Rand Merchant Bank chief executive James Formby says that thousands of skilled people are leaving South Africa every year, leaving major gaps in the country’s future economy.
Speaking to 702, Formby said that the country’s brain drain “trickle” mustn’t turn into a torrent.
He added that it was difficult to assess exactly how many people have left the country, as the government does not track emigration data – meaning analysts have to use other countries’ information to piece together statistics.
“The only way you can actually do it is to look at South Africans that are living in other countries and try and piece it together over long-term numbers,” he said.
“The best estimate is around 23,000 people leaving per year, but anecdotal evidence is showing it is higher.”
Formby said that these South Africans are not necessarily looking for opportunities and ‘greener pastures’ in other countries, with many simply ‘terrified of what’s happening in their own backyard’.
In a separate interview with BusinessDay this week, Formby said that the country is losing qualified and experienced people in their thirties and forties to positions overseas.
This is especially the case for skills in the infrastructure and development sectors, which have been highlighted by president Cyril Ramaphosa as key to the country’s recovery.
Formby added that it was extremely difficult to bring skilled people into the country which has led to an erosion in the country’s skill base – a serious issue flagged by RMB.
“For example, the South African Medical Association did research on medical specialists… and 38% of them said they would leave if NHI was fully implemented.
“That uncertainty isn’t the kind of uncertainty you want for those specialist skills because it takes years to develop and they need to train, in turn, the people that come after them.”
Formby said that around 1.7% of civil engineers have left the country in the last few years. “If we want an infrastructure-led recovery in this economy it’s critical to make sure that we stem that tide.”