’s education is of a better standard, but not FREE. The value of their currency isn’t devaluing everyday at the same rate as the ZAR.

They are probably renting somewhere outside of the city and have to commute into work, great that they can commute reliably, but they don’t enjoy it but at least no one is threatening to take away their land.

The weather is ok at times, but not like home, they have no domestic assistance, they have no child care assistance, but they do know their children can play out in the streets safely.

The common thread running through these people is that they too are CONFLICTED and they are also making sacrifices. The foreign land in all her glory offers so much, but she demands so much from you as well. I guess where I’m going with this is that there is no NIRVANA, there is always going to be that trade-off, some sacrifice that will have to be made. Whether you stay or whether you go and you need to evaluate what that sacrifice is.

We need to look at both sides of the picture and decide if we stay what’s the plan and if we go, what’s the plan. The plan can’t just be to stay or to go.

As a father to my little boy Luke and husband to Nicole, these thoughts cross my mind as well. Funny enough, now more than ever which is strange as I have never been more optimistic about South Africa and the future she promises… but I guess as Luke gets older, I too worry about his prospects of finding employment (albeit 20 years from now).

I worry about our physical safety at times, with unemployment so high, it forces people to do things they ordinarily wouldn’t do, I worry about the ever-increasing cost of living in SA and the constant devaluation of the ZAR, but in my mind, I have made the plan to stay.

In deciding whether you stay or go, you need to look at the prospects both in South Africa for you and your family versus those on offer overseas. If I leave SA, will I find employment, am I marketable overseas and what am I doing about this? Can I afford the living costs or will I have to drop my lifestyle, am I prepared to do this? Can I afford child care and domestic help or am I just going to go over there and take what I can get because I am so fed up with over here?

That’s not a plan and whatever you decide to do you need to build a plan.

Now, this stuff isn’t rocket science, but for some reason it’s not stuff we do. We think we do it, but we don’t actually, so let’s get into it :

THE I’M GOING TO GO PLAN:

  1. Can I find employment in my current field? Am I marketable overseas? You need to become marketable.
  2. Will I be able to find housing close enough to work or will I have to commute? Be prepared to commute.
  3. Evaluate more than one country, this is a big decision, give it the time and effort it deserves.
  4. What is the education system like? Is it free, does it need to be free or just of a high standard?
  5. What is the crime like? There is crime everywhere, it just takes different forms.
  6. What is the community like? Can I relate? Will I be able to fit in easily? You are giving up all you know in SA, it will help if there are some similarities.
  7. Is this a rest of my life move, a let’s get foreign citizenship move, or a short term move? You need to know why you’re going, how long and for what reasons.

When deciding to go, you need to make sure you have ticked all the blocks. I get it that there has generally been something in SA that has influenced this final decision, something that has pushed you over the edge, and now you are off.

Try to avoid this rushed decision, evaluate why you are going and where you are going to. You want to try and make the transition as easy as possible for you and your family. Try and secure a job before you go, a similar job to the one you have now. Yes, I know a waiter is a respected profession in most foreign countries, but going from a high powered corporate banker to a waiter won’t be easy on your ego or self-worth.

Evaluate the different towns and places to live, this is probably going to be a permanent move, and you don’t want to be doing it multiple times. Make sure you have saved up some of your rands (yes we know they won’t be worth much)… you may need something to fall back on if things don’t go the way we planned.

Be enduring, this is not going to be smooth sailing, you have made this decision for various reasons, so be prepared for the ups and downs, dig deep and always remember why you have left and show those foreigners how resilient us South Africans can be.

(Editor’s Note: And remember you can subscribe to Showmax to stay connected to SA with all the latest movies and TV shows including Carte Blanche. Subscribe here for a 14-day free trial!)

THE I’M GOING TO STAY PLAN:

  1. Am I employed? Can I remain employed? Would I prefer to be self-employed? What are you doing about this?
  2. Am I safe? Can I improve my safety? At what cost?
  3. Can my children play safely outside or does it have to be behind our huge walls? Is this that much of a problem?
  4. Can I send my children to a good school? Does that have to mean a private school?
  5. Am I happy with my living standards? Can I improve on these? Do I need to improve on these or do I just want to improve on these?
  6. Will my children be able to find employment? What are you doing to ensure they can?
  7. Can I braai any day of the week pretty much any day of the year around my swimming pool with my friends just because I feel like it? YES, can I do this in the UK? NO.

If you are going to stay in SA, you need to change, you need to change you frame of mind, accept you are going to stay, and accept the uncertainty that comes with staying, but gear yourself up to fully take advantage of what this beautiful country has to offer.

If you are worried about your future employ-ability, upskill yourself. If there is one thing SA offers, its the entrepreneurial opportunity, where there is crisis, there is always the opportunity to thrive.

Accept that crime is high, accept that if you are making the decision to stay, you need to improve your safety, you need to be vigilant when driving, you need to put your alarm on at night, you need to do background checks on those people you employ in your household but at least you are able to employ people to assist in your household.

Ensure that you have a plan for your children’s education and that doesn’t have to mean private schooling from grade 000. There are many good government schools, you just need to be prepared to look for them stand in a queue to apply and send your children to them.

Perhaps you could look at sending them to private schooling down the line or overseas University. Do the best you can with what you have, if you still want to do more, well then you need to do more, not leave because education is free elsewhere, trust me you’ll pay for it in another form.

To summarise your I’m going to stay plan: South Africa has loads to offer. You need to be able to adapt, you need to want to stay, and you need to make yourself an asset to your life and those around you, just because we were born here doesn’t mean we are entitled to a good job and a big house. If we want it, we must work for it.

Whatever you decide to do, if anything, make sure you have a plan. To stay in SA we need a plan, to leave SA we need a plan. We can’t just muddle along from one day to the next and expect life to make the lemonade for us, after all she has already given us the lemons.

south africa

By Marc Sydow

This article first appeared here and is republished with Marc Sydow’s kind permission. Please follow his blog here: https://marcsydowcfp.wordpress.com/