SA's woes spark another exodus

Published Oct 6, 2006


Jacob Zuma's criminal trials, BEE, crime and rising prices - it's all proving too much for some and the number of skilled people wanting to emigrate has risen recently.

This exodus has come at a time when Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka has described the skills shortage as a national crisis impeding growth.

Emigration specialists said various recent crises and the prospect of a Zuma presidency had rocked many people's confidence, causing a spike in their business.

"There's been a bit of a rush lately," Johannesburg emigration expert Garry Loseby confirmed.

Another, David Wilcocks, of the Four Corners emigration company, said: "There's no question that emigration enquiries are accelerating."

Loseby said: "There's no racial element. The people going now are generally very concerned about the future for their children - their safety, education and future jobs.

"And there's probably some fear around the Zuma issue too.

"Also, people had been buoyed by the economy, but now it's taking a bit of a hammering."

Addressing the possibility of a Zuma presidency, an emigration expert who asked to remain anonymous said: "A lot of educated South Africans of all races are saying there is going to be damage (to the country) and they are thinking of leaving."

The experts said many who had emigrated held dual nationality and simply did not disclose that they were leaving permanently - thus retaining South African citizenship. Thus accurate emigration statistics were difficult to determine.

The Economist magazine recently claimed that while official statistics showed that more than 16 000 "highly skilled" South Africans had emigrated between 1994 and 2001, the real numbers were probably three to four times higher.

The Homecoming Revolution, an organisation founded to lure expatriate South Africans back, said on Thursday that as many as three-million could now be living abroad, perhaps half of them in the United Kingdom alone.

Most of these were white - representing more than a third of South Africa's official white population of 4 374-million .

Emigration experts said those leaving listed crime and uncertainty about their children's future as their main reasons for leaving.

On crime, Wilcocks said: "After the past 12 or 15 years, people are tired of living in cages. They want to live where they don't have to lock themselves in at night, where they can play in a park without being harassed or go to a shop at night - and walk there."

Some, he said, were going to the trouble and expense of acquiring foreign residency visas even if they did not intend to quit immediately.

Many of these were valid for up to five years - "so it's an insurance policy. If they need to, they can move fast", he said.

The group on the fast track to emigrate to such countries as Australia and New Zealand were tradesmen.

"They're wanted almost anywhere," Wilcocks said. "I can place a qualified bricklayer far quicker than I can a stockbroker."

The South African Institute for Race Relations called on the government this week to try to stem the exodus of skilled people.

Researcher Marco MacFarlane said: "It's the young professionals that seem to be going now, with their children.

"The important issue is not that they're whites; it's the fact that they have skills that are important for our economy."

The most recent research showed the white population had fallen by around 840 000 - or 16,1 percent - in the past 10 years.

In contrast, the numbers of people of other races had grown: 9,1 percent for "Asian/Indian", 15,1 percent for "Coloured" and 17,4 percent for "African".

"The burden of HIV and Aids in this (white) group is not enough to account for this pattern of loss," MacFarlane said.

"The latest Human Sciences Research Council figures show just one percent of whites are infected."

But large gaps had since appeared in the population profile of whites between the ages of 25 and 35 and young children, suggesting that the younger adults, who had their working lives ahead of them, were leaving in the greatest numbers.

In response, some of the country's top companies had launched a recruitment drive, Woza Ekhaya, to bring skilled South Africans back home.

Nearly 20 local companies, including Sappi, Netcare, Murray & Roberts, Dimension Data and PriceWaterhouseCoopers, had leapt at the chance to recruit South Africans abroad.

"There is such a critical skills shortage that we are holding two recruitment drives in London, at the Chelsea Football Club on October 28 and at the College of Surgeons in Dublin on October 29," managing director of Homecoming Revolution, Martine Schaffer, said.

But she questioned whether affirmative action was a legitimate reason for skilled white and coloured citizens to leave the country.

"Because of the skills shortage, we have to employ the skills, regardless of their race.

"Our biggest concern right now is the crime situation. People are not used to living under the strain and pressure that we have right now," she said.

"Billions in tax revenue is lost. And for every skilled person that leaves, ten unskilled jobs are lost."

"We always hear: 'I don't want to leave this country, but I'm being forced to leave'.

"They say they can't get jobs, but what are they doing in London? Menial labour that they'd never do back here."

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