More South Africans Are Emigrating Than Ever Before

Every year, skilled and unskilled South Africans, of all races, are leaving our shores in search of better opportunities abroad. Why are so many South Africans emigrating, why is the rate accelerating so drastically, and where are they headed?
Jason Snyman
2019-05-23

Emigration is a complicated topic to tackle, particularly when, in countries such as South Africa, the act of emigration itself can have so many complicated motivations behind it.  

In this article, we’ll be taking a candid look at the problems that have been plaguing South Africa for years, and which only seem to be getting worse. 

South Africans of all backgrounds are leaving the country in droves, for a large variety of reasons that annihilate racial divides. Many years ago, emigration from South Africa was almost synonymous with white professionals, but the reality is that today, black professionals fleeing our shores far exceed white professionals. 

Qualified and skilled individuals, tired of the horrific levels of crime, the economic turmoil, political debauchery and staggering levels of unemployment are packing up and moving abroad, where they hope to make a better life for themselves and their family.  

This loss of skill, in particular, has been incredibly damaging to South Africa. According to recent reports, for every one skilled professional coming to our country, eight are leaving. 

According to Homecoming Revolution, there may be around 2.7 million South Africans living abroad, and many of these are highly skilled in their respective fields. 

So, let’s take a look at why this Brain Drain is occurring, why it’s speeding up, and what the average South African can do if they, too, would love to make a run for it. 

More People Are Leaving South Africa Than Ever Before

Eunomix Business & Economics Ltd. is a company that advises some of the biggest mining companies currently operating in South Africa. According to their latest analysis of the country’s prospects, over the last twelve years South Africa has deteriorated socially, economically and in governance more than any other nation not at war.

In terms of security, governance, prosperity and welfare, South Africa now comes in at 88th out of 178 countries, which is a massive drop from 31st place in 2006. With this decline, we now rub shoulders with the likes of Colombia, Latvia and Jamaica, and only conflict-heavy nations such as Venezuela, Ukraine and Mali are worse off. 

South Africa, in its fragile state, is expected to weaken considerably over the next few years. This reality, combined with alarming levels of grotesquely violent crime, a sky-rocketing unemployment rate and a steady deterioration in everything from public services, healthcare or education has many South Africans running for the exit door. 

According to the 2017 white paper on emigration, released by the Department of Home Affairs, for every one professional coming to South Africa, eight are leaving. These alarming figures are from over two years ago, and the problem has worsened considerably since then. 

Over 14% of house sales this year, so far, are emigration driven. This is according to Carte Blanche, citing an estate agent survey. That number is up from 10% at the end of last year, and it’s more than double what it was two years ago. 

Between 1989 and 2003, South Africa lost 7% of its professionals. Most of those who had emigrated were white, and over 120 000 of the 520 000 who had left had professional qualifications.  

This was while South Africa was under the steady guidance of Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki. 

Then, in came Jacob Zuma, and with him a culture of corruption, looting and poor governance. With the ANC embracing the expropriation of land without compensation, South Africa suffered an immediate acceleration of skilled emigration.

This time, however, from all races.

We’ve all heard stories, of course, or know of people who have left South Africa, only to return a few years later having lost a considerable amount of weight. These stories are very much true, and these people return for a variety of reasons. 

CEO of Biddulphs Removal, Owen Farmerey, has said that back in 2013, they were bringing no less than fifteen people back to South Africa for every ten who left. Fast forward to today, however, and Farmerey says that they’ve seen an increase of around 45% in emigration. 

These people, he says, are fleeing to Australia, New Zealand, the United States and the United Kingdom.

So, Why Are People Leaving South Africa?

According to Johannes Wessels, director of entrepreneurial non-profit, The Enterprise Observatory of South Africa (EOSA), it boils down to a handful of problems. These problems, commonly, have obvious economic, political, social and racial roots – all of which affect everybody in both different and equal ways.

White people, for example, are likely to leave due to a number of ‘push’ factors, which could include a lack of opportunities open to professionals due to BEE, affirmative action and other government policies, or fear of change. 

Professionals, of all races and backgrounds, have decided to take their skills elsewhere. Most noteworthy of these in recent times have been doctors and surgeons, who have been fed alive to the wolves with the no-doubt disastrous NHI lurking just around the corner.

Should the NHI, in its current form, come into effect, these medical professionals will find themselves without the means to earn a suitable livelihood. It’s not difficult to sympathise, and understand why they would want to put their years of qualification to better use in other countries. 

At an investor level, likewise, South African businessmen have emigrated through foreign direct investment. According to Wessels, fixed investment by South Africans abroad exceed fixed investment lured to our shores. 

All in all, people have had enough of the ineffective, wasteful governance, the corruption, the sad state of public services, the absolute lawlessness, the undermining of property rights, the abysmal standard of education, the dilapidation of our healthcare system and the lack of job opportunities, and will leave without a moment’s hesitation, should the opportunity present itself.

South Africa is haemorrhaging skilled workers, and according to Wessels, the government will need to implement several urgent interventions to curb the Brain Drain, and also find a way to bring skills back into the country in order to grow the failing economy.  

Back in April, President Ramaphosa passed the tongue-in-cheek comment that, if he had his way, he would tie young white people to a tree to prevent them from leaving South Africa.

But in reality, the only way to get any skilled South Africans, of all races, to commit to South Africa, would be to clean up the corruption, put an end to crime, create more work opportunities and free the country of discrimination. 

Now that’s a tall order. 

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