Defend Truth


Should those who flee the ship be welcomed back when it’s saved?


Zukiswa Pikoli is Daily Maverick's Managing Editor for Gauteng news and Maverick Citizen where she was previously a journalist and founding member of the civil society focused platform. Prior to this she worked in civil society as a communications and advocacy officer and has also worked in the publishing industry as an online editor.

Your relationship with your country is as intimate and deep as a personal relationship with family. You have to take the good with the bad and fight to keep the relationship because its rewards outweigh its trying times.

With the elections fast approaching, it’s hard to think or talk of much else, but one thing that has become a topic of discussion lately is the number of people leaving and coming back to South Africa, and what it all means.

Before we delve further into this, I must say I am one of those people who will never leave the country. I will stay to fight the good fight to prevent our country from going down in flames.

That is not to say that should opportunities out­­­side the country present themselves, I would not pursue them. I believe in the fluidity of the world we live in and that at any point I might find myself spending a year or two living elsewhere, but in the firm knowledge that I would always return and put down roots here. If my country needed me, I would be back in a heartbeat.

Now that’s out of the way, let’s look at the issue of emigration, which of course is not just a South African phenomenon and is influenced by a lot of factors, including education and employment.

Some people move because they find their life partners in another country, and some for survivalist reasons such as political persecution and conflict.

In this day and age, people should be free to move and live wherever they want to. Migration has, after all, been a defining part of our history, whether for imperial conquest or less nefarious reasons.

I have always felt, however, that the more connected you feel to your environment and those around you, the less likely it is that you will be inclined to leave.

Your relationship with your country is as intimate and deep as a personal relationship with family.

You have to take the good with the bad and fight to keep the relationship because its rewards outweigh its trying times.

It also gives you the stability of identity and belonging, and you would be hard-pressed to find human beings who don’t have this longing.

One hears accounts of how those who have left their country often feel a sense of isolation, displacement and never quite “fitting in”, which is unsurprising when entering a foreign society where you must learn its norms, value systems and cultural imperatives.

It takes an extra effort and that extra effort will remind you that you are not really of that country. This must be a lonely feeling, but I guess it’s something that some people find to be worth enduring because of whatever their push is to leave their country.

Further than that, and specific to South Africa, a question arises – do people who have left the country for fear of its collapse under the current administration deserve to come back and enjoy the spoils once the country is saved by those who stayed behind to fight against its collapse?

I haven’t made up my mind one way or the other, but I do think the question is worth chewing on. DM

This article first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick newspaper, DM168, which is available countrywide for R29.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Johan Buys says:

    There is no committee that decides whether a South African can or cannot return. If you were born here, you can always return even if you had to surrender passport because whatever place you spent ten years in does not allow dual-citizenship.

    From our experience, nobody should view emigration, whether for a while or forever, as an easy escape or the rat run. It takes a young couple with a lot more guts to move countries than to “flee” from Durban to JHB or CPT! Both moves are motivated by opportunity/ambition. The short hop is FAR easier from ANY perspective.

  • Dietmar Horn says:

    I am more concerned with the question to what extent those who are responsible for the decline of this country will one day be held accountable for it.

  • Pieter Badenhorst says:

    I think the question is moot. It seems unlikely that the country will be “saved” in the lifetime of those who have left.

  • Angus Summers says:

    “Do people who have left the country for fear of its collapse under the current administration deserve to come back and enjoy the spoils once the country is saved by those who stayed behind to fight against its collapse?”

    What a ridiculous question!
    Firstly, don’t presume to know what’s going on in other people’s lives.

    People leave the country for various reasons:
    -There aren’t any opportunites for them in terms of employment.
    -They want a better lives for their children.
    -Their salaries aren’t covering their bills.
    -They plan on earning enough money overseas in order to live a comfortable
    -Once overseas, they send money home in order to take of their families in SA.

    They left because their tax money is being squandered the ANC government.

    Please elaborate on “fight the fight”.
    If you are a law-abiding citizen who pays their taxes and receives zero service delivery, then what??

  • Anthony Kearley says:

    Those returnees you refer to, are quite often educated professionals or artisans with economically useful skills, foreign countries seldom accept other for long… so unless you can pay the tax for all the free stuff South Africans think is a human right, we should welcome them back with a song… deserve doesn’t enter into it.

  • Duncan Arthur says:

    If I had a Rand for every South African who left and said “I’ll of course come back”, I’d have enough for lunch. Careful of the curse of famous last words

  • Dietmar Horn says:

    In the former German Democratic Republic, “Republikflucht” (flight from the republic) was a serious crime. If it was successful, family members who remained behind often felt the full severity of the regime. Could it be that comrades in the South African sister party are toying with such ideas?

  • James Webster says:

    And what about those people who are both treated badly and rejected by their country ? Is it sane to hang around when people are singing songs about murdering you, when you are told that such singing isn’t hate speech, but if you had to sing equally offensive songs they would be ? Why hang around when you have the skills and the experience but you are not allowed to apply it because of the colour of your skin ? Why stay when you pay huge amounts in tax but are told you are worthless and that you have to hand over a significant portion of the business you built from scratch to lazy ingrates who are not capable of managing it but just embezzle from it and run it into the ground ? Why stay when you see all the corruption, mismanagement and graft but are powerless to do anything about it because there are no members of your race in the government ? Why stay when the people who have driven the country into the ground blame your people for their incompetence, refusing even to admit it’s their fault thus you know they will continue doing the same until there is nothing left ? If you are even half sane, you packed your bags, your skills, your family and your pets and fled this dump.

