I'm off to South Africa in just under two weeks to volunteer with Santa Shoebox, collecting and distributing 10,000 Christmas gifts to vulnerable and disadvantaged children in Pretoria and surrounding areas and to support The Viva Foundation and to visit my friends that I made in the 4 years we lived there.
When I’ve been on holiday in tourist spots in South Africa where you’re likely to meet other foreigners, I rarely struck a conversation with anyone else because all they want to do is tell me how dangerous the country was, what they thought of it and ask my opinion on Oscar Pistorius and Nelson Mandela when I told them I actually lived there. The same applied when I went home to the UK.
When I was going about my daily business in Centurion, Pretoria paying a bill with my South African bank card, doing the weekly food shop or in the post office trying to retrieve my post that South Africans would say ‘what? you live here? you’re English? Followed by how much they want to go and live in the UK and why they think I’m mad to want to live there.
I was asked all the time to compare the two countries and every time I'd answer without fail, that South Africa is by far the nicer country and when asked why, I tell them there is more space, people are friendly, it’s more relaxed and the quality of life here is better than the UK. Of course there is limited access to education, housing and free health care is very basic and not available everywhere and of course gun crimes and the risk of hijacking are high.
Their response is ‘but England is a better place to live, you earn more, cars are cheaper.’ But people don’t realise just how high the cost of living is in the UK compared to here. We are paid in Rand, so don’t benefit from the current exchange rate with the UK, in fact we struggled as we had to send money back for our son’s education and for our house over there.
The perceptions of the opposite country are the same.
To give you an idea of the major differences between the UK and South Africa consider this.
If I drove East from Kent for 6 hours, I'd pass through 4 countries to Germany. If I drove East from Centurion I'd just about reach the coast and Durban.
A 5 hour drive North of Centurion I reach the bottom left hand corner of Kruger National Park that is the same size as Wales. A 5 hour drive north of Malvern where we lived in the UK, I'd probably run out of land to drive on.
If I flew south for 2 hours I'd reach Cape Town. If I flew south for 2 hours from the UK, I’d be in Spain.
There are 52 million people living in South Africa.
There are 62 million people living in the UK.
We’d been victims of crime in South Africa, we’d been victims of crime in the UK.
We’d driven 1000’s of kilometers in South Africa and were stopped many times in routine roadblocks, We were never asked for money from the police.
We have friends who have been hijacked, robbed and held at gun point in South Africa, that is the only part of South Africa, that scared us and we were vigilant every day, everywhere we went.
£10 is equivialnt to R210 with the current exchange rate. R100 goes further in SA than £10 does in the UK.
R100 would buy me lunch, a coffee and a packet of cigarettes.
It costs more to buy a car in SA, because people don’t change them for new plates and labour is cheaper so it’s cheaper to keep an older car going than it is to replace one. Road tax costs R250 a year. In the UK it costs £400 for the same car, a Jeep. Fuel costs were the same, but remember how much further your Rand goes in SA than the £ back in the UK.
When I visited the UK I avoided eating out, as it was so expensive compared to SA, but I could use public transport, there just isn’t any available in SA.
South Africa was my home. I no longer converted the money for our benefit, just for our visitors and the people I bump into when I’m going about my daily business. We discussed the political differences, they were shocked when I told them that in the UK people are sent to jail for not sending their children to school, when they’re crying out for education in SA.
We left SA in December 2014 as new changes to the laws in regards to foreigners were informed. We now live in Dubai and then we'll move back to the UK in a few years. I have blue skies in Dubai, but I won’t have the space that I crave when I’m not in SA.
I can't even begin to compare Dubai to South Africa, I can't tell you where I prefer to live or why. I left a little part of my heart in South Africa that I will never leave behind in Dubai. We fell in love with SA over time and it was a shock to move as quickly as we did, although we had more of an idea over a longer period that we were leaving SA than we did moving there in the first place.