Johannesburg - Sitting in a taxi in Dubai one day, Minister Collins Chabane was surprised when the driver blurted out that South Africa was a very bad country.
“Where did you get this idea?” a perplexed Chabane asked.
“Other South Africans who work here,” the driver responded.
South Africans bashing their own country is a problem, and that is why Chabane recently accompanied Brand South Africa to Australia to engage with expats and tell them of the gains their motherland had made and the challenges it continues to face.
Brand SA’s duty is to promote the country’s image and sell it domestically and internationally. It, therefore, considers South Africans in foreign countries as extended brand ambassadors.
Brand SA board chairwoman Chichi Maponya said it was important to engage with South Africans living abroad because locals in those countries usually went to them for opinions on South Africa, and their words carried a lot of weight.
“They need to know… how it has fared over the 20 years of democracy; that it is a country many South Africans are proud… to live in and to be associated with, and the role it plays and will continue to play globally and in the continent,” Maponya said.
Addressing expats at a two-day event in Melbourne and Sydney, Chabane said while South Africa had its problems, bashing the country would only hurt the economy.
“It hurts the reputation of the country, and also hurts the morale of people who believe it could be… competitive enough to engage in world trade without difficulty. This is an issue which we think is important for all South Africans wherever they are to understand,” Chabane said.
According to the South African high commissioner to Australia, Kholeka Mqulwana, about 143 000 South Africans live there, the majority in Perth.
Among the South Africans in Australia is Kishor Manjee, a former schoolmate of the Shaik brothers at Manilal Valjee Gandhi Desai High School in Durban, who left the country in 2001 after his wife witnessed a murder. Manjee now calls Melbourne home.
Alethea Gold has been in Australia for 37 years and calls Sydney home. Gold left the country at the behest of her parents during the apartheid era as they were terrified that her close friendship with a coloured man would lead to them being harassed by the police and thrown in prison.
* Mabel, a coloured woman from Cape Town, has been in Australia since 1971 because the brutal apartheid regime “made it impossible to live in South Africa”. She and her family are now based in Adelaide.
While many of the South Africans who Gold interacts with don’t say bad things about their former homeland, the situation is different for Manjee and Mabel.
Manjee claims he has not met anyone who is pro-South Africa in the past five years. And when they talk about their country, it is always in a negative way, regardless of who they’re talking to.
It was the same for Mabel.
“They do bash it, especially coloured people. I sometimes wish I could disown my family, as they badmouth South Africa all the time. All they see is negativity,” she said.
Two Australians said they were constantly shocked at how South Africans talk disparagingly about their country all the time, never having anything positive to say about it.
“They tell us that it’s dangerous there, you will get shot if you go there, and that everyone carries a gun. It’s as if they need to justify why they moved here,” one said.
* Not her real name