Our Incredible Journey to New Zealand – #3 The Decision

Crunch Time

We had talked it over and over and over some more. What should we do? The decision in front of us was monumental, the biggest, most serious decision we had made to date. New Zealand or South Africa? In true analytical style I turned back to my exam pad – pros and cons. Over the years, Hubby has joked about my constant need for an exam pad to make decisions. He has tried many apps that emulate my pros and cons ritual, trying valiantly to move me to a more high-tech method, but none has come close to my pen and paper yet. 

Stress

As I mentioned in my previous post, our stress levels were high but realistically, how would they be after we uprooted our whole family and moved 12 000 kms away to a country where we didn’t know a soul?  Let’s be honest, stress is not only in South Africa. Yes there are additional stressors to work and money, without doubt, but stress is extremely personal. It is different for everyone. 

Stress is Personal

My mom didn’t believe in stress, she thought it was a made up word for modern problems. But at Christmas, at the end of the meal, we saw different. The time had come for her to put the final touches on her magnificent trifle. I couldn’t find the nuts and cherries that she had handed to me for safe-keeping on her arrival. Her stress levels soared off the charts, although she never saw it that way. She was frantic while I moseyed around the kitchen chatting and picking up the odd tea towel to help look. That apparently meant I wasn’t helping at all. I mean really, the packet didn’t walk out of the kitchen, we were going to find it! Christmas would not die and burn due to undressed trifle. This was a BIG deal to my mom. Everybody’s stressors were and are completely different.

Hubby to the Rescue

Every year after that, Hubby would make a space just for her at our kitchen counter and it was deemed the “Trifle Area” equipped with a board, knife, cherries and nuts, so that she never needed to stress again. She was relieved and grateful but never believed that he had relieved her of stress. Stress is silent and personal. Maybe our stress is as simple as dressing a trifle? Hmmm food (pun intended) for thought. But I digress….  

 Aggression in South Africa

We know that stress boils down to how an individual relates to their specific situation. Hubby and I did both feel the increasing aggression in South Africa doing everyday activities, such as driving. Road-rage caused by taxi drivers creating a second lane and driving head on towards oncoming traffic to get ahead in the queue every morning made my blood pressure rise. I won’t go into the stress caused by government departments and the frustration of dealing with banking institutions. But aside from what my old boss used to call “the gentle inefficiency of Africa”, we were under no illusions. Most of our stress was self-inflicted and could be changed, like where we worked and where we lived etc.

Tranquil New Zealand

Our research showed that New Zealand was a calmer country. Everything is slower and there is less aggression, especially on the roads. That sounded good. Hmm so the choice was, should we change how we relate to our situation or just change the situation. We couldn’t base a life-decision on stress alone, although calmer, kinder, accepting people sounded really good to us.

Family

Gordon’s Bay

We decided, for this major life decision, to remove our family from the equation and only focus on our nuclear family, otherwise it would become an emotional decision and we’d never budge. Who in their right mind leaves parents, brothers, sisters, granny, grandpa, aunts, uncle and cousins? No no no. We needed a clear head.

The Beauty of South Africa

I love beautiful places, like the Maluti mountains and rock formations in the Free State, the majestic Drakensberg, the beautiful Mac Mac Falls and Bourkes Luck Potholes in Mpumalanga, Table Mountain has so many special memories for me and I would sell my soul for the South Coast ocean, the view from Gordon’s Bay and Chapman’s Peak, Cape Point, the list goes on and on. All of these South African places are amazing, but far from home. We had to plan a trip to go to these places. We had done all of the beautiful day trips to the Magaliesberg, Hartebeespoort and numerous other scenic spots, but nothing breathtaking was close to Johannesburg (in my opinion) and the heat was getting to me. But did I want cold? Nooo! 

