Wednesday, 16 December 2009

So What is South Africa really like?

I was asked from a fellow blogger what it is really like to live in South Africa.

I will tell through a Scots lass' eyes instead of what you will hear in the media - instead of how Hollywood portrays our country; I will tell you what day-to-day life is like here in South Africa.  

I already hear you saying how can a Scots tell us about South Africa?  I consider South Africa my home.  I have been here for 30 years!  God, that makes me sound old!

In order to do this, I need to take you back to when I was ten years old and let you know what I experienced stepping off the plane after a very long and nauseating flight from London to Johannesburg.

Arriving in the country for the first time as a child, I had no idea what I to expect. My family had sold almost everything to immigrate to South Africa because of the early 80s recession in the UK. 

The recession had my dad working away from home for sometimes months at a time, often very far away. It was no life for a family man - so he sought opportunity and work in South Africa. Finally he’d be able to work and see his family everyday!  They took a shot!

As a 10 year old little girl, I had visions of Africa in my head - only from what people had told me and what books had shown me. I expected to see people with bones through their nose and wild cats roaming the streets. I had no idea it would be a normal civilised society.

I arrived in South Africa when PW Botha was president and so I have witnessed both the old and the new South Africa.  The apartheid era and witnessed the first Democratic General Election in 1994. 

Yes, I stood in the neverending queues for 6 hours to put my cross on my paper and vote in the first democratic election in South Africa with millions of others.  And some for the first time.  It was a brilliant day! The atmosphere was joyful and electric.  

I have also seen what it was like during the apartheid years.  When blacks and whites were separated in many areas, from the areas where we lived in, white-only schools, to places we could use the bathroom.  Blacks and whites used different public transport and trains were segregated for blacks and whites.  

Growing up in the “old” school system, blacks were not allowed to attend our schools; it was only when I was in my final year of high school in 1989, that they started allowing blacks and coloureds to attend our school.   So, I will not be able to tell you what the schools are like now as I never experienced mixed-race schools. 

In South Africa Kids go to school 5 days a week:  Monday to Friday from 8am until 2pm with two breaks of 15 minutes. My children do know what it’s like to go to school with all races.  My girls are both in either pre-school or primary school where races are mixed and different religions, cultures are studied and respected. 

A lot has changed since my school days in the eighties. It has all changed for the better I believe, as all our South Africa children are growing up together.  They are taught each others cultures, religions, customs and languages in hope for understanding of the differences.

South Africans in generally are a warm, friendly, helpful, polite, extremely hospitable and fiercely patriotic nation. 

South Africans are generally quite conservative, family and community oriented and spend lots of their time outdoors because of the longs summers and wonderful weather. The winters are cold and short (normally around 4 months) and it very rarely gets so cold that it snows.  In fact it very rarely goes below 0 degrees C. Only on very cold days in the dead of our winter do we see temperatures of around 3 degrees C.

We have many different cultures in South Africa - hence the nickname “Rainbow Nation”. There are blacks, whites, coloureds, Indians, Asians and with 11 official languages it’s only natural that we still have “segregated” areas.  Buts its not the law - its preference.  Its only human nature that we “stick to our own”. 
We have English speaking South African’s, Afrikaans speaking South Africans and the different languages within the african communities e.g Zulu, Xhosa, Sotho etc.

The food is wonderful here. South African's love their food and lots of it! Its out way of being hospitable - we want to feed everyone!  Its custom when someone arrives to visit at your home to give them a beverage and something to eat.  We all do it.  

Meat is not a luxury and it is eaten at nearly every meal time. We love our braai (aka barbeques) which is usually held in the back yard of our own homes.  We entertain at home a lot.  We usually make the braai fire out of wood and charcoal and has its own unique taste as the meat sizzles on the grill. 

The various meats on the braai usually consists of boerewors (South African sausage), lamb chops, good quality marinaded steaks, chicken kebabs or “flaties” where we slice a full marinaded chicken in half and and put on the fire like that.  Sometimes we keep them in their vacuum packed bag them and cook them on the open fire in the bag.  

We serve all the meat with salad (usually a few different salads) with home baked breads or side dishes like corn on the cob and baked potatoes.

We also have what we call “Boere Kos” which could be described as a big Sunday Lunch with two different kinds of roasted meat, savoury rice, roast potatoes with gravy and two or three different types of veggies with fresh bread. 

Then there is always dessert – a boerekos meal is not complete without a baked pudding with custard or fresh cream or ice cream.

South Africans are slowly becoming more healthy conscious visiting the gym and “going green”. Although organic produce and products are still quite expensive here.

Shopping in South Africa is mostly done at the malls because it is safe and we don’t have to walk the streets. Everything under one roof.  Parking is usually underground and is a nightmare to find a spot. The shopping malls are “everything under one roof” which is convenient. We have the usual fast food places such as MacDonalds, Pizza Hut and Wimpy. We have chain stores for clothing and grocery shopping. We get imports from all over the world and brand names are very expensive e.g. Nike, Adidas, Jeep. Prada, Christian Louboutin, Jimmy Choo and Louis Vitton are only for the wealthy and a few and far between.

