Three years’ after their move to New Zealand, what do a South African father and daughter think of life here?
Auckland’s North Shore City, famous for its beaches and balmy climate, has attracted a large flow of South Africans in recent years. So much so that in this city of less than 200,000 people, around 20,000 were born in South Africa. Piet originally hails from Johannesburg and now teaches in an Auckland school. His daughter Alison attends a secondary school in North Shore City. They recently gave us an interview which, after a few initial pleasantries, proceeded as follows:
ENZ What were the reasons behind your emigration to New Zealand from South Africa?
Piet:We felt that we were no longer safe in Jo’burg. Crime had been out of hand for a few years but the final straw was when my cousin was murdered in a car-jacking. We had talked about leaving for a while but that settled the question. I’m a teacher so I had a number of options available to me – there are teacher shortages almost everywhere – but we decided on emigration to New Zealand because we felt it would be safe for our family to grow up in. We originally settled in a town farther North because that’s where I got work but I was unhappy working there. I then got a job on the North Shore because we knew a few South Africans who had moved here already and recommended it. We wanted to live in a warm part of New Zealand and the climate is mild here even in winter. I’m told that winters can be very wet but we’ve been here three years now and the weather has been pretty good.
ENZ Do you have any regrets about leaving South Africa?
Piet: South Africa is really a beautiful country but right now it’s not safe for anyone and it’s getting worse every year. We tried hard to persuade our parents to come with us but they didn’t want to. That’s our only real regret – leaving our parents behind.
ENZ Could you tell us some of the differences you’ve noticed between South Africa and New Zealand?
Alison: It’s quiet here at night. In Jo’burg I used to lie awake at night listening to the dogs barking all around. Everyone had guard dogs and if something set one of them off, the rest would join in – it could be pretty noisy. I hardly ever hear dogs barking from our house now.
Piet: I love reading and I really appreciate the public libraries here on North Shore – they’re open on Sundays and that’s when we tend to go – we go to the ones in Glenfield, Takapuna, Northcote and Devonport in turn. They are very well stocked with books. If we go to Glenfield we’ll go to the supermarket as well, in Takapuna we’ll have a walk on the beach which is just down from the Library – it’s really beautiful – I just wish we could afford to buy a house right on the beach. At Northcote we again go to the supermarket and Devonport is quite quaint – we like to look around the second-hand book shops and walk along the harbour front there. The libraries are all within a few kilometres of our house and the traffic is quiet on a Sunday which makes it a nice way to spend an hour or two.
Alison: I’m allowed out on my own here. I walk to school and I walk around to my friend’s house, which is maybe about 300 metres away. I walk along to the Milford Shopping Mall which is maybe about 1 km away. I could never do that in South Africa. I always had to be accompanied by adults or be driven.
Piet: The summers here are very pleasant. A bit sticky at times but still very nice and there are no snakes. The winter nights are warmer here too than Jo’burg but this year has been a bit cooler at night – we’ve almost been threatened with frost once or twice – but it’s still warmer than Jo’burg nights.
Alison: They don’t work you as hard at school here. I think I’m probably falling behind where my friends in South Africa will be with their work now.
ENZ You mentioned that you didn’t like the town you first settled in after your New Zealand emigration. Why was that?
Piet: I think some of the kids there have an attitude problem. It’s coming from their parents. Some of the Maori parents are telling their kids that the European New Zealanders owe them a living. They’re kind of telling the kids that they shouldn’t really be working at school. Certainly not all the parents, but enough. I didn’t feel comfortable in that sort of environment so we moved.
ENZ Do you find that attitude in the school you’re in now?
Piet: The school I’m in now has plenty of Maori kids but their attitude to learning is definitely much better than I experienced farther North.
ENZ What do you think of race relations in New Zealand?
Piet: Hmm. I’d hoped you wouldn’t ask but I expected you would so I’ve been thinking about it. It’s always difficult for a South African to talk about race because of the baggage we carry and it’s very easy to accuse us of any number of sins. What I will say is that I did not approve of racial discrimination in South Africa. But it was my home, it was where I grew up, and it’s just the way life was. I didn’t leave because of the end of Apartheid. I left because I felt my family’s life was in danger. And funnily enough I find myself again in a country whose racial policies I disagree with.
