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South Africa

Your world in one place

Are you sure you want to live here?

Text: Anne Susskind. Article from the June 2013 issue of Noseweek Magazine.

Think before you sneak off to Sydney – you may just find life in Australia disconcertingly familiar.

Sydney: Not a pretty picture

What’s your picture of Sydney, I asked my dearest friend recently on a beautiful Cape Town day. Her reply: “Somewhere where you can enjoy things, all this… without worrying that other people can’t.” And then we talked about the men at the traffic lights and the daily deals one does with oneself in order to stay sane amid all the contradictions.

Having lived in Australia for nearly half my life, it seems to me that country has become, for some South Africans, imbued with longing. As much as people claim to despise its banality, it has come to epitomise a good life, a sunny life, a free life, a lucky life.

Cold comfort it may be, but living in Sydney these days isn’t so great either.

Start with government corruption in the state of New South Wales. (Australia is a federation, remember.) The past few months have seen a series of revelations at the Independent Commission against Corruption. It’s been alleged that former NSW Labor minister Eddie Obeid and his family made a profit of about R300m from a corrupt government coal tender presided over by disgraced former minister Ian McDonald, himself dubbed “Sir Lunchalot” who – to quote the online news site, Crikey – over a dinner which cost A$1,800 (about R16.500), signed a deal which could have been worth A$100m to the NSW government and taxpayer, for an investment of only several hundred thousand.

McDonald had starred in an earlier inquiry into the receipt of personal services from a sex worker called Tiffanie.

In a remarkable March 30 story, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that Richard Torbay, who not long ago resigned from the NSW parliament, as well as from his position as Chancellor of the University of New England (where he’d started off as a kitchen hand), had been spotted with Obeid, pre-dawn, on a lonely stretch of country road. Torbay’s business shirts, we are told, “hide a multitude of tattoos”, while his “corporate entities disguised his vast real estate empire”.

Julia Gillard breaks it gently to a crestfallen Jacob Zuma - she already has a hairdresserAt a federal level, despite the buoyant economy, the governing Labor Party is dogged by failures and embarrassments. So it was that Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s de facto husband (a one-time hairdresser and now Australia’s “First Bloke”), while campaigning for prostate cancer awareness, joked that he’d like to be examined by a female Asian doctor with small hands.

Then Gillard, who is unable to make a speech without declarations about “the Australian (pronounced Austrayan) working family”, showed remarkably bad judgment and shot herself in the foot with a media regulation package that earned her the ire of every media outlet. Soon after that, in March, she escaped being ousted, when her presumed party-room challenger, former prime minister Kevin Rudd, whom she had ousted before, failed to show for the ballot.

Rudd claimed he was doing the honourable thing, but everyone knew he’d just failed to get the numbers.

And the opposition? It’s headed by Tony Abbott, likely to be the next prime minister. Educated by Jesuits and a dropout from a Catholic seminary, he’s dubbed the “Mad Monk”. His better-known observations include “Climate change is absolute crap” and (on asylum policy) “Jesus knew that there was a place for everything and it’s not necessarily the place of everyone to come to Australia”.

The high point of Gillard’s political career was a widely admired speech attacking Abbott’s sexism and misogyny.

The opposition is headed by Tony Abbott, whose observations include “Climate change is absolute crap”

So don’t think that Australia boasts a political class of which many are proud.

Then there’s the cult of celebrity chefs, which sees them elevated to rock star status. And don’t get me started on the seriously crippling private school fees, or on what happens to the curriculum in a cash-strapped university system with no history of philanthropy and whose major way of boosting income is from full fee-paying foreign students.

South Africans are not loved Down UnderAnd finally, don’t forget that Australians don’t really like us.

To illustrate: In March, I went for a quick dip at the tidal pool. I was just 15 minutes, on the way to collect my son from school. I felt innocent and quite blameless. When I got back to my little car, there’s a cool looking, ear-ringed, 50-something surfer mildly berating me for blocking the beach access for the disabled. Thanks, I said, carefully polite, but monosyllabic. But he went on – and on. I said, “I take the point, thanks, but please back off.” Next thing I know, a tirade: “You’re all the same. Fucking obnoxious, entitled South Africans.”

I speak only for my little neck of the woods, the eastern suburbs of Sydney. Most Australians there may tell you they know a few good ones. But, generally, South Africans are regarded as entitled and obnoxious. At times it’s become cringe-worthy to be one.


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