From once a South African to always an Australian – the long journey of Keith Majoos

Keith Majoos
The Long Journey of Keith Majoos

KEITH Majoos is sitting in an apartment less than 100 metres from Surfer’s Corner’ in Muizenberg, near Cape Town, doing what Australians refer to as ‘lounging’ and South Africans as ‘catching up on the old days’.

Majoos, a self-employed IT and Management Consultant, who is in the process of registering as a Counselling Psychologist while he awaits his doctorate from the University of New England, smiles easily – and speaks slowly and clearly in an accent that can best be described as halfway between South African and Australian (which is not surprising, given that he’s spent almost 30 years in each of these countries).

The subject of our conversation is, inevitably, about the ‘new South Africa’. Majoos, like most people who have been touched by events on Africa’s southern tip over the past 18 years, has his own special story to tell.

And he can’t suppress a chuckle as he tells it: ‘It was the year 2000 and I was in South Africa on a visit. We were driving through Delft, a suburb of tiny houses and residents who were definitely not white, when the driver of the car said to me: “You are now in a National Party stronghold.”’

‘I had been told – and had read – about major changes in South Africa. But Delft … a National Party stronghold? Who would have imagined it?’

It’s easy to understand why Majoos, would have been surprised. It was a particularly nasty experience of National Party policy that persuaded him to leave South Africa in 1984.

‘I was working in information technology for a company called Unisys – and I had been sent to KwaZulu-Natal with two fellow (white) workers to do a job at the Natal Mercury newspaper,’ he explains. ‘When we’d completed the work, we decided to have a meal at a nearby hotel. As soon as I set foot in the establishment, a white bloke came up to me and said in Afrikaans: “What are you doing here? You know we don’t serve kaffirs. To the back with you!’

‘I was shocked – and so were my colleagues,’ he says.

‘I was so furious that the next day I went to the Australian embassy to apply to emigrate. They told me they didn’t know how long the process would take – or whether my application would be successful. So I bought a house in Boksburg – and a new car – and went on with my life.’

Three months later Majoos, a B.Sc graduate, who had majored in Mathematics and Applied Mathematics, was told that his application had been approved. He immediately gave his house and car to his father, and packed for Perth. He and his wife were 28; his first-born child was three and his youngest at that time, nine months.

Majoos says he was determined to establish himself and his family. ‘I wanted my children to have a better chance in life’.

But it wasn’t easy – not initially, anyway.

‘South Africans who left for Australia in the 1970s and 1980s found the new society a lot freer than in South Africa. For example, we came to a country where young couples lived together initially’

‘In the first few years, when I saw all this, I used to say to my friends: ‘If I had done what young couples are doing here, dan slaan my pa my dood. Dan maak hy my weer lewendig. Dan slaan hy my weer dood.

‘Many children – especially those who were older – found it difficult to adapt,’ he says. ‘Those who were teenagers, or who were on the cusp of being teenagers, struggled to make friends. Australian children were set in their ways – and had their cliques at school.’

‘The journey from being a South African to an Australian proved as difficult in many cases for their parents. A friend once told me: “Keith, I used to walk in the rain so that my wife could not see that I had been crying. I was holding down three jobs. And I had to get a house and work through all the hardships. Everything threatened to overwhelm me.

Would Majoos ever consider coming back to South Africa to stay?

‘I get asked this question quite often,’ he says. And, generally, I say “No”. I have struggled very hard to establish my family in Australia. Why should I go back to South Africa? I’ll come back on holiday, for sure, but not to stay.’

He explains that for a lot of South Africans who left, there is what he calls ‘a transition’.

‘I see that with the new migrants,’ he says. ‘They will say: “Ah, Keith, so you’re going home?” And they say it because at this point in their lives, home is still South Africa.

‘All of us have travelled this road. For many of us who returned to South Africa for visits in those early years, who worked so hard to establish ourselves, home was still South Africa.

‘But then came what can best be described as a mental shift, a shift that usually happened when we were back in South Africa. We would suddenly find ourselves saying things like: “I’m really looking forward to going home to my kids.”

‘Suddenly, home had become Australia.’

And the children, how do they view South Africa? Majoos answers quickly and confidently. ‘The children have moved on. My children are not really interested in what is happening here. Even if I offered to buy them a ticket to South Africa, they would say: “No. What must I do there?”’

‘My eldest daughter doesn’t want anything to do with this country. She left when she was three – and returned in 1996 and 2000. The last time my second eldest was here was as a tourist. She and her boyfriend visited the Kruger Park, and did bungee jumping and whitewater rafting in Zambia.

‘When they arrived here, someone said, ‘Welcome home’, and she responded: “No, home isn’t here. It’s in Australia.”

‘And that’s the perspective. Home is in Australia.’