South Africans in Dubai

Some of the 50,000 South African expats in Dubai tell Time Out about life in the UAE

Eve Stubbs
Eve Stubbs
Alan Jahnig
Alan Jahnig
Nirvana Govender
Nirvana Govender
Interview, Expat focus, Area Guides
Interview, Expat focus, Area Guides
Eve Stubbs, in her fifties

‘It’s been close to two years since I moved to Dubai. We moved here because of my husband’s job; he’s a civil engineer and is fascinated by the infrastructure of the city. I work at Middlesex University. The UAE is very different from South Africa and it’s a little hard to compare the two at times. I think that both places have their own charm.

‘In Dubai you have this amazing cultural environment. It’s such a cosmopolitan city with people from every corner of the world. There’s always something to do. Luckily, SA is similar on the cosmopolitan front. You have a huge range of people from everywhere to interact with. We experienced no culture shock when coming to Dubai, just a big but pleasant surprise!

‘I’ve been so busy working and spending time with my family, my friends and my students that I haven’t had time to feel homesick! It’s great that I get to mingle with people from SA out here. We love to have braai (barbecue) in the garden. Back home my garden was my soul place, and that’s what it’s becoming out here as well. ‘I think we’ll stay out here until my husband retires – old age should be spent at home, I feel. In the meantime we’re satisfied. The only thing I miss is the bush – you feel incredibly at one with nature out there.’

Alan Jahnig, 33

‘I’d always heard about Dubai as this place of wealth and luxury where everyone whips about in sports cars – in fact, it was the charm of the sports car that got me on the plane. I’ve been in Dubai for 11 years now. When the Royal Mirage was starting up I was offered a job to help with the opening.

‘It’s tremendously different from South Africa here. It doesn’t have the greenery and the nature that SA offers. In SA, when you go from one city to another you’re in a whole different environment. Unfortunately, because the UAE is smaller, it’s not as easy to experience such diversity. Having said that, you have the desert less than an hour’s drive away – it’s practically on your doorstep!

‘Personally, I feel like Dubai offers an easy life. For me it’s pretty stress-free and the set-up is easier than it would be in other countries. The entertainment is great: you can step out for dinner, catch a movie, watch sports – it’s all very laidback. Although I do wish there were more sporting facilities. Of course, sometimes I wish I felt more at home. I do like going for dinner at The Meat Company, a SA chain. There’s also a pretty strong SA theme at the Grand Grill. And it’s always good to have an African-style barbecue.

‘I think I’ll stay here for at least another five years. I recently started a business and I’d like to stick around and see how things progress. I do still feel homesick at times, especially when watching sporting events in SA. But I visit home about twice a year; it’s important to stay connected with your roots.’

Nirvana Govender, 27

‘I moved out here to study at the Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management about six years ago. One of the things I truly appreciate about Dubai is the security, something lacking in South Africa. Also, I appreciate that I’ve had the chance to meet people from everywhere. It’s brought out another side of me, almost given me a window into all of the countries of the world – without even having to go anywhere.
‘Don’t get me wrong though, SA has a lot to offer. The environment of the country is just beautiful. The wildlife and bush provide an opportunity to get close to nature. SA is a lot older than the UAE, so culturally it’s stronger and more aware, but Dubai will get there, I’m sure of it.

‘This city has been good to me and, although one can never really say what will happen next, I’d like to stay here for another eight to 10 years. If I wanted to start a family, SA isn’t as safe as Dubai. But that won’t keep me away from South Africa – I visit up to three times every year.

‘South Africa has plenty to offer, the adventurous person that I used to be in SA is lost now. Hopefully she’ll come back as opportunities for less work and more play grow here. I’ve managed to settle down and kill the homesickness and I am fairly satisfied with how things are at the moment. It would be nice to have a little more greenery here though. Nature is something Dubai residents would enjoy.’


One & Only Royal Mirage: Al Sufouh, 04 399 9999

The Meat Co:  Madinat Jumeirah, 04 368 6040; The Old Town, 04 420 0737

Grand Grill:  Habtoor Grand Resort & Spa, Dubai Marina, 04 399 4221

Middlesex University:

Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management: Tokoloshe, a magazine for South Africans in the Middle East.

South African Independence Day:  December 11

South Africa comes HOME feat. Flash Republic Live:  (Ryan Dent, Tamara Dey, Craig Massiv), Chi, Friday July 24

African words

Howzit? – How are you?

Lekker – Good or fine.

Bru – Brother or habbibi

Country profile

The outside world came to what is today called South Africa when Dutch traders landed in 1652. They established the southern tip as a stopover point on the spice route between Europe and the East, and the city of Cape Town was born.

The Cape of Good Hope was conquered by the British in 1806, whereupon many Dutch settlers (the Boers) headed north and formed their own republics. Diamonds and gold were discovered in the 1860s, leading to more immigration and the repression of Africa’s native inhabitants.

British expansion resulted in the Boer War (1899-1902); the British won, but the two sides ruled together under the banner of the Union of South Africa. The National Party was voted into power in 1948, and apartheid was developed – the separate development of races. This system ended in 1994 when multi-racial elections were held, ushering in Nelson Mandela (pictured) as president and black majority rule.

This week’s episode of the Time Out Dubai podcast rolls up its sleeves

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The critically acclaimed Shakespeare play will be performed in January

The beachside dining spot is celebrating international coffee day at its brand-new branch

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Black Coffee and Themba will hit the decks on Friday September 28


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