There’s no place like home


There’s no place like home

Social media is so full of bad news that sometimes you want to flee to the mountains. After a few sessions of doom-scrolling, HERMAN LATEGAN came across a Facebook page called ‘Reasons for returning to South Africa'. That made a light come on.


A LOT of people ask why I'm still on social media when it makes me so unhappy. I have to be there, it's part of my job.

You just liven it up with a joke here and there, a debate or something positive. Recently, I was made aware of the term “toxic positivity” by my Facebook friend and one of the founding members and the arts editor of the first Vrye Weekblad, Chris du Plessis.

I placed an uplifting speech on Facebook by academic Prof William Gumede, who was addressing young people at a graduation ceremony.

Chris's reaction: “Ehhh … tell that to the kids in Gaza. Or the slums of Mumbai. I’m much more concerned about toxic positivity at present.” Chris is right, of course (although I don't agree with him about Gumede's talk). There is nothing as banal and annoying as over-optimistic people who walk around with a constant Walmart grin.

Lees hierdie artikel in Afrikaans:

Toxic positivity is when people believe negative thoughts about anything should be avoided. Even in response to events that might normally be emotionally painful, positivity is encouraged at the expense of context and the normal psychological distress and healing.

According to Chris, we should be more pissed off and run amok to scare the government. Idle talk around braai fires about how lovely everything is, is counterproductive. I hear you loud and clear, and agree with you.

However, after a year of weltschmerz I want to write something positive about why people love South Africa and especially about emigrants who return. But before I get to that, I must mention that I am well aware of the two South Africas.

In one of them you can live comfortably if you have money. The other is the place that should make you angry, where children are starving, there is no water and sewage flows through the streets.

I have written a lot about poverty and will continue to do so, but this time my angle is those who have the money to leave the country — and what makes them want to return.


The Facebook page Reasons for returning to South Africa is an interesting starting point.

Anonymous longs for her country: “Me, my husband and son moved to Portugal in March — eager and excited. We chose Portugal because of its residency programme and because we could apply for an EU passport after five years.

However, I have never felt so isolated in my life. There are very few people here who can speak English (especially doctors and dentists, grocery store staff, etc).

We have been diligently taking Portuguese language lessons twice a week since April but we don't seem to be getting the hang of it. The written language and the nearly 10 dialects that are spoken do not match.

At what stage do you know it just isn't working out? I really feel that being at home in South Africa is the only option. All our family and friends are there. I feel like every day away from SA is a struggle and I'm not sure what the point is any more."

Quite a few people replied to this entry, like here: “The language in Portugal didn't even bother me, but the horrible bureaucracy, medical care and horrible housing were just too much. We left last Sunday and I feel so relieved."

Someone else wrote: “This is how I felt living in Sydney, Australia; it felt like a perpetual waiting game and that I wasn't really alive.

I wrote down how I wanted to spend the next 50+ years on this earth and what was important to me. My husband and I both come from large families who all still live happily in SA.

I wanted to be surrounded by family and friends who felt like family, attend every family member's birthday tea and not only the milestone birthdays, attend every impromptu extended family dinner, run into people I know in the shops, talk to the newspaper man at the traffic lights.

I can go on and on. Not once did I look back. I wrote down my reasons for our return to SA, so when life gets tough (and it got tough in Sydney too, but in a different way) I can go and read why we came back.

AND I AM EXTREMELY HAPPY TO BE BACK. In Australia I just existed, but in South Africa I live my life surrounded by all the people and places that are important to me."

There are too many entries to post here, feel free to take a look for yourself. There are also people who are critical of South Africa, so you can look through a glass that is half full or one that is half empty.


I have followed the tour guide Gilda Swanepoel of Eenblond Tours in Johannesburg for some time. One day she is in Soweto, then in Hillbrow,  then Fordsburg. The tours look great, including the food and people, and I always feel like I want to go to Johannesburg immediately to hang out with her.

She says she gets a lot of feedback from expats and tourists about why it is so different here and what they notice the most. This is her list:

  1. People still talk to each other. We strike up conversations in the supermarket, we greet strangers. We ask each other “how are you?” and mean it.
  2. We can still talk much more openly about sensitive matters such as race, politics and religion.
  3. The quality and price of healthy food. We are almost the only country where fresh vegetables (if you buy at the right place) are the cheapest food.

