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Brain drain reversal

By Tanya Farber Time of article published Dec 28, 2011

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The year 2011 has been called a milestone in which the country’s “brain drain” was firmly in reverse, with trends showing that fewer people were leaving South African shores, and many expats were returning home after living abroad.

Brigitte Britten-Kelly, managing executive of an organisation called Homecoming Revolution, says “there are certainly fewer people emigrating, more South Africans coming home, and a more upbeat sentiment towards South Africa”.

Agreeing with analysts and industry players, Britten-Kelly says that the allure of home soil has been heightened by global economic conditions.

“The turbulent economic conditions in European and US markets are making people re-asses where they want to be and often they choose to come home to South Africa,” she says, adding: “We live in a globalised world where skills are sought after, so people will always come and go, but many people are realising that every country has its own set of problems, yet in South Africa you get to live a life not just of success, but of significance too.”

She says people return home for family, friends, lifestyle and a sense of belonging.

Property group Chas Everitt International says it has been receiving several calls a month from expats planning to come home, for reasons including “extreme weather, political protests, financial upheavals, and declining job opportunities across Europe and the US”.

Managing director Berry Everitt says in some cases it is purely for financial reasons.

“Some are trading on the fact that many South African companies are currently prepared to offer excellent packages to skilled expats who will work in South Africa, even if they only stay long enough to train a local replacement.”

He said properties most favoured by expats contemplating a return were lock-up-and-go homes in estates and security complexes, priced between R850 000 and R1.2 million.

Recent research by the World Economic Forum might also explain the optimism that experts say is on the rise.

In September, the WEF’s global competitiveness index for 2011-2012 found that South Africa had improved its ranking by four positions to move into 50th place.

This makes it the highest ranked country in sub-Saharan Africa, and the second-placed nation among the Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and SA).

The report said SA’s financial market development was particularly impressive and showed high levels of confidence “at a time when trust is returning only slowly in many other parts of the world”.

According to FNB’s property market analyst, Ewald Kellerman, property sales resulting from emigration have reached their lowest mark since 2008, showing that the brain drain has slowed down.

The stats show that in 2008 emigration selling hit a high of 20 percent of all sales. By last year, it was down to 10 percent and by this year it hit 4 percent and remained there throughout the last quarter.

“Much of South Africa’s brain drain over the past two decades was fuelled by great employment opportunities elsewhere in what was until a few years ago a booming global economy,” says Kellerman.

“This is no longer the case, and in weak economic times more people stay put in their current employment and location.”

He adds that this comes from SA’s having improved its relative economic position in the world by merely having maintained good macroeconomic management, and not piling up its national debt until it causes a national crisis.

For Ann Nurock, an advertising executive who was transferred to Toronto in 2008 and returned to SA two months ago, it was more a cultural issue.

She said: “I honestly think people don’t realise that even with the big issues we face in SA, you don’t appreciate how good it is here until you leave. Many people get to the other side and don’t want to admit that they’ve made a mistake.” - Cape Times

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