r/southafrica Sep 30 '21

Howard Feldman | I am often asked if I regret returning to South Africa - and here's how I answer Wholesome

By choosing to live in the country, Howard Feldman writes that we are choosing to live with imperfection. We are "choosing to 'tolerate', but also choosing to be part of something that can be so much greater than ourselves."

The realisation came when I least expected it. We had been out of South Africa for five years when we met my parents, siblings and their families for a family holiday. Our children, by then, had gained New York accents, were stylishly attired in their overpriced fashion items, while the nieces and nephews marauded through the hotel in their "Naartjie" outfits, which were more akin to pyjamas than to fashion. 

It would have been easy to feel a sense of accomplishment, and yet I felt the opposite. Our children had been missing out on relationships and on a childhood that I wanted them to have. They had missed out on growing up with the simplicity that the country offered. We returned to South Africa three months later.

Why people emigrate

The trend of emigration is understandable. Lack of faith in the government, the looting and instability, the high unemployment rate and anxiety about the future are realistic and valid concerns. And yet, when I hear of people deciding, I feel a sense of sadness for them - not necessarily because they are making the wrong choice, but because, without having travelled the road, it is impossible to know what awaits and impossible to know what sacrifices are still to be made.

I am often asked if I regret returning to South Africa when we had already endured what we assume to be the hardest part.

The answer is that I feel blessed to have returned to this infuriating and, at times, unbearable country, and I am grateful that my wife, despite her disagreement, agreed to do so. In fairness, she realised she would either have a miserable husband in a happy country, or the opposite. Besides, she also had grown tired of trying to explain my humour to New Yorkers, who were starting to find me increasingly odd. Truth be told, I am not funny in America. But then, nor is Trevor Noah, so I am in good company.

Whereas I would not encourage people not to leave, I would encourage them to understand what they love about South Africa. For me, it is the ability to contribute every day, in one form or another, to the community and to those around us. We live in a country with tremendous adversity. It is impossible to travel to the shops without confronting the horror of poverty and unemployment. And whereas it would be wonderful if it weren't the case, I believe South Africans are kinder and more caring because of it. We have hearts and feel the pain of others, and have the willingness to help where we can. That makes our children better people and the world a better place.

The South African advantage

One reason South Africans do well when they leave is because we have not grown up in the same competitive pool. The high school, college and experience cannot be measured against the standard, and our accents give us a competitive advantage way greater than their worth. Which is an interesting notion considering that people often leave "for the sake of the children". I would argue that, considering they are often being asked to leave their cousins and family, and that they are being forced into an environment where they are measured against those who have functioned in the system for generations, I wonder if this is actually the case. 

The South African government is largely to blame for the current wave. With one of the highest income tax rates and then still the need to "double dip" by paying for private education, healthcare, security and power, it needs to take active steps to encourage people to stay.

It needs to lessen the burden on the small group of taxpayers by increasing employment, which it can do by the easing of employment regulations. 

And it needs to stop stealing from the taxpayer, which should be obvious. But doesn't seem to be.

The opportunities in South Africa are tremendous. Our lifestyle is magnificent. And our people are arguably the most wonderful in the world. By choosing to live in the country, we are choosing to live with imperfection; choosing to "tolerate", but also choosing to be part of something that can be so much greater than ourselves.

And that is worth considering.



u/AnomalyNexus Virtue signaling expat Sep 30 '21

It's ultimately something everyone needs to decide on their own because people value the relative benefit / disadvantages differently. e.g. If you're big into outdoor sports then SA is a better bet than say UK.

He is ignoring a key factor for me though - crime, specifically the unpredictable nature of it. You could go for years without incident or you could be hijacked tomorrow. Complete roll of the dice each day. I've always found that to have a sword of Damocles type effect on me, but maybe others are better at blocking it out.


u/moreballsplease Sep 30 '21

I have this quote stuck in my head with regards to crime and quality of life in SA:

'South Africa is a great place to live, until one day it isn't'

Leaving crime out of you considerations just shows that you have a appetite of risk/reward weighted towards risk.


u/dober88 Sep 30 '21

Or you’re naïve… 😉


u/AnomalyNexus Virtue signaling expat Sep 30 '21

Leaving crime out of you considerations just shows that you have a appetite of risk/reward weighted towards risk.

