February 18, 2010

Expat Perspective on Zuma and living in SA

I enjoyed this article by Peter Carruthers. It puts living in South Africa into a seriously, positive perspective.

Some years ago I wrote about a son who had been supporting his dad for many years. The son's firm was failing, and he could no longer support dad as well as before. Dad's response: Anger, mudslinging, and malice. The son was buried in guilt.

Neither of them could see past the immediacy. Neither could see that son had supported Dad for years – without thanks. Dad wasn't grateful for the good years. just fearful about the changes. Son could not see that he'd done good so far, and that his own life had changed – for the moment.

After almost four years out of South Africa, I am seeing a lot of analogies. I thought an expat view might add some value.

I currently spend about 4 hours each day talking to South Africans inside SA. I live in Norway, after a three year sojourn in the UK. The reason for this article is that I cannot help but see my friends getting all frothy and side-tracked by Mr Zumas manhood. (My friends are mostly white, middle-aged, and male, it seems. Like me.)

The present SA regime permeates each chat. If it's not love-kids, it's graft or incompetence.

Expats are not allowed to say much about it, so we just listen. The moment we dare say something happy about our current scene, we're seen to be dissing 'the best place place on earth to live in'.

This weekend we will visit an American friend about 10 minutes away. It's her birthday. We'll gather a few bottles of wine from the local Vinmonopole. (The government owns the only bottle store.) A bottle of Nederburg Baronne (the 2006 costs about R40 in SA) will cost R180 (for the vintage harvested last December). We'll need three of those. Then it's a taxi to visit them, and a taxi back, at R2000 for the round trip. (Zero alcohol tolerance.) Each of these prices includes 25% VAT. And that's after a 56% marginal tax rate.

Want to start a business here? Setting up a firm demands an outlay of R140,000 – just to get registered. (In contrast, it costs about R1000 in SA to get a CC started.) Want to set up as a sole trader? That costs about R5000 to register  before you can issue an invoice. (Vs R0.00 in SA.)

VAT registration kicks in as your turnover passes R80,000 for the year. (Yet another layer of admin to enjoy.) I am not going to even talk about the costs and duties around employing your first (until she dies) staff member. It's just scary. And if Zuma gets involved, that's at least a year of maternity leave.

Setting up in the UK is different, but also very expensive.

While you're running your firm, you're trying to keep your home clean, your clothes ironed, the supplies flowing, and the kids happy. Trying to hold down a job (if you can get one) is exciting if the kids are off school for any reason (holidays, snow, flu, or the UK paranoia of the day). There is no cheap labour to help. A garden service in the UK, for instance, will cost you about R300 to mow and trim a piece of lawn the size of a moustache. At least Norway is covered in snow for half the year so that's an expense we don't have to worry about.

SA has an abundant supply of great drugs. In the UK they have a colourful range of bottles of distilled water. Each pretends to be a cure for something mild. Anything worse than a gentle headache needs a visit to a doctor to get real drugs. And the moment you have a mild accident (a sprained ankle, or a spear in the foot) that's the Emergency section of your local hospital for a day outing, as well as a police investigation. (There is no concept of an accident. it must be somebody's fault.)

A friend of mine got a call from his sons school a week or so ago. The boy had pointed a £1 toy plastic gun at another kid and  said "Bang. I shot you in the chest." Friends son mentioned it to another kid. This was overheard by a teacher. That was enough for a disciplinary hearing and formal warning. The only reason the boy wasn't expelled was that nobody could prove anything. The kid who brought the toy to school was expelled.

That's almost as bizarre as the old gent sitting at MacDonalds who got hit on the head by a sausage thrown by a 4 year old, as kids are wont to do. The old gent laid a charge of assault against the boy and his parents. In Norway, as in South Africa, the cops would see the humour and send the man home on his zimmer frame. Not so in the UK.

While all of this is happening, the government in the UK have had a torrid time of it. They've bent the rules in ways the ANC wish they had the brains to think  of. Gordon Brown has spent about R500,000 per person in the UK (still to be extracted in taxes) to bail out the banks, over which he has as much control as I have over Zuma's winklepicker.

Speaking of which, lets not get started on the extra-marital stuff. The only reason that Bill Clinton didn't have relations with, by or through 'that woman' was because she had a big mouth. His lead has since been followed by what seems to be most of the US senate. Confessions abound in this new season of couch rugby. Watching the news is more interesting than that wildlife show about Cougars.  

So lets get some perspective. South Africa remains a paradise to live in. It's easy to create a business and enjoy a superb standard of living. It's got some of the best weather in the world. It's got great food at reasonable prices. It's got fine people who will help you out with all the pesky life maintenance functions which take up so much time. And they will do it for a pittance. The tax rates are survivable. And if it all gets too much, there is always a beach somewhere.

In Norway the beaches are covered with snow apart from a few months in the middle of the year. And in the UK that beach, on both good days each year, is covered by millions of large white bodies getting sunburnt before overwhelming the health services.

Maybe the Internet is tad erratic, but at least you don't get a great big blue screen censoring your activities each time you want to see a scrapbooking site, the kind of challenge that faces folk living in Qatar.

Now, what were you complaining about again? Go grab a glass of Merlot, sit on the stoep, and count some blessings. This is not the rehearsal and life could be so much worse.
Peter Carruthers

18 February 2010 

Business generator, Jacques de Villiers is a motivational speaker, consultant, trainer and writer in South Africa.

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