I grew up with a British-born father, who, even though he moved over to South Africa at the tender age of 3 years old, was quite the lover of the mother country. In some respects, he was more British than that Brits, having been brought up as an immigrant in a new country by a rather Victorian father whose values tended towards the conservative and whose ideals leaned towards the aristocratic.
Having two parents who grew up in Natal, now KwaZulu-Natal, the last British colony in South Africa, our tendency towards British television and films, British pronunciations, and even the obligatory roast beef and Yorkshire pudding on Sundays, reinforced the positive attitudes towards the Brits in our household. I received and read British “annuals” like Beano at Christmas, read British authors like Enid Blyton, Louisa May Alcott, and my mother’s Agatha Christies. We pulled crackers at Christmas, imported British cars, and modeled our manners on those of not only another country, but another era.
In my English-speaking schools, our history was heavily influenced by the British, too: studying the Boer War meant studying the Empire. Studying the second world war meant studying the Empire. Studying the arrival of Jan van Riebeeck and the Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie in the Cape in 1652, known to us as the Dutch East India Company, meant studying their quarrels with the British East India Company, and by association, the British.
It was inevitable that I would eventually move to the UK, following a boyfriend, although the encounter shocked me. In our South African, the UK was a country of well-spoken, well-educated people who spoke the “Queen’s English”. South Africa had poor and dirty and dangerous places, but the holy grail of the UK wasn’t supposed to: London proved that wrong immediately, and my 5 years of living in the UK shattered all of the misconceptions of a child of immigrants about the “ideal country”.
Nonetheless, I enjoyed being in the UK. I worked hard in my first year, sometimes had two jobs to be avoid going into credit to buy things like furniture and theatre tickets. I had a few encounters with the locals, who told me to “go back to South Africa – our jobs are for the British”, in spite of the fact that my initial couple of jobs were low paid and evidently not interesting to the many university graduates seeking higher-paid positions.
I spent the weekends and evenings visiting museums and buying expensive books on C++ and project management and communication. I taught myself to code, learned how to manage projects and define budgets, and I moved upwards on the career ladder to a position that paid well and gave me great scope to travel, manage a team, and start getting involved in what I do now: communication. I decided to study, paying what felt like a small fortune at the time to start a BA at the Open University, studying in my own time. Eventually, I decided to give up on the corporate world and after a year of travelled, I returned and set up my own business. A few years later, I incorporated as “Whitby’s Global Limited”, and for another 14 or so years, I travelled the world, built my business, and was inordinately proud of my UK Limited Company.
It’s with a heavy heart today that I submit my last set of accounts for the company. It’s been lying dormant for a few years as I’ve watched the Brexit debacle proceed, and I’ve been in two minds about whether to finally close the business and my accounts and focus on building my business elsewhere. It feels like turning my back on a part of the world that has fascinated me from a time before I could read, but having made the decision to marry a European and live on the “continent”, there no longer seems any point in basing my company in a country that wants to cut itself off, when everything that I do personally and professionally is to open minds and bring people together.
Who would have thought that closing a company would feel like such a final decision? And that so much history, identity, and emotion would be tied into the simple task of filling in a short form on the Companies House website?