Mac Mac Falls
The Drakensberg

Johannesburg

The reason for my family being in Johannesburg in the first place, was because almost 100 years ago my Scottish grandfather left his motherland due to lack of work, in search of new opportunities. My grandfather was lured by the promise of gold in a new Johannesburg. We are being lured by the calm of the land of the long white cloud. Isn’t it ironic that he was excited about opportunities in the Gold Rush, while we are excited about opportunities away from the mad rush? 

Gold!

Without the discovery of gold and the interest it generated, Johannesburg would never have become the epicentre of South Africa’s business world and I was beginning to see it as a bit of a dust bowl (admittedly we were going through a bit of a drought which did cloud my vision.) I wanted to be surrounded by more beauty than I had had for the first half of my life (note, I’m living to over 92!) But we knew that we didn’t have to leave South Africa to find beauty and scenery, we could move province. It would be challenging but definitely do-able. 

So although New Zealand is beautiful and calm, that couldn’t be the deciding factor.

Crime

Normal signs

This may come as a bit of a shock but the actual crime didn’t sway us to leave. Yes you read that right, we were used to living in ignorant bliss. For many families this is sadly not the case. I have heard of many people emigrating after horrific home invasions, hijackings and murders. We were so fortunate that we never had to deal with any of that type of violent crime, otherwise this would be a very different story. When I read about those families it hits home. South Africa is a violent place, but unless it has affected you badly, you’re aware of it, but it isn’t on your radar.

Kids and Violent Crime

BUT having to make our children aware of it and teaching them to protect themselves, as I have mentioned, wasn’t sitting well with me. AND worse yet, what would happen if they wanted to follow their dreams (currently those dreams are being an artist, a baker and a pilot, they change weekly) but what if they entered a career which they were passionate about and it didn’t pay enough to keep them in a safe environment? Security isn’t cheap. What if they became those people who were afraid for their lives but couldn’t afford to live inside the bubble? Ok the pilot probably wouldn’t have to worry but the artist and baker……? I rest my case.

Financial Burden

Seriously, we didn’t want to pass this legacy on to our children, where they were destined to be the same hamsters on the same wheel as we were on, in order to be safe in South Africa. Why should they be put through the stress of carrying that financial burden before even starting their lives? Why couldn’t they back pack through their own country like they could elsewhere? We had put ourselves behind bars and electric fences, security booms with security guards, but was this really the way to live? Were we the ones in jail and the criminals roaming free? 

Encourage Overseas Opportunities

We would have to encourage our children to seek opportunities overseas but then what? They would be on another continent, hopefully in a safer place, but we would be stuck with Rands in the bank which were quickly weakening. I remembered many years ago, when my boss moved to New Zealand, the Rand had weakened to R3 to the NZ$ and he was horrified! More recently it has been hovering around R10 to the NZ$ and has gone as high as R11. Would we ever be able to afford to visit our children and grandchildren if we were travelling overseas on the Rand? Probably not very often.

Feeling Safe

Electric fencing around perimeter walls of
all properties in my neighbourhood. 

So the crime itself was somewhat of a decider but only in a round-a-bout kind of way. The knock-on effect of feeling safe was a bigger decider but still not the main reason. We knew that if we and our family could be guaranteed of living in the bubble until we passed away, this would be a non-event and we could stay forever, as many of our friends and family will, and they will feel safe and secure, as they should. But for us, the chance of us ever being out of the bubble, made me extremely nervous. We were born in South African with South African passports, so if the proverbial hit the fan, we were stuck. There was no Plan B and if we made a Plan B for our children, we would still be stuck back on Plan A. 

Finances

This was a no-brainer. Anybody who has had a similar job for the past 5-10 years will have felt the effects of the rampant inflation. If you haven’t been steadily climbing the corporate ladder or working for yourself and ensuring salary adjustments, you know what I’m talking about. Standard company increases fall way below inflation, meaning the majority of South Africans are getting poorer year on year across all income groups. There is also an unspoken first world inflation. The necessities (again in my first world opinion) – food, toiletries, medicines, Medical Aid (with the ever increasing self-payment gap), security levies and arbitrary annual increases across all services, are eating away at disposable income. The increases on these expenses overshoot inflation year on year and my financial planner was constantly wanting me to put more money away for the future as it is impossible to predict, but that meant removing more and more from the present to save for the future.

