South African diaspora: brain drain or gain?

By Rhynie Greef Time of article published Nov 29, 2011

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London - The world’s immigrant networks are “a rare bright spark in the world economy” , according to “The Economist”.

It has calculated that 3% of the world’s people are first generation migrants.

South Africa's diaspora is only about half of that at 1,5% of its population based on a study in 2009 by Professor Jonathan Crush of Queens University in Canada and Cape Town University. He calculated South Africa’s diaspora as just more than 600 000 of which 40% were in Europe, mostly in the United Kingdom.

The South African diaspora is often portrayed as a brain drain. Could it, however, be a brain gain? There are some very influential and comparatively quite young South Africans in very high positions in the UK. Invariably they also deliver value to South Africa.

This was shown up again a few days ago when the South African Business Club of London, with more than 500 members, held its annual awards event in South Africa House on Trafalgar Square.

The evening in the cinema of South Africa House opened with the South African anthem sung by prize-winning baritone Njabulo Madlala.

Many operatic exports like him study and perform overseas and then go back to deliver value in South Africa.

Last week’s Woman in Business award went to Caroline Rowland, a television and advertising producer who grew up in Welkom and studied at Rhodes.

She was recently recognised by The Observer as one of the ten most influential people in London’s 2012 Olympic Bid.

She won acclaim for her film on the 2008 Beijing Olympics and her successful work on the bids for the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia and the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup Bid.

She personifies South Africans who set the world stage alight.

The. Person chosen as Rising Star of the Year was Achumile Majija who grew up in Umtata, is referred to as the “Young Obama from Africa” and is now a senior finance manager in London.

He is involved in community projects in South Africa as a director of Uthando and is a student adviser at UCT.

Debbie Klein was selected as Business Leader of the Year. She is director and CEO of Engine, a major communications and advertising company which handles 1 in 5 of the top 100 marketing spenders in the UK.

She is an advertisement for South African talent, as is the Entrepreneur of the Year, Kirsten Goss, a young jewellery designer from Durban who designed pieces for the recent Royal Wedding and has shops in London, Durban and Johannesburg.

Her products are also sold on the Eurostar train between the UK and the Continent. She could not attend because she was back in South Africa to open a shop.

The Children’s Hospital Trust of South Africa was chosen as Charity of the Year. It is a major supporter of the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital in Cape Town. This is the leading children’s hospital on the African continent which was started by World War Two soldiers who contributed part of their salaries. This winning UK charity helps to fund the more that 250 000 patient visits per year at that hospital and is proof of a flow of money to South Africa due to South African links in the UK as well as proof of value given back to South Africa..

Leading people like these in the South African diaspora make it easier to do business across borders.

They help spread ideas and money in an ever more mobile world. They provide feedback, South African export value, financial remittances back to South Africa and bolster the value of Brand South Africa. - Independent Foreign Service

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