Why we stay.
by Ravi Naidoo
Equal parts photographic series and social narrative, ‘Why we stay’ delves into emigration, patriotism and the unique and varied reasons that people choose to stay in South Africa.
This series was borne of curiosity. I posed a question, and the answers are what form the substance of this project.
On an almost daily basis I hear of people emigrating, followed by the litany of negative reasons why they are leaving South Africa. Many students complete their degrees, and their first thought are if they can find a job overseas and leave. Young couples who want to start families start looking at opportunities abroad, seeking the proverbial greener grass. Every, single, day I see emigration sales where people are selling everything they have ever owned, to fly somewhere new and start afresh. It feels as though there is a mass exodus. One largely motivated by fear and despair.
The people that leave do not interest me. I think we have all heard the usual list of reasons that people leave: the crime rate, the economy, better jobs and opportunities overseas etc. The ones I find interesting, are the ones who choose to stay. The ones who have a choice, and means to leave SA, but choose not to. I am one such person and as usual I wanted to know if others like me existed.
My curiosity was rewarded with an abundance of phenomenal responses, with reasons and perspectives I had not even considered. From all the people I have met there is one trait that links them all. The people who choose to stay are the ones who take initiative, the ones who embody the idea of being the change you want to see. There is a drive, vivacity and perseverance that permeates all the narratives that follow.
We all have different reasons for choosing to stay, but I am certain the ones who make that choice are exactly the sort of people we both need and want.
My reasons for choosing to stay are intrinsic to who I am as a person, and the single factor that drives my life is inspiration. In a breathe, South Africa inspires me. I cannot fathom a life without ideas and creativity, and there are so many factors right here that ignite new concepts for me to pursue. The land, the people, my memories and the change happening all around us, inspire me.
I think visually and being surrounded by natural beauty feeds my soul. I live in a sunshine paradise, where I am so close to the ocean, that I hear the waves all day and watch lizards, crested cranes and monkeys frolick in my wild garden. I have immersed myself in a life that allows me to revel in the varied and abundant beauty of our landscapes, from stark deserts, mountaintops to lush forests, these vistas never cease to fill me with wonder.
South Africans are truly unique. We are quick to smile, laugh and never too serious for chit chat. But beneath our joyful exterior and our propensity for happiness there is resilience. South Africa is a hard country, and we breed tough people. I think that is something to be proud of.
My best memories are tied to SA,to the land and sun and random details that spark memories that bring me joy. There is a pathos is memory and a pleasure in having so many associations that make you smile.
Finally, South Africa is home. I am most thoughtful and contemplative when I am home staring out into my garden and the sea beyond that and feel truly rooted. My confidence to explore, be outspoken, and play with controversial ideas stems from my innate knowledge that I have a home and somewhere I belong. I can challenge norms and let my mind drift into the clouds because my feet are firmly rooted in the soil that is my home. For all these reasons I choose to stay.
The history of South Africa is so important to me, because it highlights the immense potential of our people.
I stay because I want to play my part in seeing South Africa reach its potential.
This is my home, and I am proud of it. I can never imagine living anywhere else. Being here for me means I never have to compromise. I get to have the best part of everything that is most important to me: being surrounded by everything and everyone I love. I see the opportunity for South Africa to develop into a place where we can all feel this way.
With my work in Counselling, I continue to help young South Africans unlock their full potential and lead them on an uplifting career path. I am committed to encouraging and driving people to create a life that allows for their talents and aptitudes to be fully realised.
We will go on to uplift our country to the best it can be. The future looks amazing and I’m so happy to be a part of it.
I love the hope this country has to offer. We are surrounded by beauty, by culture and promise.
My decision to stay in South Africa comes from the perspective of choosing faith over fear. Faith is not the absence of fear.
It is not that I am ignorant to everything that is happening. I am aware of the facts and the expected doom that many are anticipating in the near future. Even when the opportunity to leave did present itself I felt a deep desire to stay.
I felt compassion for those who are misled, uninformed and oppressed. I empathise with those that are hopeless and really do not have a choice or opportunity to leave. Knowing that there is a God also gives me hope, understanding that man doesn’t have the final say. God does. But our prayers and actions are needed to bring about the change we want. My faith in God allows me to believe that people can change from being steeped in division and vengeance to love and compassion.
I have faith that we the people can be the change our country needs. Not from the top down but from the bottom up. On a grass root level, we can create change in our community that can rebuild our nation together.
