Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition)
Is it greener on this side of the fence?
WHILE at least half-a-million white South Africans exited the country in search of greener pastures over the past three decades, experts believe Cyril Ramaphosa’s election as president might cause them to make a U-turn.
A Statistics SA report released in 2017 projected that about 150 000 would emigrate over the next five years.
But Michael Morris of the SA Institute of Race Relations (IRR) differed. Morris said while there was a new spirit of optimism swirling in South Africa, he was not sure how long that would last.
“If Cyril Ramaphosa’s administration succeeds in sustaining confidence – which will depend on higher economic growth – the country will regain skilled expatriates, of whatever colour. The reverse is equally true,” he said. Morris warned that race might be a deceptive indicator, saying he was doubtful that racial considerations prompted their emigration.
Stats SA said population growth estimates showed that the white population decreased by 22 250 people, from 4.52 million in 2016 to 4.49m in 2017.
While Morris said their polling data showed there was no evidence to suggest whites had any reason to feel unwelcome or that their future lay elsewhere in the world, the economic decline during former President Jacob Zuma’s tenure was one of the triggers of the exodus.
Zuma was elected as the president in 2009 but resigned this month after mounting pressure from inside and outside his party, the ANC.
“Also the wide-scale corruption as well as crude racial nationalism, has undermined confidence in the country. Some threats remain today, principally the ANC’s apparent determination to press on with expropriation without compensation in the land reform arena,” said Morris.
He warned that the expropriation of land without compensation, which the ANC adopted at its 54th national conference in December, was a recipe for disaster economically, because he believed it would undermine property rights in general. “As things stand, farmers, for one, could be forgiven for weighing up their options. That ball is in the Ramaphosa court.”
Morris said the exodus of whites was not significant economically but what was significant was the country losing ambitious middle-class people.
“These are people, regardless of colour, who might have stayed had conditions been more conducive for their success. Losing people who have these attributes, whether white or black, comes at a cost.”
Mark Smit, 54, who left in 2013 for Australia said his exiting was triggered by the dwindling economy and corruption in government. “I couldn’t stay in a country that was in the hands of corrupt individuals who were bent on destroying the country that people like (late former president) Nelson Mandela dedicated his entire life to building.”
Asked if he would come back now after Ramaphosa’s election, he said, “No I’m not but I hope that he (Ramaphosa) restores hope for the benefit of all South Africans.”
Angel Jones of the Homecoming Revolution, said in the past three months they had seen inquiries triple from South Africans living abroad since the start of this year.
Her organisation specialised in headhunting and placing globally experienced African talent on the continent.
“South Africans who had been toying with the idea of returning but were reluctant to do so because of the economic downturn and destructive political situation, are now seriously considering making the move.”
She said the inquiries had stemmed mainly from South African professionals in London and the US, interested in opportunities back home.
“We see Ramaphosa’s vision as having a positive effect on bringing back all South Africans, black and white. We’re excited to see the economy picking up and we look forward to the local private sector demand increasing for internationally skilled South Africans.”
She said their message to South Africans living abroad was, “Don’t wait until it gets better, come home and make it better.”
Asked what her organisation was doing to attract South Africans abroad back home, she said: “Our organisation is able to showcase South Africa and the continent in a positive light by communicating honest and inspirational stories of people who have returned, showcasing exciting job opportunities and showing real evidence of the potential….”