Vintage suitcases

My family of immigrants: coming to South African and leaving South Africa

About a year and half ago my wife and I arrived on the small Island of Mauritius, in the Indian Ocean.

Arriving on a tourist visa with only the belongings that we could fit into four suitcases, ready to embark on a new chapter of our life and hoping that we would be granted the full-year visa’s.

We did not have the luxury of visiting the island first on holiday before making the decision as we could not afford it (in fact we had not been on holiday for about 10 years).

Leading up to the move there was a lot of paperwork (mostly for Mac), a lot of costs in involved, and many sacrifices. It was a very stressful time, with the worry of ‘what if it doesn’t work out’.

But we were not the first to do so in our families, we both come from families of immigrants.

My Grandparents and parents

My maternal grandparents grew up in a rural village in Coimbra, central Portugal, that had no running water or electricity.

Like most men of the time my grandfather served in the miliary and afterwards went back to construction work.

There was a promising opportunity to do construction work on the Island of Mozambique, where my grandfather’s father was working. So my grandparents, along with their young son (my uncle) moved to Mozambique. However, the job didn’t work out.

They heard – by way of my grandmother’s brother – of South Africa, and that there was a lot of promise and job opportunities. So they made the journey from Mozambique to South Africa, a land of hope.

My grandmother took care of the house and raised my mother (born in South Africa a short while after they arrived) and uncle while my grandfather worked as a construction worker and eventually became a foreman.

I don’t know much of my paternal grandparents, but I do know my paternal grandmother was from and remained in Portugal, while my grandfather left Portugal and settled in Germany and remarried. My father was born and grew up in Portugal. He worked at one point in South Africa, where he met my mother. They got married and had me. They moved to Portugal, then Germany. The marriage did not work out, and my mother came back to South Africa with me, and he apparently split his time between Portugal and Germany.

My Wife’s Grandparents and parents

My wife’s family likewise were immigrants. Her mother and maternal grandparents immigrated to South Africa from Mauritius. My wife’s maternal grandmother moved from Madagascar to Mauritius, met her maternal grandfather and had two daughters.

They immigrated to South Africa so that her grandmother could get treatment for a heart issue, as South Africa was at the forefront of heart-related surgeries and treatment at the time.

My wife’s father (along with his three sisters) and paternal grandparents were from England and immigrated to South Africa.

They lived and work in Zambia, Malawi, and the UK before settling in South Africa. My wife’s grandmother is still alive at 98 years old and in relatively good health despite smoking cigarettes every day since she was 16 years old.

Our Generation

From our grandparents, to our parents, to our generation.

In this third generation there are six family members who have left South Africa and don’t ever intend on returning.

My wife and I have left South Africa and are living in Mauritius. My wife is a citizen here and I am working on my permanent residency. My wife’s sister has left South Africa and is living in Britain, where she is also a citizen. My three cousins have left South Africa, one is living in the US and the other two are living in Europe. 

That is six of us in a single generation and the fourth generation has already started abroad – my eldest cousin is having her first child in Texas, USA.

The irony of our parents and grandparents moving is that they didn’t know how bad things would get – where South Africa has some of the highest rates of child rape, child murder, adult rape, adult sexual abuse, adult murder, and suicide as well as unemployment in the entire world. At the time our grandparents arrived in South Africa (mid 1960’s – 1970), it really was a country of great opportunity and potential.

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