Expats of Joburg - Annabel Meurs

We are excited to take a closer look at the things expats are doing here in South Africa, their views on the culture, passions in life and their take on South African life. To kick us off we have Annabel whose passion lies within the garment industry.   

What brought you to Joburg? 

My husband job, he works for a Dutch company Mammoet and was asked to set up the project management department here. 

When did you arrive and how long are you here for? 

We arrived just after Christmas last year. It was so quiet, all our neighbours were gone and everything was closed; not the best time to arrive! 
we are planning to stay for 2 or 3 years, but nothing is certain, so who knows. 

If you had a friend come and stay for 24 hours - what would you do with them? 

I would go out for diner in parkhurst or lonehill, go to one of the foodmarkets (Fourways, Art on Main, Maboneng, Rosebank rooftop market), a picnic in Emmerentia park, if possible go for hiking on one of the beautiful trails.

Where has been your favourite holiday destination? 

Too many.... We had been on holiday to South Africa three years ago which we absolutely loved. And we had the pleasure of having many holidays in Asia: Hong Kong, China, Thailand, Vietnam. And we spent our honeymoon in Belize which was wonderful too. 

What do you miss most from home?

Aside from friends and family i really miss riding my bike. And Dutch cheese. 

Have you picked up any South African traditions or sayings?

I guess its hard to avoid saying the word 'shame' all the time. Other than that i really had to get used to the slower pace and everything taking a loooong time. But once you do its actually great! And the South Africans truly know how to enjoy outdoor life, which we try to embrace with all we've got!

Your Favourite South African product?

Wine for sure. Wouldn't be able to live without it. Braai, butternut, biltong

What advice would you give people thinking about moving to Joburg?

 Just do it! Don't listen to the negative stories and use common sense.


Tell us a bit more about the Garment Industry here in South Africa, and how we can get more involved: 

Historically, South Africa was one of the biggest garment producers on the African continent, creating employment for thousands and thousands of people. But the past 15 years, like many other countries, South Africa had to battle competition from lower wage neighbouring countries and imports from Asia. The organisation I work for, Fair Wear Foundation, is an Amsterdam based NGO founded by trade unions, employers and labour NGO’s to improve working conditions in the garment industry. Amsterdam used to have its own garment sweatshops in the seventies, before all production moved to eastern Europe and Asia. Working conditions in those sweatshops did not comply with international labour standards to say the least, and when production moved to other countries, the responsibility for ensuring good working conditions also shifted. The need of having an organisation that could independently monitor and verify conditions became clear. 



Fair Wear Foundation has expanded to being a European initiative that verifies working conditions in many production countries, mostly China, India, Bangladesh, Turkey and Vietnam. European clothing brands who become a member of Fair Wear Foundation commit to improving 8 labour standards at their suppliers. Next to checking the conditions in the factories, we also check the brands’ practices to assess how they support implementation of the labour standards. Even though the people making the garments may be on the other side of the world, clothing brands still have an enormous influence on factory conditions through the decisions they make. Think for instance of how a brand’s order planning with short lead times puts pressure on the factory and how that affects working hours. Or when brands demand such low prices that it is nearly impossible for the factory management to pay its workers a decent wage. 

Back to South Africa; we moved here just after Christmas last year for my husband’s work. We are still adjusting and learning new things, but so far it has been a great experience. When we came here I did some research into the SA labour law, union situation and textile industry.

The main problem is ensuring a living wage (as opposed to a minimum wage).

Especially when it is in the informal sector with no contract, social security or protection by labour law. There are several minimum wages in South Africa; depending on skills the wage for a garment worker can range from 700-850zar per week. Like in many other parts of the world, South Africa’s garment workers are predominantly women, often their family’s soul breadwinner. They are usually vulnerable workers with few other employment opportunities available to them due to South Africa’s high unemployment rates. There is a slight hope for the industry as the government has provided support measures in an attempt to revive it. Even though there will be many challenges related to labour conditions, I hope it will at least bring employment opportunities to SA. 

How Can I Become More Conscious Over the Products I Buy? 

There are a few things that we as consumers and expats in SA can do to buy more consciously. I realise it is very tempting to buy cheap clothes and it is not at all the case that expensive clothes are automatically made under good conditions.

  1. Buy things that last a long time; that are durable and of good quality. This way you don’t contribute to the fast fashion business where we think it is completely normal to buy new things every few weeks, putting a huge constraint on the people who make it.
  2. Try to take part in the huge second hand market. If you get rid of clothes, there are many charity organisations to donate clothes to.
  3. Buy clothes from South African retailers to support the domestic market. Or
  4. Engage with your favourite brand, ask them what they are doing in terms of sustainability. On www.fairwear.org there is a shopping list with the European brands that are members.  

Finally - we can all ensure we provide the staff we employ with a decent living wage. It is great that you provide employment for a domestic worker or gardener, but do your research in terms of wage, working hours, leave days and other labour rights. And if you have any questions, let me know!   

See our blog - How to personally employ staff in South Africa for more advice on this.

Thank you Annabel for those great tips!

What are your thoughts? Which are you going to take up? Share with us in the comments below.

For more more info on Annabel - click here.

If you would like to share a bit about your industry, and be featured in our Expats in Joburg series, please contact us by clicking the button below. 


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