Retirement Planning

In order to have enough money to retire on, we needed to plough money into our retirement while we were earning. Now I’m all for saving and have done so all my life, but the numbers were getting ridiculous and I was witnessing retirees, who were supposed to be comfortable in their old age, starting to struggle by living on their pensions alone. We have 20 years ahead of us to earn, do we want to do that in volatile South Africa or pretty predictable New Zealand? 

Future Under Threat

With a president who couldn’t decide who should be responsible for the financial portfolio of the country and kept chopping and changing finance ministers, it was difficult for us to trust that it would all just simply get better one day. What I did know from studying economics 1.01 is that when inflation increases and disposable income decreases, crime increases. Therefore the future of our children was worrying for us. This was definitely a factor.

Controlled Inflation

We had researched that not only was inflation under control in New Zealand and the economy was growing well, IT and marketing jobs were in demand and they looked after their elderly. There are many free services offered to pensioners including free medical, so it was definitely appealing.

School

For the benefit of those reading this, who are not living in South Africa, let me explain the schooling situation. The majority of affluent families send their children to private schools at enormous expense because the difference in education is vast, with the small exception of some really good Government schools (public schools). 

Good vs Bad

It is estimated however, that only approximately 5 000 schools are good, versus approximately 23 000 which are not. The reason for the good versus bad? Parents pay for the shortfall in the 5 000 schools where the funding is inadequate, while at the lower income schools operate purely on government funding. Therefore, as you can imagine, getting into a good public school in your area, becomes a bun fight. 

Get into the Queue

In order to get our daughter into the only school that we are zoned for, we had to queue. Hubby braved the freezing cold weather to sit outside the school gates from 1 am until 8 am. This didn’t guarantee acceptance, just the ability to register for possible acceptance. Hundreds of parents around the country did the same, trying to get their children into school. In our case, this was the only school our child was zoned for and the one that her sister already attended! Hubby was number 50 in the queue. The lady who was number 1 had started waiting from 5 pm the night before. She was a single mother and couldn’t take the chance of her child not getting accepted to the school close to her house, so she queued for 15 hours. Beyond ridiculous.

Inferior Education

Click here for link to this article

Sadly, this contrast in schooling meant that the vast majority of students in South Africa were getting an inferior education due to lack of funding. The government arguably saw these 5 000 schools as unfair and there were rumblings of putting a stop to this practice. Instead of increasing the standards in other areas, it seemed likely that the better schools would be brought down to the lower standard of the less privileged. Obviously the 5 000 are getting an unfair advantage (due to parent subsidies.) But is the best way of resolving this issue to reduce the standard of education in the better schools? I don’t know the answer. To bring 23 000 schools up to speed with 5 000 would take huge funding, that which the government does not have.

Online Applications

When our son was due to begin grade one at the same school, the registration system had become electronic. This made little difference to the mayhem behind the scenes but it did mean that parents no longer needed to queue outside the school all night. BUT it still wasn’t a fair process based on zoning, purely because more children were zoned for the school than the school could accommodate. We all had to sit in front of our screens with the correct browser open so that we could hit send as soon as the site went live at exactly 8 am. I misunderstood that it was again based on first come first served, so we became number 358 in the queue for children “within the zone.” There are approximately 150 spaces available per grade. Ludicrous.

Infrastructure

Adequate town planning is a foreign concept in South Africa. In the past 30 years there has not been a new school built in our area. During the same time, the housing has more than quadrupled. Large properties being broken up into many smaller units puts pressure on, not only the schooling system, but the entire infrastructure. Traffic congestion was increasing year on year and our tax money was nowhere to be seen. Even this didn’t make our decision, although it was a factor. 