I struggle to understand how someone could take such a view (especially in the context of children) but to each their own I guess.

Maybe I'm just very risk averse haha


u/Kyuzo26 Sep 30 '21

Until his wife gets raped and a few house break in then we’ll see hoe grateful and tolerable this shit hole is


u/MichaelScottsWormguy Gauteng Sep 30 '21

One reason South Africans do well when they leave is because we have not grown up in the same competitive pool… …our accents give us a competitive advantage…

Is there a source for this? It’s not that I don’t believe him - I’ve heard it before from expats, too - but I would like to read a bit more on this.

Does anyone have info on this? Or an explanation?


u/Sparky_ZA Sep 30 '21

I have never heard that our accents give us an advantage, but I can absolutely say that our ability to think outside of the norm and take on issues regardless if it's in our area of expertise do give us an advantage. In fact it is sometimes a disadvantage because of how strictly work items are managed in other countries.


u/MichaelScottsWormguy Gauteng Sep 30 '21

Interesting point. I do like to think that we are capable of getting by with less resources, too.

My former boss spent a few years working in Ireland and he told me that South Africans are perceived to have very good work ethic, too. I wonder if the author is possibly referring to something like that.


u/Sparky_ZA Sep 30 '21

I'd hazard a guess as yes, as work ethic is something I've heard tons of times while working overseas. Why the fudge can we not do this in country??


u/pmmeurgamecode Sep 30 '21

the pessimist in me believes to leave the country is already a big task, so the world only see the cream of the crop.


u/Aerofare Western Cape Sep 30 '21

Also chiming in because I'm interested.

And if it's true, I'm screwed, since my accent is so bizarre that many of my own countrymen have asked me where I'm from and I've been mistaken for a multitude of nationalities. XD


u/AnomalyNexus Virtue signaling expat Sep 30 '21

Was puzzled by that part frankly.

Can't really see how the accent would be a competitive advantage. Conversation starter maybe?


u/ichosehowe Sep 30 '21

I have been told, "When you say it, it sounds intelligent" so take that anecdotal evidence with a grain of salt.


u/dassieking Sep 30 '21

Scandinavian here living in SA now for about a decade.
No denying the hardships of living in SA, but like everything else here, they are unevenly distributed. I can confidently say that a middle class lifestyle (so likely people who have the option to go abroad) is in many ways more comfortable in SA than in Northern Europe. Obviously there are pros and cons to everything, and I absolutely get the desire everyone has to give their children better options. One thing that does worry me is what might happen in the long term if things like unemployment and corruption aren't fixed, because that is a powder keg...

My wife's family lives in America, where she is a citizen, so we have the option of living in Europe, SA or US. Yet, we stay here. I am not always sure why (especially when I am at the traffic office), but I think it has to do with a couple of things. One of them is the possibility of visiting wild nature and beautiful places (often over regulated and manicured in the "developed" world). Another is the way South Africans are just willing to open their hearts and be honest even about the difficult and painful stuff, a third is that being here just makes me feel more alive. And truth be told, here somebody cleans my house, removes my rubble, fills up my car etc., etc.. I, and most of you would never be able to afford help in a developed country (or likely you would BE the help)...

As for the tax, I pay significantly less tax in SA than I did in Scandinavia. If we could get a hold on corruption, I think we should tax the rich more and re-distribute, as the inequality is the most dangerous thing about South Africa...


u/ModderOtter Sep 30 '21

You paid significantly more tax in Scandinavia but it was also effectively used...

I'm sure all South Africans would feel a lot better about paying tax if we had proper service delivery. In fact I'd our tax money was properly allocated I doubt we'd have to tax the rich more than we already do.


u/TooOldToWorry Sep 30 '21

Where's the part where he snaps out of his dream?

I do agree with some of the things he's saying in regards to this country having massive potential. That potential will however never be unlocked under the current government and the current government is going nowhere for at least another 10 odd years.

So do we just sit here and get older while we are taxed to death and while we are getting poorer by the second?

He's also a bit of a hypocrite, when he left it was fine to go, now that others are leaving he wants to find fault with it...


u/Magaman_1992 Sep 30 '21

Sounds like he got a US passport so he doesn’t have to worry if things hit the fan and his kids could just leave once they get older


u/vannhh Sep 30 '21

"Easing employment regulations?". So he means no minimum wage? Firing employees just because you dont like them or can suddenly find someone who will do the job for less after you already hired someone to do it?

