South Africa is a country some people shy away from when it comes to relocation or retirement, mainly due to the bad press it has gotten over the years. South Africans continue to emigrate to England and Australia in fairly large numbers (though the tide has slowed down considerably) and bring with them stories of political instability, corruption, and crime. But this, at best, is only half the story. I’d like to tell you the other half.
In many ways, South Africa is the perfect place for retirement, and if you look at the droves of people voting with their feet, you see this confirmed. South Africans might be looking for a better place to live, but to a lot of Europeans, especially those from more Northern climes and restrictive and aging societies, South Africa seems to have a lot of appeal.
First, there is the weather. Especially Johannesburg, which often comes after Cape Town in terms of tourist appeal, stands out with its almost perfect climate. You get long summers with warm sunny days, but almost never too hot (most houses in Johannesburg do not have air conditioning), and a short “winter” of two to three months where the sun shines every day, it never rains, and only the nights get cold. If you live in Johannesburg, you will cherish the few days of rain you do get for the rarity they are. There is a website where you can check the climate in a Northern hemisphere city most similar to one in the Southern hemisphere, and in the case of Johannesburg what comes up as its counterpart is Kahului in Hawaii. It doesn’t get much more perfect than that. Cape Town has a wetter climate than Johannesburg, with rainier winters and windier summers, but it doesn’t have the nighttime freezing temperatures of Johannesburg, and therefore the vegetation around Cape Town is very tropical and stunningly beautiful.
As a result of the beautiful weather, most South Africans are lovers of the outdoors, pursuing a fairly active lifestyle. Tennis, horse riding, hiking, mountain biking, soccer, rugby, cricket – there is no end to the myriad outdoor activities you might pursue. If you are not so interested in sports but love to be outside, South Africa offers wonderful opportunities to watch game in its natural habitat, from the Big Five to unparalleled bird watching meccas. Going on safaris is one of the favorite pastimes of South Africans young and old, and you typically don’t have to travel far to visit one of the many game parks.
If you do go a bit farther, the travel opportunities within South Africa and in adjacent countries are endless. From the tropical beaches near Durban to whale watching near Hermanus, going diving off the coast of Mozambique, exploring the wild and beautiful landscapes of Namibia, watching big herds of elephants in Chobe, visiting Victoria Falls, and driving up steep winding mountain passes in Swaziland, there is enough natural beauty around to keep you busy for years.
Then there are the people. South Africans are not only very friendly; they also have a wonderful sense of humor. If you ever run into any trouble, like a flat tire, you won’t get very far without someone coming to help you. And when you’re out and about on a typical day, you won’t get very far without someone making you laugh. And that is decidedly a good thing. Living in South Africa and having to deal with its bureaucratic institutions for such things as electricity bills and driver’s licenses can be a bit, to put it mildly, exasperating. You will be told that events will progress, you will be even told that they will progress “just now,” and then you will learn that “just now” is pretty much as far away from the word you associate with “now” as can be. You might be told to bring certain documents to qualify for, say, a mobile phone, and when you show up with them you will be told to go home again and come back with a different set of documents, and only once this process has been repeated at least three times will you have come in any way close to actually being given a contract. You will also learn, when living in South Africa, that a working robot, which means traffic light, is rather the exception than the rule. All of this is best taken with a big dose of humor.