SA Expat on Representing South Africa Abroad: “Today I Feel Sad”

by Zoë Cohen

I am 24-years-old and, newly, an Israeli citizen… writes South African expat and soon-to-be Full-Stack Developer Zoë Cohen who has written a Facebook post which has resonated with many other Proudly South African expats living abroad. (Read it below.)

Zoë Cohen in her beloved South Africa. Photo: FB/Zoë Cohen

I live in Israel, however my heart will forever be in South Africa.

I never left South Africa for any reason other than that I wanted a change…

I never left South Africa because I felt that I needed to, I was never running away and my intention was actually never to stay away.


You see, I had actually only planned to be away for six months. It just turned out that I was drawn to a change.

In fact, since last June (when I left SA), I have been back. And I loved every second.

Adding to that, I brought home with me 6 foreigners that I had met while in Israel – to experience my South Africa.

They fell in love too. Who couldn’t?! South Africa is a gorgeous destination filled with culture, delicious food and Summer blue skies with 4pm rains.

I am South African to the bone, and up until recently, the most proud South African.

But, I am blindly proud, blindly in love.
And, this is exactly what my Facebook post below relates to.

My post relates to wanting to stay in love, wanting to stay proud, with a Beautiful South Africa.

The South Africa I tell everyone about.

But, this is not the South Africa that the world sees – nor myself in reality too.

Every ex-South African has their reason for leaving, and their own feeling for the country which they left.

I never talk about forever, or where I will end up raising a family.
But when I do, I WANT to say South Africa.
I don’t answer the question aloud.
Because it is the lies and the denial that supports that, the reality doesn’t.

I live freely here, as a young female especially.

Having to represent South Africa abroad is tough, it is sad and hard – it is exhausting having and wanting to defend a country that at the moment is crying, bleeding and struggling.

My heart is aching, I don’t want to answer questions about South Africa anymore because it hurts.

Today I feel sad… by Zoë Cohen

Today I feel sad.
I feel more sad today than yesterday.
I feel sad for a different reason.

You see, I don’t live in South Africa anymore, that makes me feel sad.
But, today I feel sad for a different reason.

You see, people ask me everyday what it’s like to live in South Africa.
“But it’s so dangerous, isn’t it?”
“I hear there’s violence everywhere.”
“It’s my dream to go to South Africa, but I am scared of the murders and crime.”
“Do you keep a gun? Surely you need to protect yourself?”
“I heard about Reeva Steenkamp, but I also heard that it’s normal?”
“Don’t you feel scared for your sisters and family?”
“Do you Uber? Do your parents track your whereabouts?”
Some of the questions I am asked every day.
Alongside apartheid and violence against woman.
Riots, taxis, xenophobia.
The economy, the waves of people leaving.
Your government!
The corruption!
And on,
And on,
And on.

No, South Africa isn’t like that!
I lie.
Depending on where you go, who you are, where you live – it can be safe!
I lie.
Everywhere in the world has crime!
But to a different degree.
Uber is fine!
I lie.

I feel sad that I feel like a liar.
I feel sad that now Reeva is one of many.
I feel sad that now Uyinene will be an example of the fear, the danger, the terrible outside stigma of South Africa.

Because you see,
I have always been a deep believer.
I have always put my heart into South Africa.
I have always dreamed of change and believed in it.
I love South Africa.
I love it so much I find every excuse to defend it.

I feel sad because now more people have lost the faith that I have.
I feel sad because I can’t defend my country.
I feel sad because my country can’t defend me.

South Africa, you are so beautiful.
You are so beautiful but covered in blood and tears.
You are filled with beautiful people, but the world only sees the bad.
We are flooded with the bad.

I still think of my days of the Johannesburg Junior Council and the work we did.
Next to that, I remind myself that soon I am called an ex-South African.
I’m going to have to answer to these questions so much more too.
I’ll keep lying, I’ll stay in denial.

by Zoë Cohen