The Afrikaans language is similar to Dutch and was a compulsory second language when I was at school. Now it’s not compulsory but it still spoken lots but unfortunately its becoming less and less.

Our currency (South Africa Rands - ZAR) is poor. The exchange rate is R7.40 to the US Dollar and 12.07R to the GB Pound.  Prices of cigarettes are around R35 for a pack of 20 and a dozen beers will set you back R90. However if you are in a restaurant you can easily double that price. 

The exchange rate makes traveling from South Africa to anywhere else in the world quite expensive. However for visitors coming to South Africa its brilliant news!  So you want a cheap 5 star holiday?

Cars are expensive, personal loans interest rates are high, bank charges for credit cards are standing on 25% interest, home loans at 9.5% interest rate (that’s on a good deal).

Houses are fairly affordable in good areas. Our property for instance is 1100 square meters; we have three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a large study (which could be another bedroom), kitchen, dining room, double garage, lounge, and an entertainment area with bar, big Jacuzzi and pool room. We have a large pool and lots of garden and green space. We do live behind 6 foot walls with electronic gates and electric fence and a middle class home is equipped with armed response alarm systems. Our cars always have alarms, tracking devises and immobilisers.

We are careful about locking our windows and doors when either in our homes or our cars. We are very security conscious and avoid situations and areas where crime is vigilant. It is rather stressful living like this but we do not know any different so we don’t even realise it. The crime is bad but we take precautions, we join neighbourhood watches and take turns to patrol our local areas. We don’t venture into “bad” areas and it doesn’t affect our lives too much. 

Most of us do know someone who has been either car-jacked, broken into, robbed or mugged.  Sometimes it is a little “too close to home” but it’s a small price to pay for living in a beautiful country with a high standard of living. Like any other country there are areas that you can freely visit and areas to avoid.

South Africa is a brilliant country with many many good points from the large open green spaces to the stunning mountains and rivers to the breath-taking safaris with awesome weather, wildlife and plant life. 

Where else can you see “the big five” all in one day? African Elephant, Leopard, Rhino, Lion and Buffalo. And of course my favourite the Giraffe.

There are tons more things that I could talk about but I may do another post later on – I don’t want to bore everyone to tears.

South Africa rocks my socks off!

15 comments:

KK said...

Oh this is fabulous. I love hearing what it is "really" like!!

Marcelle said...

I could not have written this any better, thanks so much for doing such a brilliant job on describing our beautiful country.
I miss South Africa living in Germany and go home at least 2x a year to recharge my battery and enjoy the fantastic lifestyle we South African's have there.
Yes, I have faced crime, someone broke into my home while I was sleeping - my teenage daughter and I lived alone, that was such a scary experience...after that I also put burglar alarms and trelli doors up...you have to be careful, but the good out weighs the bad...I would go home tomorrow if I had the choice.

Brian Miller said...

very cool...thanks for the glimpse into the life of your country and how it has changed...for the better.

Blasé said...

sounds like the place to be!

Glennis said...

I am sure you couldn't beat South Africa for wildlife.
Its great you like living there, I would worry about safety I think.

otin said...

It seems like the integration process was a lot like in the States, just 20 years or so later. I know what you mean about communities sticking to their own. That is a natural occurrence. I always thought about Africa as a Bone in the nose society until I saw Ernie Els play golf and realized that golf is not a tribal sport! Good post!

Nocturnal Queen said...

Very interesting. It's great to love where you live. :-)

lettice said...

Very well written! Eventhough I am a South African, I enjoyed reading it!

po said...

I think after 30 years you are more than qualified to write about living in SA, you have lived there way longer than me and I was born there! You also experienced more of the old vs the new SA.

Mick said...

Well Gillian interesting reading. The exchange rate facts are arse about face......but I will forgive you for that! Maybe when I get 5 minutes I can write a piece for you to add to your Blog from a perspective of someone who has recently moved here......what do you think?

Mick said...

Let's try again.....last post never showed up. I would like to put my perspective on a blog as a newbie who has only been here 15 months. Not now as I don't want to hijack G's article. But maybe when have more time can put it down and someone can put it up.

Gillian said...

I'd love for you to give your perspective on the country as a "new-comer".

Perhaps write something up and I'll post for you!!

Especially for my fellow bloggers that want to know what the country is like coming for the Soccer World Cup in 2010.

Francisco Castelo Branco said...

Hi Gill

Thanks for this post.
Was very interesting and well written.


I see you have a lot of friends, that like South Africa like you.It´s important to like living in our country

From January the posts about SA will be in great number

SA expat said...

Hi,
Just stumbled upon to your blog. Very interesting and true perspective of South Africa.

I am a South African, living in Singapore at the moment and I generally have been receiving the outisiders view of South Africa while meeting people from different countries. being the patriot, I always explain to them what SA is really like and it is in line with your words.

Good article!

A Daft Scots Lass said...

Thank you, ExPat

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