The curious case of the ex-South Africans

Here’s an interesting article from Ilham Rawoot in this week’s Mail and Guardian (one of very few that actually made it in – the Christmas issue was rather thin).

Martine Schaffer, managing director of Homecoming Revolution, a non-profit organisation that encourages and aids the return of skilled expatriates estimates that two million South Africans live abroad – mostly in Australia, Canada and the United States. Each month, she says, about 200 of them contact her organisation for advice on how to come home. Emigration is not a uniquely South African phenomenon, she says, but nowhere else is the act of leaving so steeped in guilt.

Schaffer described to the Mail & Guardian the emigration trends that she has seen over the past decade. Although more black people are heading off these days, most emigrants are white, she says. She attributes earlier waves of emigration to hysteria, generated by the political situation: “The people who left in 2000 didn’t want this country to succeed. When the lights went out [in the Eskom crisis] they were celebrating.”

Schaffer says 2008 was the year of “our biggest outflow”. The people who left at that point felt they had “stuck it out and had given the country a chance. Then Polokwane happened, Zuma came into power, there was the Eskom crisis and they felt their fears became rational.”

The article doesn’t make clear whether figures are available for 2009 yet. Probably not, as there may be a huge pre-New Year exodus or something, but I’m interested to see them. Because it seems to me that the “rational” fears of those 2008 emigrants haven’t actually followed through.
While Eskom and Zuma are still a little shaiky (geddit?) around the edges, crime rates have fallen, the country has ridden out the global credit crunch and the weather is superb. There hasn’t been the widespread load-shedding of early 2008, Zuma hasn’t killed all the whities and we have the World Cup coming next year. It’s all good.

For me, the exceptionalism comes not with the guilt of those leaving, but rather with the bad-mouthing of SA once they’ve gone. Now, I know that not all SA ex-pats do this: I can name a couple from the blogroll who definitely don’t. But there’s a huge proportion that do. I’ve not really seen this in ex-pats from anywhere else. Perhaps the odd toot about how Gordon Brown has dragged the UK into Kak Creek without a paddle, but that’s really about it. Nothing so serious, so vehement and so continuous as the stuff you get here. There really is no need to feel guilty for leaving – it’s all about perception and if you really see no future here, then go – but then move on, be positive, celebrate your new home, rather than vilifying your previous one.

Last word to Hilary Alexander, who went to London from 10 years, but is now back home in Cape Town:

Being away from home was like walking for a long time with a stone in your shoe and you can’t shift it. Now it’s as if someone has taken the stone out of my shoe.

And it’s sunny.

4 thoughts on “The curious case of the ex-South Africans

  1. After being sort of away for quite a while, I have now come back (sort of).

    Being in the company of South Africans who constantly have to justify their decision can get a bit tedious. Unfortunately London is full of them, so if you live there you happen to hear it quite often.

    So far so good being back, apart from the hideous seasonal traffic that is around at these times of year.
    Down side is I have to make 2 more trips in the next couple of months, but should settle in nicely in time for winter.

    If you are going to the cricket on any of the days, fancy a beer?


  2. Hoping I’m one of those on the blogroll that never slagged SA off… I had no issue with the country, I was simply moving that much closer to home. I always tell people it’s a gorgeous country, and really worth a visit. Personally, however, I don’t think I am going to be one of those returnees, simply ‘cos SA isn’t actually my home country, and no matter how long I lived there, it never will be.

    And yes, I love moaning about Gordon Brown – he’s such a plank and deserves the criticism!! Bring on the elections, I say! 😀
    .-= Helga Hansen´s last blog ..No news is good news… =-.

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