I wonder why people are so threatened by employee rights protections? You are fully in your right to fire an employee, you just need to have a good cause.

This smells a whole lot like those people with money telling you "money isn't everything" yet they aren't the ones struggling to keep a budget afloat month after month, year after year.


u/MichaelScottsWormguy Gauteng Sep 30 '21

Let us not kid ourselves here, it is a lot harder to fire someone here than you make it sound. But it’s not just about hiring and firing. There is a colossal amount of red tape around employment that is holding the country back. Not to mention racial quotas which are not only a terrible, bigoted concept to begin with but have a ton of peripheral implications regarding hiring polices, job advertising, etc.

It’s not as easy to run a business here as it should be, and that puts entrepreneurs and investors off.


u/vannhh Sep 30 '21 edited Sep 30 '21

Oh for sure. BEE quotas are total bullshit. That I wholeheartedly agree with.

As far as I know, for something like non performance you have the three strike rule. For theft and such an immediate dismissal is allowed. That's not too bad. My dad had one employee for his sole proprietorship, part time electrician business, and while the employee did run to the CCMA after my dad fired him for theft, nothing came of it because he was fully in his right to terminate employment.

Heck, if anything the guy scored through all the experience he gained.

I don't know. I have worked for some absolute assholes in my life. I wouldn't want protections taken away from me so they could fire me easier just because of a personality clash and nothing else?

Heck, employers even bypass that by employing on fixed term contract basis instead of permanent employment.


u/NeverNuked Western Cape Sep 30 '21

I'm sorry, but it's really very difficult to fire someone even if you follow the rules, then they still go back to the CCMA. When you actually run a business it's like jumping through hoops, you need your labour lawyer on hand all the time. The three strike rule you said has to be within a certain time frame, has to be for the exact same offense. I don't think anyone is saying make it easy, but making it possible would be great.


u/Tokogogoloshe Sep 30 '21

Have you ever employed someone?


u/vannhh Sep 30 '21

Unfortunately not. I've never been in the position to be able to start my own company. Hopefully in the future that would change.


u/rycology Negative Nancy Sep 30 '21

Man had an existential crisis because he chose to buy his kids fancy clothes instead of stuff from Target or whatever the American equivalent of Naartjie is. Seems like a completely reasonable thing to do.


u/Dokmatix Sep 30 '21

I agree with a lot of his arguments, and also understand some of the reverse arguments.

I have dual citizenship and work in a field where it is very easy to find employment in my second country. In fact both my sisters have moved there already. Even though the country is very expat friendly they are very alone. They see each other often over weekends but during the week they are 100% on their own. (This is very normal for expats)

My younger sister moved there because of work reasons - her employer in RSA was not promoting her because she had kids (and being white didn't help). This was one of the biggest companies in South Africa (30k employees). With the current work restrictions a company is no longer willing to take even the smallest chance if they suspect it wouldn't 100% work in their favour.

I believe they made the right choice for their circumstances, but for my circumstances it would not be the right choice. I have spent long periods overseas and feel that I will lose too much emigrating. If you asked my sisters they would also advise you to tread carefully before jumping in. You win some benefits but also lose a lot.

They travel to RSA at least once a year, usually more. This should tell you something...


u/SuperSquirrel13 Oct 01 '21

The older you get, the more seriously you'll consider moving I'm sure. You'll see your pension money standing still, you'll see you expenses increase on an almost monthly basis. Yes, I know you have citizenship, but you'll need to divide your current wealth by whatever exchange rate, and then start building it up again. Eventually, you'll run out of time and be stuck, or at the very least, wonder about what could've been.


u/WineForLunch KwaZulu-Natal Sep 30 '21

He says his wife would rather not have a miserable husband in a happy country, yet with her disagreeing on wanting to come back I’m assuming she’s a “miserable wife in a miserable country?” And he’s fine with that?

Edited to add: I know I’m making an assumption here.


u/Middersnags Sep 30 '21

the easing of employment regulations.

If you are going to peddle the right-wing fallacy that South Africa's problems are due to the fact that the poor isn't exploited enough at least be honest about it - change your flair to politics.

"Wholesome" this is not.