The policies here are the opposite of South Africa though. Here it is the whites that are discriminated against – obviously not as badly as blacks in SA but it’s there all the same. For example, last year we got a leaflet in the door offering free hepatitis vaccinations but only if you were Maori, PI, or Asian. I didn’t like that.
You can get into medical school here if you are a Maori with lower qualifications than if you are white. A Maori and a European might both live in a socially deprived area; go to the same school; get the same marks and then the Maori will get a scholarship to university and the European will not. Racial discrimination of any kind is unfair and I think that what goes on here is often unfair. A Maori women who lives in the same street as us, a very pleasant, friendly woman, I should add, has had all of her fees paid to go to business school because she is Maori. If she was European she would not have got a bean.
The funny thing is, although I call this woman a Maori; she looks like a European. Her ancestors are obviously mainly European but because she can claim Maori blood she gets preferential treatment. I honestly do not think that this is the right policy. If you want to help socially deprived people, that’s fine, but help them on the basis of their deprivation, not their ancestry.
Having said all that, I think race relations are pretty good. I think they would be even better if the government did not keep producing divisive policies.
ENZ Have you found New Zealanders to be friendly? Do you feel welcome here?
Alison: Very. I made friends at school very easily and I’m playing in the soccer team.
Piet: Yes, I’ve also found New Zealanders very friendly. There are so many South Africans here though that we often socialise with them more so than with Kiwis.
ENZ What do you think of the cost of living here?
Piet: Renting or buying a house in a good area on the North Shore is expensive and I haven’t seen anything I would want to live in for less than $300 per week. We’re still renting and we’re paying $350 a week just now for a house that’s okay but nothing special. We could get cheaper but the area we’re renting in gives us a choice of excellent secondary and primary schools for our children and that’s very important to us. My teacher’s wage is about $50,000 a year and I take home less than $750 a week. If Alison’s mother didn’t have a good part-time job our lifestyle wouldn’t be so good and we would think about moving south to somewhere with cheaper housing.
ENZ Do you think you’ll ever go back to South Africa or leave New Zealand?
Alison: I certainly don’t want to go back to South Africa. I don’t think I’ll leave New Zealand.
Piet: Same for me. If I did leave, it certainly wouldn’t be to go back to South Africa; I’d go to Australia. A lot of South Africans come to New Zealand because for one reason or another they can’t get into Australia. After three years here they get New Zealand citizenship and then they’re eligible to live and work in Australia and then they go there.
A South African family we knew here left for Brisbane two months ago and they say they love it there. The winter is warm and sunny and they tell me that the car drivers are much more polite in Brisbane than Auckland. A Zimbabwean couple we know, Bobby and Diane, came here on emergency visas when Robert Mugabe started his violence. Bobby was a physiotherapist but they only stayed here a few months. They found a rural town in Queensland that didn’t have a physiotherapist and applied on the basis that Bobby would become the town’s physiotherapist. They were accepted and off they went to Australia. Having said that though, most of the South Africans we know who have come here intend to stay here.
ENZ Do you have any advice for other South Africans who’re thinking about New Zealand emigration?
Piet :Yes. Find out firstly if there’s a demand for your skills. Look on the Internet – there are plenty of New Zealand jobs advertised. They’re very short of science, maths and technology teachers. They’re also very short of medical staff and rural GP’s just now and I think skilled machinists.
And then fill in your application for residence yourself. It’s not complicated and it’s a lot cheaper than paying an agent to do it.
Rent a house for a while before you buy so that you’re sure you like the place you’re buying in. Some people would say that you should come here on a holiday first. We didn’t. We just knew we wanted out of SA. I’m not sure you’ll learn too much on a holiday – you’ve kind of got a holiday spirit which means you look at everything through rose-tinted glasses. Reading all the information you can get your hands on in the cold light of day probably teaches you more. And finally don’t leave it too late.
ENZ Piet and Alison, thank you very much.