Young South Africans explain why they want to leave the country

A large number of South Africans are emigrating from the country in search of better opportunities abroad.

This has led to a worrying trend of both wealth and skills leaving our borders – with young South Africans marked as the most likely to make the leap abroad.

News24 called on young South Africans to explain their reasons for wanting to leave the country and what would have to be different for them to stay or even return to their country of birth.

The publication received a number of responses- from IT managers and engineers to students, and unemployed, which has become a recurring theme for many in a country with a stagnant growth rate.

The current unemployment rate in the country is 27.1%, according to StatsSA, while the unemployment rate among citizens eligible in the labour market, aged between 15 and 24 years old, sits at a staggering 54.7%.

As a result, a number of respondents have spoken out about their disillusionment over the future of the country as we approach elections next month. Many identified the following core themes for wanting to leave:

  • Inability to find jobs;
  • Corruption;
  • Crime and safety;
  • BBBEE and Affirmative Action;
  • Lack of a future.

“I do not want to leave, but in a competitive job market with employment equity targets I have had no other choice,” said one letter.

“I love my country, Ntate Ramaphosa, but the deliberate disrespect of state resources being looted and abused by democratically elected officials is disheartening to watch from the periphery,” wrote another.

“In order to stay, I would need encouragement. Although verbal encouragement helps, I’d need it in actions. Rather than being told to stay, I’d need to be shown. Shown that I’m wanted,” another said.

Big jump in South Africans looking to leave

FNB property sector strategist, John Loos, said that there has been a steady increase in the number of South Africans who are selling their homes for emigration-related reasons – rising from 2% in 2013 to 10% at the end of 2018.

One of the biggest reasons for leaving is the job market, with a February report by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) showing that more young South African working professionals are willing to relocate for work compared to their contemporaries around the rest of the world.

The survey showed that 71% of  South African respondents (young and working professionals) said that they are willing to relocate for work.

The study also showed that South Africans’ willingness to relocate increased from 64% in 2014.

“The research revealed quite a few idiosyncrasies among young working South African professionals,” said Stefano Niavas, partner and MD at BCG in South Africa.

“More of them are willing to travel abroad for work and see it as an opportunity to improve their skills and secure their careers.

“Many multinationals can offer exactly what these young people are looking for, both in international markets and in South Africa,” he said.

According to the study, the US remains the most favourable work location for South Africans – even amid the volatility of its national politics – followed by Australia, the UK, Canada and Germany.

Popular destinations 

American think tank, Pew Research, estimates that at least 900,000 people born in South Africa were currently living in other countries in 2017.

Angel Jones, CEO of Homecoming Revolution, a recruitment firm that specialises in ‘brain gain’ and bringing global African talent back to the continent, believes that this number is likely closer to three times as high (2,700,000+).

Alarmingly, many of these people are skilled and educated, resulting in a major brain drain.

The Department of Home Affairs does not keep record of South Africans who emigrate permanently; however, receiver countries do keep track of immigrants, which gives an indication of how many people are actually leaving.

Countries like the UK, New Zealand and Australia are popular destinations for skilled South Africans looking for an opportunity to further their careers, or create new beginnings for their family – particularly as many feel that South Africa’s economy shows no sign of improving in the near term.

And a report by the Enterprise Observatory of South Africa (EOSA), shows that South Africa’s financial and business sector has shrunk dramatically over the last decade. The report suggested that as many as 400,000 high-income professionals have emigrated from South Africa since 1994.

EOSA’s Johannes Wessels told 702’s Bruce Whitfield, that the 2017 government white paper on migration found that for every one South African returning to the country, eight are leaving.

The same white paper showed that the average number of black professionals leaving the country exceeds the number of white South Africans leaving, he said.

“The economy is clearly a big driver, and so is the security situation and the high levels of crime,” Wessels said.

“On the World Economic Forum Index, the cost of crime on business in South Africa is the fifth highest in the world – behind only countries like Venezuela. It is a very difficult position for businesses to operate in and for professionals to make a contribution,” he said.

Presidential plea

President Cyril Ramaphosa recently said that there is place in South Africa for all people who live in it. He called for young white South Africans not to leave the country in a pre-election campaign drive in Stellenbosch earlier in the month.

“I don’t want white, young South Africans to leave the country. And if I could, I will tie them down to a tree and say don’t leave, I want you here in this country. So, I want all the skills.”

He said that the fears that many white South Africans have of not being wanted, “is entirely not true”. “There is a place, there is room for all of us,” the president said.

Ramaphosa tried to allay fears around South Africa’s coming land reform changes, saying that it is going to be done in accordance with our Constitution.

“It is not going to be a land grab,” he said.

Read: Good news for South Africans looking to move to the UK: expert

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Young South Africans explain why they want to leave the country