Assistance

Our research showed that it would be easier for Tomato to get in-class assistance in New Zealand if necessary. The education system in New Zealand is set up for children like her. Class aides are commonplace and many children are assisted without the stigma in South Africa. Due to New Zealand being calmer and (as described by one of the school principals), “a more gentle environment,” our anxious little girl may enjoy her schooling experience more, with less pressure and a reduced pace. This was a big deciding factor. Just the thought of breathtaking scenery every day and the reduced pace was appealing. School starts at 9 am instead of 7:25 am and there is no traffic as the schools adequately service their zoned areas. 

The Bubble

Inside the bubble, life is mostly first world. We make certain of that. We are surrounded by houses that are well-kept, excellent roads and beautifully manicured lawns. The streetlights all work (because the trustees of the complex make it their mission to actively monitor resident activity.) The kids are free to ride their bikes and go to the park on their own to play.

Security Guards 24/7/365

We are guarded night and day by seven security guards with increased perimeter patrols at night. The residents pay for dedicated patrol vehicles within the estate, which become the norm. The kids smile and wave frantically at their friends (the guards) passing by several times a day, never questioning why they drive so slowly. The high levies we pay monthly cover the security which includes state-of-the-art cameras on each corner, monitored in the control room by a dedicated security officer.

But it is all a farce and we knew it, going in. We paid for all of that first world living with money that had already been taxed by 41%. High income taxes supposedly meant for road maintenance, streetlights, police and services.

Disparity between First and Third World

Because only 4% of the population pay 80% of the income generated in South Africa – yes you read that right, only 2,2 million out of 56 million people pay tax. If you want good service, you are forced to pay for it privately. We were paying tax in the highest tax bracket. This meant that 41% of our salaries were given to a government who spent the money elsewhere. We knew this. We had lived with this for years. There’s something about seeing the numbers affecting your own life, written down in black and white (on my exam pad) that made us realise how ridiculous it was.

Decaying Infrastructure

Our non-private services, which were out of our control, were declining faster than expected. From having the cheapest electricity in the world, due to corruption, it was fast becoming the most expensive. Our drinking water rated the cleanest in the world but now we don’t rank? Maintenance in the country was not taking place. New roads and upgrades are rare, unless privately funded. The national broadcaster and airline are riddled with corruption and practically bankrupt. “Load shedding” (re-occurring electrical black outs due to demand outstripping supply) was soon to be replaced by “water-shedding.” Honestly, it was all becoming very concerning. But the decline was slow, slow enough for us not to really pay attention to it all at once, until we shone a spotlight on it. Then it became quite clear how this mismanagement was impacting our lives. 

Finally, after we had thought and talked and researched and talked and trawled the social media groups, we had to make the decision.

The Final Straw

I had read an article that I couldn’t get out of my mind. I had difficulty finding it for a long time because I had trouble remembering the author. This was the fundamental reason that we chose to emigrate. I explained what it contained to Hubby and I don’t think he really believed me but went along with it anyway. I have managed to locate it (the memory is still there, it just took a while to retrieve.) All the other reasons had their place, but this is what pushed us over the edge.

Future Prospects for South African Youths

The piece was written in April 2014 and is called “Future Prospects for South African Youths.” an article by a man who is known as a futurist who I really admire and respect – Mr Clem Sunter. What on earth is a futurist you say? No he is not a clairvoyant who hauls out his crystal ball to take a look into the future, a futurist studies the future taking into account current trends and predicts the outcome. Clem Sunter became a household name and he shot to fame in the US when he co-authored a book “Mind Like a Fox” wherein he wrote about security issues in the US government and the potential threat of a terrorist attack on one of the US major cities, SIX MONTHS BEFORE 911 happened. It was if he had predicted it. 