An amalgamation of cultures
RJ & Entrepreneur
Culture is a way of life and being a part of a vibrant community means that being South African transcends any labels. There’s a book I’m looking forward to reading “The African Indian”. The title accurately reflects who we are. No matter where in the world we go we would never fit in. This is home. Although, not Zulu, we watched with keen interest and pride when our new King took his position because we are the Kingdom of the Zulu.
For me culture finds expression in many forms, I know my clothing and some decor has a mix of Western, African and Indian inspired items. I sometimes wear my Islamic dress with an African inspired scarf. It’s impossible not to blur the lines to create a unique South African identity which is an amalgamation of different cultures.
As with clothes even music has come to be embraced across the cultural divides. South African music is definitely the best. I remember twirling with my first born in my arms to Zahara’s Loliwe till he would fall asleep. As a child amidst the Bollywood songs played Brenda Fassie’s Weekend Special or Vulindlela, Miriam Makeba’s Pata Pata, Boom Shaka’s It’s about time, Mandoza’s Nkalakata (not that I understood any of it but still we would dance because music speaks to the soul). As an RJ each time a South African track would trend I would be so proud – today modern day greats like Sho Madjozi, Makadzi, among others have gained popularity not just in South Africa but internationally too. To make up a good play list we need not look elsewhere as we are home to internationally celebrated musicians of various genres and languages.
Beyond music and culture, our very landscape is a work of art. In my desire to fulfil my wanderlust some of my travel adventures and bucketlist checks have included a visit to the bar in the Baobab tree at Sunlands in Limpopo, God’s window in Mpumalanga, showered under the open sky in the bushes, drank cool water from crystal clear rivers during early morning hikes in the Berg, sought out wild animals in reserves and turtles in the middle of the night to watch them come ashore to lay their eggs, enjoyed the warmth of the sand and replenishing nature of the ocean on private stretches of blue flag beaches, seen the world’s smallest desert and other such treats that our beautiful South Africa has to offer.
Ever since I was a child, I had this innate knowledge in me that told me that I’m here to make a difference in my community.
With the gifts I’m blessed with I feel it in the depth of my heart that I am supposed to change the narrative here in South Africa.
God and my ancestors called me into a field of Speech Language Pathology to take the knowledge in the field to our people in our own language and also grow the field by introducing the African lens to it.
I’m deeply passionate about this journey. Even though people see growth in other countries, I see growth here . I see opportunities here. We are here with the same blood and DNA our infinite ancestors had. It’s crazy to think that the same blood of my ancestors who lived thousands years ago still somehow runs through me. That to me is mind-blowing.That actually means through me, they still live on, right here on the same land they called home.
I choose to be Present, here and do what my soul is called to do passionately.
Journalist & Author
When most think about “home” they think about a location or a building. For me, home is my parents.
I moved away from home when I was 19 in my second year of studying journalism to take up an internship in a newsroom in another province.
I lived alone for ten years before I got married almost 14 years ago, but when I think of my sanctuary and my home, my parents’ faces come into my mind.
Therefore, when I consider emigration, it is their faces that come into my mind again.
I cannot fathom saying goodbye to them at an airport destined for another country, knowing that I may see them once a year or God forbid, never again.
I cannot fathom my six-year-old son not having holidays in my childhood home with my parents or not seeing them every second weekend, although they live in another town, 100km away from us.
How can I ever leave home? When home are tight hugs, having a shoulder to lean on, my dad coming to the rescue at any time, my mom being available 24/7 when I have a sick child and have to work, the joyful holidays, the unconditional love, my husband, son and I receive from my parents.
The prospect of living somewhere new may seem alluring for many but for me, it will never be the home I know…the best kind of home.
Accountant & Author
There were many times when I thought about leaving the land of my birth, magnetised by the promises of the First World.
I had been a victim of crime, being held at gunpoint, rooted to the floor in fear, as my home, my sanctuary, my happy place was invaded.
I was numb inside, and then came the anger, the disbelief, the questions.
I went to the beach thereafter, to make sense of it all, and as the waves crashed at my feet I reached down and touched the wet sand, feeling it run through my fingers as the tide ebbed away. The sands told a story of those who had walked before me. The people of indenture who had reached these very shores more than 150 years ago. I thought about their resilience, the fortitude and the sheer tenacity of those who lived before me and a feeling of awe, and then calm, washed over me. I felt a renewed sense of hope, as if my soul was being replenished and feeding off the strength of my ancestors and finally, a sense of peace washed over me.
This is where I belong, not in some foreign land across the seas. This is where my purpose lies and just as those who came before me, this is where I will rebuild.
