Dear Cape Town... here's why I'm leaving

30 May 2018 - 10:45 By Timeslive
Cape Town's V&A Waterfront.jpg
Cape Town's V&A Waterfront.jpg
Image: Cape Town Tourism

A chartered accountant has penned an open letter that has rekindled the debate around whether Cape Town is a truly African city with opportunities for black professionals.

Tinyiko Ngwenya’s letter‚ posted on her LinkedIn page on Sunday‚ starts with the words‚ “I never thought I’d ever see this day coming. Me leaving Cape Town to return to the city of gold‚ Johannesburg.”

She goes on to describe a “deep and tragic sense of loneliness” and experiencing an identity crisis while working in the city.

“No matter how hard I worked‚ I never really felt good enough‚ and that inferiority complex was as a result of being a minority‚” she explained.

While she acknowledged that she was not strong enough to stay and drive the change required to transform her environment‚ she said: “I honestly got tired of being an angry black and I hope you'll forgive me for wanting to just be in an environment where I too can flourish.”

Ngwenya is an investment professional who worked at Old Mutual Investment Group.

Many agreed with her observations in the corporate environment and social settings. Some put it down to issues around race‚ while others said there were cliques akin to an “old boys club” in the Mother City.

Some commentators pointed out that all cities had their own horror stories that newcomers had to navigate through.

Yolanda Katsi arrived in Cape Town in 2016 and said‚ in a reply to the post‚ that she could not find a hair salon that catered for black hair on Bree Street. She had to pick up her helper from the bus stop because minibus taxis “did not reach my neighbourhood”. She moved back to Johannesburg.

Vusumzi Kiva had positive and negative observations about his five-year stint in Gauteng‚ which he said‚ “don’t necessarily make it a ‘bad’ place. I had various experiences‚ including that of being made to feel an outsider at times‚ but my character wouldn’t bow to that.”

Here is the letter‚ in full. Tell us what you think at TimesLIVE on Facebook.

Dear Cape Town

I never thought I’d ever see this day coming. Me leaving Cape Town to return to the city of gold‚ Johannesburg. I had spent my whole adulthood in Cape Town‚ from beginning my tertiary education at the University of Cape Town in 2009 to becoming the well-rounded investment professional that I am today. In these nine years I’ve grown so much to be the person that I am today; I’ve had my heart broken more times than I would like to admit and have made friends who have shown me a love that has made me a true believer in humanity. My time in Cape Town has been so magical‚ I couldn’t have lived a life more fuller than the one I had. So why then would I walk away from a city that filled me with priceless memories?

From a career point‚ Johannesburg makes sense for me. I’m young‚ I’m a qualified Chartered Accountant with almost six years of working experience and by August next year plan on seeing an e-mail to inform me that I have passed my CFA level III exam and can proudly add the Chartered Financial Analyst qualification to my business card. Yes‚ Asset Management is in Cape Town but the world of business and countless opportunities lies in Johannesburg. Johannesburg makes sense.

I wish I could tell you that my decision to move back to Johannesburg was solely career driven but the truth is‚ it was a deep and tragic sense of loneliness and an identity crisis that drove me to make that tough decision.

In this fast-paced output driven world we live in‚ culture and identity is something we tend to overlook. When we think about what makes us the individuals that we are‚ we are quick to articulate our achievements that qualifies the angle at which our chin raises when we walk about‚ yet we somehow look over our ethnicity only to be reminded of it once in a while when we need to fill out an official form. In the years that I lived in Cape Town‚ I struggled with my identity to the point that it started affecting my confidence. You cannot truly realise your full potential until you are completely comfortable with yourself. No matter how hard I worked‚ I never really felt good enough and that inferiority complex was as a result of being a minority. A minority‚ you laugh. It sounds ridiculous‚ but that’s exactly what I was. A minority in my own country‚ a minority in Africa. Wherever I was‚ I was the only African (read black) person. I was the only African in my investment team‚ I was the only African in any given coffee shop‚ in any given wine farm‚ bless my Cape Town friends but none of them are black. Don't tell Andile Khumalo but I always secretly looked forward to doing the business and economic update on Power FM just to hear him say my name‚ Tinyiko Ngwenya. The very name that my parents thought long and hard about had been used in vain for so long‚ pronounced so incorrectly that it made me hate introducing myself. Many wouldn’t even bother trying to pronounce my name and just cop out by calling me “Tiny".

How can one be truly confident about themselves when they aren’t even confident enough to introduce themselves using their name?

Coming back home to visit my family in Johannesburg was always a culture shock. In my workplace where I spent most of my time‚ I would only hear Afrikaans and English‚ granted there were a few Xhosa speaking colleagues but not one person for me to speak my home tongue‚ Tsonga to. The beauty about Johannesburg is that when you walk in a mall‚ you’re guaranteed to hear at least four if not more South African languages being spoken. What’s even more beautiful is that because the languages are spoken so often and people integrate with each other as opposed to remaining in cliques (which is what Cape Town is known for)‚ a Sotho person can ask a Zulu speaking individual a question in their own language and the Zulu person will understand what it is that they are asking. So coming home meant falling in line and speaking Tsonga‚ a language I only got to speak whenever I was home so naturally over time you would start hearing the difference between my Tsonga and the Tsonga that my family spoke. You can imagine how insecure I felt when I spoke Tsonga to someone from Limpopo‚ I’d always wonder if they would call me out for being a hybrid (my mother is Sotho).

Outside of the language shock‚ a bigger culture shock for me was seeing successful black individuals. Black people in suits‚ black people eating in fancy restaurants and boy oh boy did my head spin when I saw a black woman driving an Aston Martin! My people were flourishing and it was amazing to witness. Every time I would meet a friend for lunch at 24 Central in Sandton‚ I would meet other young‚ ambitious black professionals and think to myself‚ flippen hell these people are taking over the world! In Cape Town‚ I had no role models to look up to. There were no self-made‚ black professionals who were doing so well in their fields. How do you convince a child in Khayelitsha that they too can achieve financial freedom when the environment that they’re living in constantly reminds them that Constantia and Camps Bay is not where they belong. Corporates in Cape Town always blame the slow progress in transformation on black professionals leaving for Johannesburg and never staying long enough to transform the organisations. How do you expect black professionals to stay when you continue to create an environment that is not conducive to their success?

And so one day it dawned upon me that I want my children to grow up seeing success in their colour. I want them to grow up in an environment where it is normal to see black South Africans running and owning businesses. I don’t want my children to grow up feeling like a minority in their own country‚ I want them to be proud of being black and not hate me for giving them an African name that they’re teachers and classmates can’t pronounce. I love the skin that I am in and for me to have gone through an identity crisis is sad. In fact it’s actually embarrassing but I am glad that I could be brave enough to share it with you.

Dear Cape Town‚ you gave me memories that I will always be grateful for but unfortunately‚ that’s all you gave. Memories and nothing more. I truly hope that my generation will be the last to experience what I felt while living in Cape Town and that the city will transform to be a proudly South African city that is well integrated and diverse. I'm sorry that I was not strong enough to stay and drive the change myself‚ I honestly got tired of being an angry black and I hope you'll forgive me for wanting to just be in an environment where I too can flourish. Wealth generation is important to me‚ I want my children to be able to ask me for an interest free loan to start their businesses and for the first time‚ I feel like it is possible to do just that. Johannesburg‚ I hope you're ready for me. I've never been hungrier than I am today!