THE SOUTH AFRICA QUESTION: NOT A BLACK AND WHITE ISSUE.

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As the 6:00am sun blares through the pristine windows of Westfield shopping centre, so begins another day for Coffee club owner Terry Agiasotelis.

As I take a seat to prepare for the interview, he makes his way over to the counter to fetch his morning coffee before asking me if I would join him for one too.

After taking him up on the offer he then passes on the order to one of his trusty baristas and shares a laugh and a quick chat with them in the process.

As he takes his seat and settles in for the interview ahead, the jovial mood slowly dissipates as we begin talking about the issue at hand in South Africa.

Terry Agiasotelis, born to Greek parents who migrated to South Africa shortly before his birth, has seen firsthand the history of South Africa from apartheid right up until Jacob Zuma’s 2009 presidential election.

For Terry, a born and bred native of Bloemfontein, the situation of white South African farmers being murdered or booted off their land is nothing new and is just another chapter in an ongoing issue.

“This has been going on for a very long time and whatever is happening now has been going on since 1994 when the African National Congress (ANC) took over”.

“When I migrated to Australia close to ten years ago, the issue of white South Africans being targeted was my biggest fear and now it’s come true”.

The nation of South Africa, once a beacon of hope for newly landed migrants, has now become a country which has seen a steady flow of emigration over the past two decades.

According to The South African Institute of Race Relations, approximately 800,000 or more white South Africans have emigrated since 1995 and in 2010 Reuters stated that 450,000 whites are living below the poverty line.

In an almost ironic twist of fate, the country Agiasotelis’ parents once chose to bring up their child is now the country he decided to leave almost a decade ago in order to give his children a better and safer future.

“My kids were 4 and 6 years old at the time and it was a case of, in 10-15 years’ time, this country won’t be able to provide them with the education and push in life that me and my wife want for them”.

“I had to make that same decision my parents did for my family and, in the end, that was my motivation to emigrate”.

Another contributing factor in the decision to migrate was the escalating tensions in the country, which came to a head one day in his workplace when the aggression turned physical.

“One of my managers was actually attacked which was a turning point for me and every day thereafter something else would happen”.

He then pauses the interview to say hello and have a quick chat with a bypasser who is one of the many regular faces that comes by his Coffee Club store.

Escalating tensions and attacks are an all too common anomaly in South Africa and one who can relate to this is fellow South African expat Gillian Booysen.

Gillian, originally a native of Zimbabwe, moved to South Africa after finishing High school to begin her training as a nurse at Groote Schuur hospital in Cape Town.

It was during this time she began to notice the racial divide in South African society, something which was not present in Zimbabwean society at that time.

“There were signs on the buses saying non-whites and there were signs on benches that were assigned to whites and non-whites”.

“There was total regulated segregation in South Africa which there hadn’t been in Zimbabwe but, although the laws were the same, it was never enforced through signage.”

After 30 years of being in South Africa, during which time Gill married Melt Booysen and had two children, her husband Melt found himself caught up in a few violent incidences.

 

“Melt had a couple of incidences that were unsettling to him after an incident with a work colleague where they were both caught in the middle of a gunfight at a traffic intersection”.

“There was another incident in Pietermaritzburg where there was a gunfight outside a complex and a man was shot dead in front of Melt’s eyes”.

She goes on to recount a string of other stories which involved a brick being thrown through the windscreen of a car Melt was travelling in with one of his associates.

All this culminated in the decision to leave South Africa, which Melt was able to do after being offered the opportunity to work in Australia on the 457 visa.

Not all Gill’s family members were able to join her and Melt however as their son Daniel was still enrolled at Stellenbosch University and had 1 year left in his degree.

Tragically, with only six weeks left in his degree, Daniel was murdered after a night out in Kayamandi, a suburb of Stellenbosch in the Western Cape province of South Africa.

An incident like this would be the undoing of any parent though, for Gill, she reflects on the situation in a different light and insists his death had nothing to do with race.

“All the circumstances surrounding Dan’s death we’ll never know about because, unfortunately, he was one of 19,500 deaths that year in Cape Town which had far more black fatalities than white ones.”

“I don’t feel any bitterness towards the men who killed him because I feel it was a chance encounter where Dan was robbed and he just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time”.

Although both Terry and Gill are these days proud Australians, you can instantly sense the yearning they have for South Africa as they recount the stories of their childhood and of family members and friends left behind.

When asked if Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton’s offer of bringing South African farmers to Australia would be a positive step forward, both are receptive to the idea with Terry claiming the visas should also extend in to other job sectors.

“The South African work ethic is very high and all we want is a country to invest in and to plant our roots in”.

“I think the Australian government should also create opportunities for skilled professionals such as doctors and teachers, as well as farmers, as these skilled professionals would no doubt be an asset to Australia”.