Designers of our own human experience
My husband and I both grew up as children of British expats who travelled around Africa. Being exposed to countries like Zimbabwe, Namibia, Ghana, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zanzibar and Uganda really gave us a deeper level of understanding and appreciation for the opportunity and potential in South Africa.
I decided to go to England and have my baby there so that he would qualify for dual citizenship, I lasted six weeks. I was incredibly homesick and seeing the kinds of socio-economic challenges people face in the UK, just made me realise how much better off South Africans are. We have beautiful weather, incredible geography and so much more opportunity to create better lives for ourselves and contribute to our budding economy in meaningful and valuable ways.
So, I came home and had my first baby in 2006. Nearly ten years later and we’re obsessed with our Umhlali home. Both of our children were born in South Africa, and qualify for dual citizenship so who knows where they’ll decide to live eventually. But for now my husband and I have started two businesses – while working full time jobs that pay the bills. We want the kids to see that we’re the designers of our own human experiences and that nothing is more rewarding than providing services to your community and contributing to its economy at the same time. Our plan is to stay in South Africa. Having seen and experienced both Africa and Europe – the best of both worlds in SA speaks to our sense of adventure and the need to be a part of our greater good. Helping to build a small part of this beautiful country is something we are both so passionate about, and if we can help some people along the way, create job opportunities and mentor small business owners, even better.
Despite the negatives such as the high crime rate, corruption and economic status of South Africa, I chose to see a side of South Africa that is rich. Rich in culture, diversity and wildlife.
Living in South Africa has unlocked my passion for nature and wildlife and I have incorporated that in my life because the African bush is where I feel at home.
Being in nature and game reserves where animals are free is humbling and surreal. It calms my anxiety and makes me appreciate life and what our country has to offer. Most people prefer going on holiday overseas, but I prefer to find every hidden gem here in South Africa to revel in.
The atmosphere that South Africa provides has moulded me into who I am and who I want to be. I am passionate about wildlife conservation and animal law and my goal is to make more people aware of what our country has so we can preserve it. Being on safari, hikes or just being present in nature has helped my mental health and I am so grateful for that because I would relinquish that for anything. So yes, you could say that experiencing South Africa in its true form saved me from going to dark places. I chose to see the light in this place I call home.
Actor & Entertainer
As an actor, recording artist, film and television writer and dancer, I’ve been inundated with messages urging me to relocate to ‘Hollywood’, ‘Bollywood’ or London’s ‘Westend’ and that I am wasting my talent being in South Africa. At first, I used to take these enthusiastic suggestions as a compliment. I thought that people who support and follow my career want to see me shine for the rest of the world, and that they often felt that there is nothing for me to grow here in South Africa. On the contrary, throughout my career I’ve realised that this couldn’t be any further from the truth.
Being an authentic South African Indian, sharing my own personal stories through film, stage, music and dance, has taken me around the world a few times over. I’m staying because our South African arts industry is Gold – we have the talent, growing resources and increased opportunities. Many people don’t know that some international touring musicals and shows boast a predominantly South African cast. We have multiple Grammy, Oscar, Emmy and Tony award winners from South Africans who never had to leave to achieve these great honours.
With the development of streaming services, we can delve into the cultural complexities of other countries all in the comfort of your own home. I am staying because ‘I’ve been able to make an international mark in my career, sharing the beauty of South Africa, it’s people and my passion for the South African Arts and Entertainment Industry.
A helping hand
I have walked a mile in South Africans shoes.
My struggles have taught me empathy and fuelled my passion for social work. I was orphaned at a young age. As a woman I have been violated in ways that have left scars. I have struggled financially to get an education. I graduated but I couldn’t find a job for years. I struggled with depression and anxiety. I reached my rock bottom when I lost my grandmother. We were inseparable.
The experiences I have gone through allow me to be a better social worker, because I more than understand my clients’ experiences, I have lived them. Most of us have walked similar journeys and I understand their challenges and pain because I have been there.
In my line of work, I get to see first-hand what the average South African goes through. It is this that motivates me to stay and give my absolute best at all times in my profession. I want to be one of the people that will help eradicate poverty, create awareness about major health and social issues, advocate for our people especially for those who seem voiceless. I want to be part of creating a new South Africa that is rich and fulfilled, the kind of place we wish for.
South Africa is a melting pot of cultures, each adding its own unique flavour to the rich tapestry of the nation. By staying in South Africa, I have the chance to immerse myself in this cultural richness and express myself through the timeless art of classical Bharathnatyam dance.
