South Africa may lose 53% of graduates to emigration, survey shows

A passenger wheels luggage through the departures hall at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa, in February 2020. (Photo: Guillem Sartorio / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Half of South Africa’s top earners and university graduates are considering emigration as citizens lose faith in the country’s future, the Social Research Foundation (SRF) said, citing a survey it conducted. 

Out of 3,204 registered voters the Johannesburg-based research group surveyed in July, 53% of university graduates and 43% of those who earned more than R20,000 a month may leave the country, according to the findings. Overall, 23% of those surveyed said they may look to live in another country.

Confidence in South Africa’s future has fallen after more than a decade when average economic growth failed to match the increase in population, meaning the country’s citizens have been getting poorer. The country has been afflicted by corruption scandals in recent years and regular power outages since 2014. More than 350 people died in a spate of looting and arson in July 2021.

The number of those considering emigration “rises with social and economic status”, the SRF said in a statement accompanying the survey results on Thursday.

“People between the ages of 25 and 40 are the most likely age groups to be considering emigration,” according to the foundation. “The data is consistent with the foundation’s past findings on confidence in South Africa’s future.”

If an increasing number of South Africa’s richest people leave the country, the number of those paying tax, which supports welfare payments to almost a third of South Africans and other government services, will plunge, the SRF said.

“South Africa is vulnerable to surrendering near half of its top skills base and income earners and, by extension, much of its remaining tax base,” the SRF said.

The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 1.7 percentage points.


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  • Katharine Ambrose says:

    While other countries may also lose their skilled people to emigration South Africa is not welcoming foreign replacements. This brain drain has been going on for decades. Ask any middle class parent.

    • Rod H MacLeod says:

      The statistics are skewed by the de facto situation that not all emigrants formally notify SARS and/or the SARB that they have emigrated. Most of the SA kids living and working abroad are not counted as emigrants.

  • Wayne Alexander says:

    Why can we not get access to this report? Why does the SRF have no online or social media presence?

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