Take Out

But back to the article in question, the takeout is as follows:

The South African economy needs to grow fast, starting now, if it is going to absorb another 26 million job seekers over the next 15 years. We can’t export them, we have to create jobs for them! For this reason alone the government should be actively creating an environment wherein jobs can be easily created, they should be attempting to slow the birth rate and they should be concentrating on creating capitalistic solutions for hungry mouths, rather than attempting to instil socialistic ideas in an exploding population of young hopefuls. If they are not doing so, and to all intents and purposes it seems they are not, then SA is heading for a huge problem, notwithstanding Eskom [electricity public utility] and the rest, in that there will be more young people than there will be enough food, drink, housing, education and services to cater for them. Socialism is definitely not going to feed that many mouths and grants and subsidies will eventually cripple any future government. ~ Clem Sunter

 

Future Opportunities

I knew that opportunities would be worse for our children who are still young, but I didn’t quite understand the ramifications until I read this whole article, which opened my eyes. I encourage you to read the full article (it’s really short but HUGELY insightful.) You can read the full article here. It showed a very different South Africa, one that I didn’t want my children to have to live in.

Clem Sunter

Another great article of his can be found here which talks about emigration and how to avoid it. Many many people have followed his advice and done what he suggested. He always suggests that we think like a fox, looking at situations from all sides.

Run Towards Better Opportunities

For us, the writing was on the wall, but one thing we have always agreed on, is that we would never run FROM something, only TOWARDS something better. This was very important to us. I’ve always maintained that I would never leave South Africa. It is the only home I’d ever known. If we were going to change our lives and uproot our family, it had better be for a great opportunity, not just running away from an imminent disaster, which let’s face it, South Africa is not. South Africa is more of a slow puncture than a train wreck. There is still time to stop the leak!

The Plan

I am a marketer, so I love a good plan. Once we had decided that we were serious about New Zealand, we needed a plan and we laid out our ideas as follows:

Plan A

Seriously look into New Zealand as a country and work opportunities

Plan B

If Plan A didn’t work, look for work in Cape Town

Plan C

If Plan A and B tanked, sell our home and move closer to the school, downscale our lives to have less stress and expenses

Planning

The planning questions began. Should we all go to New Zealand to check it out first? Should Hubby go first? Could we do the separation?What are the opportunities really like? We were excited. 

Testing the water by dipping our toes into the pool became super exciting! We weren’t going to rush into anything and we weren’t going to tell people yet. Slowly we would start putting feelers out to see what we could find. 

The Walker Way

But life has a way of showing you that you’re not in control. I think this could possibly be a theme throughout our lives. I call it “The Walker Way” yes, that’s how often it happens.

Instead of a nice slow entry into the pool, life rushed up behind us and gave us a smack! Pushing us in with an enormous SPLASH!! It had suddenly become sink or swim. Not what we had planned AT ALL! 

“Flexibility” is now my middle name.

Life became a triathlon!

Disclaimer!

This is our journey and the way we came to our own conclusions about what was best for us. This will obviously be different for each individual and family. We love the country we were born into. South Africa will always be in our hearts and we have family and many friends there. We wish only the best for those who are living in South Africa. This is not a post to make our decision seem better or worse than your own, please don’t compare and try to feel better or worse. You may disagree with our process or our decisions, but please wish us well anyway. We all need to live our own lives to the fullest and hopefully that is what we are doing with ours and what you are doing with yours. 

New Zealand Blog posts

If you’ve just started reading and would like to read more, go to the first post about our journey or if you would like to skip ahead to the part that interests you, here are the links to my New Zealand blog posts so far:

1. The Seed

2. The Analysis

4. The Preparation

My First Job in NZ

#NewZealand

#SouthAfrica

#immigration

#emigration

I am a work-from-home mom with 3 children. The title of my blog comes from the initial of each of their first names. The eldest is 11 years old, her name is Tomato, the second is 9 years and her name starts with a B so she is Bacon and the baby boy is 6 and he is Lettuce. Join me in the adventures of me and my family and any other issues that I feel that I need to get off my chest! Hopefully my blog will give you "food for thought" and a bit of a giggle :)