For years, poor governance and policy changes in South Africa have pushed skilled professionals into seeking greener pastures overseas. While this has mostly been associated with white South Africans, more recent findings show that black professionals are now more likely to jump ship.
This is according to Johannes Wessels, director of entrepreneurial non-profit, The Enterprise Observatory of South Africa (EOSA), who highlighted some alarming findings in the Department of Home Affairs’ 2017 white paper on emigration.
For every professional immigrating to South Africa – eight professionals are emigrating, the researchers found, and while a large number of white professionals were making the jump, in recent years, the annual number of black professionals leaving South Africa exceeds the tally of professional white emigrants.
The researchers found that between 1989 and 2003, over 120,000 of the 520,000 mainly white emigrants had professional qualifications (one in four) and SA lost 7% of its total stock of professionals.
“Considering that the 1990 to 2003 emigration of skills continued despite the return of stabilisation under Mandela and Mbeki, one can easily state that at least a similar number of white professional people have left between 2004 and 2018 – amounting to at least a quarter million of white professionals,” Wessels said.
“(However), the last phase of the Zuma catastrophe as well as the embrace by the ANC of expropriation without compensation have led to an acceleration of skilled emigration: this time from all race groups.”
According to Wessels, taking the findings of the white paper into consideration, it can conservatively calculated that at least 400,000 professionals have left South Africa.
“This contributes to the shrinking percentage of high income households, as well as removing people in high personal tax brackets as contributors to SARS,” he said.
Why people are leaving
While white South Africans are more likely to leave due to various “push” factors – like fear of change and lack of opportunities open to professionals (due to BEE and other government policies) – it also boils down to ineffective governance, and shunning progressive development for cadre deployment.
“At township level, the disgruntled resorted to service protests,” Wessels said.
“At professional level, they packed their bags and headed to the emigration counter with highly skilled blacks now outnumbering their white counterparts, bound in solidarity by a deep non-racial gatvolheid in the slide into corruption, lawlessness, dismal public services and the undermining of property rights.”
At investor level, South African businessmen have emigrated through FDI: fixed investment by South Africans abroad exceed fixed investments lured to our shores, he said.
Wessels said that the government needed to urgently implement several interventions to not only curb to loss of much-needed skills through emigration, but to also bring skills back to the country to grow the economy and build a better country for all.
Failing to do so, “the ranks of the Patrick Soon-Shiongs and Elon Musks (will be expanded) and countries like Mauritius and Botswana (will be enabled) to progress while the vision of the National Development Plan will fade into pure fiction,” he said.