About Johannesburg specifically:

  1. The harmonious multiracialism.
  2. One of the best climates in the world.
  3. It's easy to make a difference here.

And in general terms, we are surrounded by different countries and landscapes. Mozambique, Lesotho, Eswatini, Botswana, Zim, Namibia. The forests, rainforests, plains, deserts and mountains are all there.


The journalist Susan Hayden got tired of life here at one point, took a sabbatical and travelled overseas.

On her return, she wrote: “It is easy to lose perspective and start to envy people in other parts of the world, but a month abroad opened my eyes and changed my attitude.

Yes, a lot of things don't work here, but so much important stuff still works and we don't often focus on that part of the story. I have learned some important lessons from my friends who live abroad.

The schools in many parts of Europe are struggling with the enormous influx of foreign children from war-torn countries who do not speak the language and are traumatised. Teachers and school staff try their best to integrate them, but while doing so, local children — inevitably — get less attention.

A friend's eight-year-old child still cannot read. Some schools in the city center of Malmö (southern Sweden) have classes where the learners are 100% foreign, usually Arabic. Swedish families do not want to send their children there because none of the children speak Swedish. So they move away from certain cities.

The health-care systems in Sweden are overloaded and almost no longer work. Friends in Sweden have taken out private medical insurance at great cost because you wait so long to see a government doctor, even longer to see a specialist and years to have surgery. Trains are overcrowded and late or not running at all.

About Germany she writes: “I've been there a lot, but sorry, the food is horrible. They cook eisbein! It tastes much better at the Dros in Stellenbosch for a fraction of the price.”

She also has a lot to say about Paris: “We stayed in a very fashionable, hellishly expensive apartment in Montmartre. To call it compact would be an understatement.

The whole thing was about 25 square meters. You had to climb a steep, frighteningly narrow staircase to get to the seventh floor.

You had to get into what looked like a closet to use the toilet. Everything was small, like a Barbie house. At 2am on a Monday the noise from the street made it impossible to sleep.

It was hot (and would get much hotter in the following months), but if you opened a window you were eaten alive by mosquitoes. Paris is indeed magical, the whole city is like a movie set, but it's noisy and busy and the food is expensive — and frankly, underwhelming.

You will find better French food in Bree Street in Cape Town and at my friend Marlene (van der Westhuizen's) house. I love Paris. But we live well here. And honestly, the croissants taste the same anywhere."

I read in The Guardian that about two million British households have been forced to switch off their fridges or freezers to save money as they struggle to make ends meet.

The Truro Food Bank in Cornwall says children get upset stomachs because their parents cannot afford to refrigerate their food. The feeding scheme said some children also go to school in unwashed clothes as parents desperately try to save energy.

Staff say donations have decreased and demand for food has risen, making things harder for low-income communities. Rising taxes and energy bills are putting pressure on people's incomes, leading to the biggest drop in living standards in 70 years.


Friends in the entertainment industry in New York tell me that after Covid they had to leave and live in New Jersey. It simply became too expensive to live near the theatres where they work.

They were not the only ones; many of their colleagues also had to leave. In America, if you fall behind on your rent your furniture is quickly thrown on the pavement.

They say New York has lost its soft, creative side. Hardened business people in black suits who work in the business sector and banks are now cracking the whip.

Watch the documentary Half Homeless: Living in Cars about how many ordinary Americans have to live in their cars to survive.

A man writes on YouTube: “I've been in my car for over three years now. I travel around the country and do a bit of work. Most Americans have no idea how many Americans live in their cars.

The homeless you see on the streets are just the tip of the iceberg. I don't do drugs, I don't even drink alcohol.

I work six days a week. I take care of my hygiene and health, while sleeping in my car every day. Life is beautiful to me and will always be beautiful, regardless of my circumstances."


The purpose of this is not to denigrate other countries. Nor to exalt South Africa as a paradise. The motivation is to maybe (for now) look at things through different spectacles and take a break from all the bad news. Next year we can take to the streets and give the government hell.

A luta continua!


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