We chatted with Jessica Kotu, an African American who moved to Johannesburg with her South African husband. The couple ended up cutting their move short and returned to the U.S. after three months. Below, Jessica shares an honest reflection of the highs and lows and lessons learned during her time living in South Africa.
Hi! What’s your name and where are you originally from?
My name is Jessica Kotu and I was born in Louisiana, raised in California and currently reside in Louisiana.
How long did you live in South Africa and where in the country did you live?
I lived in Buhle Park, Johannesburg, SA for almost three months [with my husband who is South African]. Our financial situation pushed us to move back to the States.
How did you end up moving to South Africa?
We had already planned on moving to SA. However, it was hastened when Alton Sterling was killed which wasn’t too far from where we lived. The U.S. was filled with anxiety and confusion. Racism was at an all time high in the south. That was all we needed to push the accelerator.
As the spouse of a South African was it difficult to process your immigration paperwork?
As a spouse of a South African it was wasn’t difficult for me to process my paperwork. It was difficult getting to the area that I needed to, to process my papers. I had to go to Washington D.C. to process them.
Everyday Life In South Africa
What was everyday life like for you in South Africa?
Everyday life for me in South Africa was VERY stressful. My mother-in-law and I didn’t get along, I was pregnant and the environment was consistently drama filled (and I hate drama).
How were you welcomed as an African American? Or as an American in general?
During my visit to South Africa in 2012, I hit a few bumps in the road when people found out I was an African American but it would always pan out fine.
But in 2016, it was either heaven or hell. I found that some people would treat me like royalty. This got on my nerves because I know that I’m no better than anyone else. My accent was fascinating to others. They would then ask questions. This made me fascinated at their fascination (it was heaven for me though – great conversation starter).
Then there were those who’d hate you because you were born and raised in America and they weren’t. So I ended up never saying anything to anyone because I never knew what reaction I’d get and most of the time I’d get someone who would be so ugly to me. Most of the time it would be females. I hated this more than the racism in the U.S. This is not how it’s supposed to be in the Motherland. I was devastated every time it happened.
What did you love most about living in South Africa?
I loved the fact that being black did not hurt me. I didn’t have to apologize about being melanated. It was always motivating to see black people owning businesses, houses, and land.
I smiled at the fact that I could have real organic food. Our girls could play in a park and we didn’t have to worry about them being snatched away. I. FELT. FREEDOM. Freedom to be unapologetically me.
What were the most challenging parts of living there?
I think living with my husband’s parents was the worst thing ever. Also, the fact that the South African healthcare system is still developing was a huge issue. I was pregnant and scheduled to give birth via cesarean section. So the quality of healthcare was concerning. We began to see that it wasn’t a great idea for me to deliver our son there.
Can you share a few details on the cost of living in the community that you lived in?
I lived in a rural town within Johannesburg called Buhle Park. We lived in a 3 bedroom, 1 bathroom house which was similar to the homes in the States. It was originally a 1 bedroom. However, my husband expanded the home in 2010 for his parents. Thankfully, we didn’t have to pay rent.
We would spend about 534 Rand (about 40USD) a month in groceries (this was a blessing lol). Water was somewhere in the ballpark of 35USD a month and electricity was around 75USD a month. We didn’t have Internet in the home as we found it extremely hard to obtain from companies for personal use. So we would go to internet cafes for Internet.
Lessons Learned And Personal Reflection
You and your husband moved back to the States to become more financially stable but plan to move back to South Africa again in the future. What lessons did you learn during your first relocation?
DO NOT move to South Africa with less than $10,000. This does not include airfare. That amount is for a family that has children. If you’re blessed to have people already in South Africa to support and help you get up and going when you arrive, then half of the battle is won.
You also NEED to have a CLEAR PLAN on how you will live on funds for at least six months to a year. I know that is a lot of planning but it is so worth it. Make sure ALL of your paperwork is completed at least three to six months before leaving the U.S. THIS IS IMPERATIVE.
What is your best advice for an African diasporan who has just moved to South Africa?
Don’t take advantage of the people there. Yes, you will run into people who are repugnant. Nevertheless, don’t let that deter you from extending unconditional love.
Find a community of African diasporans like yourself. They will help you as your journey goes through ups and downs. And their guidance will decrease your chances of being taken advantage of. There are some people who, after learning that you aren’t a native to the country, will try to infringe upon you due to your genuine ignorance. So, this is why knowing other African Americans living in ANY country you’re relocating to is paramount.
How did living in South Africa change you?
I live on the repletion of love for my people, whether here in the U.S. or there in South Africa. I also gained more compassion for my African American people in the States, especially our ancestors who went through all of the torment and anguish via the Middle Passage and slavery. It made me more aware of how powerful I am because of my people.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
No matter where in the Motherland you favor to plant yourself in, always respect the people there and reserve respect for yourself. Perceive and recognize that there will be culture clashes as you adjust to living abroad.
If relocating due to business, be conscientious in all that you do as Africa is constantly being violated by people with malicious intentions. In conclusion, deliberately plant seeds of love and kindness everywhere you go.
Is there somewhere we can follow your experience?
Yes! I have documented some of our journey to and in South Africa by way of YouTube. My channel name is jessypooh24.