As an Indian in South Africa I feel that our culture is hanging on by a thread due to the modernization of the world. I strongly believe that it’s up to me and our generation to ensure to keep our culture alive and what better way to do it than through the art of dance. Bharathnatyam is for everyone ,every religion ,culture or race. Bharathnatyam has no boundaries. I believe in freedom in expressing ourselves in different ways and South Africa allows us to do so. I am here to stay .
As a passionate teacher, South Africa presents an incredible canvas for me to paint my educational masterpieces and inspire future generations. I know my gift for
teaching will blossom in this fertile soil.
By choosing to stay in South Africa, I have the chance to live a rich and fulfilling life, surrounded by incredible opportunities and beautiful landscapes. I will continue to embrace this incredible journey and let South Africa be my forever home.
Despite having the thirst of wanderlust, adventure and curiosity in my blood, I choose to stay in South Africa. I want to continue the legacy of my forefathers who came to SA and helped to change the narrative and landscape of this country.
I choose to do it through education and training of children and adults by empowering them with water safety, swimming and survival skills.
I discovered the lack of properly qualified and trained swimming teachers when I, myself chose to learn to swim as an adult.
I am now a swimming teacher, a swim coach, a FINA accredited judge and the Facilitator and Assessor for Swimming South Africa in KZN.
My aim is to help reduce the horrific drowning rates in our province and country. Drowning is preventable if people, especially children are equipped with the skills and knowledge to recognize potential hazards and dangers that exist in the various bodies of water around us.
Although there are still many challenges to overcome, I am optimistic that one day, every school will have a pool and every child will be a swimmer. I have taught thousands of under privileged children to swim and that is just a drop in the ocean towards ensuring that those kids will never be just another statistic.
I was born and raised in Umlazi; a township located south of Durban in KwaZulu Natal. I lived through the turbulent tail end of apartheid and saw the transition to our new democratic dispensation. I have experienced some of the worst and the very best that this country has to offer. I have seen the beauty of Cape Point and summited the Drakensberg Mountain to witness the start of the majestic Tugela Falls. I have driven the meandering roads of Mpumalanga from Gauteng to view the otherworldly like Bourkes’s Luck Potholes. I’ve felt the searing hot and cold beauty of the Free State, North-West Province and Northern Cape with its flora and fauna. I’ve eaten the sweetest mangoes, almost the size of rugby balls in Limpopo and hiked along the wild trails in Tsitsikamma.
My love affair with this country began long ago, around the time I made the decision at a young age to become a doctor so I could help my people. While in high school in Ixopo I read Alan Paton’s Cry the Beloved Country, surrounded by the very green rolling hills spoken about in the book and I was again enamoured. It was during this time that I knew I would probably never leave, that I would forever be tied to this land and its people.
As a doctor and an Ophthalmologist, I have had opportunities to work and live abroad. The promise of more lucrative job offers, better work and living conditions as well as a safer environment are all enticing but I choose to remain, nonetheless. I want to serve my countryman, to contribute to finding solutions to some of the biggest and most debilitating problems we face. I want to be here to heal and lead the next generation of South Africans.
I am an animal rescuer. This means that I don’t often see the good side of people. I’m often perplexed by what the world has to offer because I am a first responder to the victims of its cruelty. So, when asked to seek better opportunities and to leave this land, this country, this place called South Africa…
I. Am. Staying.
I’m staying because when Covid hit us, and people lost their jobs and ability to provide for their families, every person gave from their depleting cup to make sure everyone had food.
I’m staying because when the KZN riots hit us, all 600 animals I feed had no access to food, but the country came together to send us food for them.
I’m staying because when the floods hit us and everything got destroyed, the people of South Africa sent us blankets to keep warm, food to eat and hope to keep alive.
I’m staying because when a fire burnt down our kennels and the vehicle, food and all our supplies were gone, the people of SA helped us rebuild.
I’m staying because only in a place so rich in differences, cultures and values, we all come together. We are different, but we are same, that’s my South Africa, that’s my tribe.
Photography : Stand & Stare Studios photography by Ravi Naidoo
Writing: Ravi Naidoo
Narratives submitted by participants and edited by Ravi Naidoo
Assistant and location scout: Reece Reuben
Participants: Ravi Naidoo, Reece Reuben, Audrey Kim Joseph, Mehrunnissa Mullah , Nonhlanhla Majola, Nivashni Nair Sukdev, Anira Pather, Vani Govender, Vidhya Kalaivani Jugrathi, Rory Booth, Sanelisiwe Mthembu, Nosipho Zulu, Candice Jenkins, Neeri Naidoo, Shenay Bhodraj
Funded and supported by the National Arts Council, The Departments of Sports, Arts and Culture and the Presidential Employment Stimulus