  • Lil Mars says:

    I think those that don’t leave but stay and loot are less deserving if things improve. Hopefully any improvement will include them being thrown in jail.


    Well fortunately it will be against international law to bar people from returning to the country of their birth and citizenship. One of the most stupid articles I have ever seen.

  • Trenton Carr says:

    Why should anyone care what you decide about it?

  • Mark Ditto says:

    An opinion column by Zukiswa who claims in the last paragraph “I have not made my mind up”, so an opinion column but with no opinion.
    In the second paragraph Zukiswa claims she will never leave the country but stay and fight, then in the third paragraph states that if an opportunity outside the country presented itself she would pursue it. Well if an opinionista is contradicting themselves by the third paragraph you can be pretty sure you are in for a whole lot of codswallop to the end.

    This is more clickbait than an opinion.

    • Gretha Erasmus says:

      This is the best summary of this ‘opinion’ piece. I also found it extremely hypocritical to claim that you will never leave and in the very next paragraph say but yes you will leave when opportunity presents itself. So then the only reason you have never left is because no one ever offered you the opportunity?

      In any case, it is very sad that so many feel they have to leave, and it is constant question in many people’s minds. The same question exists for people in China and Russia and Iran and Cuba and Venezuela. Countries that people flee from when they get the opportunity to leave, but yet our South African government wants to copy them.

  • Dean Williams says:

    Terrible article. I don’t come to Daily Maverick for this.

    Since leaving SA my life has thrived where all I got in South Africa was endless stagnation.

    It will take multiple lifetimes to fix the problems that have been created even if the chance ever arrives.

    Its been proven multiple times to me in my 40 years of living in South Africa that I wont live a productive life and that my life is worth nothing there so I refuse to “fight” for something I will never believe in.

    That’s my “opinion piece”…

  • Peter Holmes says:

    My problem, as an elderley, white, English speaking male, is that I have never been made to feel that South Africa needs or wants me. As an “Engelsman”, the message was always that SA belonged to Afrikaner Nationalists. Post 1994, the message is that SA belongs to Black Nationalists. The outcome; I diagree with Zukiswa’s statement that “Your relationship with your country is as intimate and deep as a personal relationship with family”. I therefore fly the flag of convenience.

  • Bryan Aitken says:

    Silly “clickbait” article for sure!
    Try and explain this to the 50% of our 18 – 35’s who are literally starving as a direct result of the ANC’s unemployment rate!

  • Tinus Slabber says:

    So Mr Pikoli, if I am on a Titanic and the captain and offices make it clear that they will be sailing this ship through the high risk iceberg areas notwithstanding all warnings, your view is that I should not get into a lifeboat to save myself and my family. BEFORE it hits the iceberg and sinks? Or if the pilots of my plane disregards all caution and safety issues and pursue a course which will likely end in the plane crashing and all passengers dying, I should not take the opportunity to disembark? And if by some miracle or sheer luck the ultimate disaster is avoided, I should not be allowed to return to the ship or aircraft notwithstanding my rights of birth, the contributions I made in my time onboard, the taxes I paid et cetera et cetera? Are you serious?

  • Confucious Says says:

    “Your relationship with your country is as intimate and deep as a personal relationship with family.” So when your country lets you down, abuses you, casts you out, deteriorates, marginalises people, steals from them, cannot control crime etc, etc, etc… then it’s ok, because it’s your country?! Stupid article and opening comments! Only an idiot or a dictator would take issue with people leaving or wanting to return. We clearly have a different understanding of the term “spoils”! Disappointing from DM!

  • michael james says:

    There are many reasons why good people make that very dificult decision to leave their home . It could be that our government has past 110 racist laws and they don’t feel welcome. Home is a wonderful feeling and cannot be rationalised and they left the best country in the world. Good people will welcome all back with open arms.
    Hope in time you become more inclusive and be the person you could be. Good luck

  • Sean Venske says:

    This is based on the presumption the country can come right. The likelihood of this happening? I pray with the faith I have it will be so however the 29 May is a watershed moment for our beloved country. Lets talk again after then, once we see whose hands the people put our futures in.

  • Charl Van Til says:

    I’m sorry, but this article is not usual DM standard.

    You “have to take the good with the bad”? Just like any relationship, no-one on the outside can tell you what you “have” to take. When the bad is being home invaded, raped, shot, killed in your family with the risk of more, why do you “have” to take it? When you worry about bringing up daughters in the country with the highest rape rate in the world, why do you “have” to take it ? I could go on, but I won’t.

    As for “allowing” those who have left to come back, what are you suggesting? Some sort of totalitarian society that strips you of citizenship if you dare leave?

    One thing I will say is this: I have met many people from many countries who have emigrated. Not one of them comes from a country that seems to have so much anger towards its emigrants as SA does, in fact they are shocked when I mentioned that some people see you as a kind of traitor for leaving for better opportunities. Maybe that should be the question, rather than should you allow your own citizens back?

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