Defend Truth

BRAIN REGAIN?

Gone for good — dwindling number of South African emigrants return

Gone for good — dwindling number of South African emigrants return
(Graphic: Lisa Nelson)

Stats SA's first migration report shows SA has lost almost a million citizens to emigration since 2000. The data also suggests claims about a ‘brain regain’ in SA are overly optimistic.

Grey skies, geopolitical uncertainty, the high cost of living and the exorbitant price of biltong abroad appear not to be strong enough pull factors for South Africa. 

Despite cheery anecdotal claims by estate agencies, tax practitioners and international moving companies that South Africans were returning to the country of their birth in droves, Stats SA’s evidence shows that far fewer Saffas are doing so.

In fact, the rising numbers of South Africans emigrating to the UK, Australia, and the US — long favoured destinations for South African émigrés — have helped boost those country’s populations by significant percentages. 

Stats SA’s long-awaited Migration Profile Report for South Africa: A Country Profile 2023 was finally released last week. 

Based on the latest census data, as well as data from household surveys, academic research, the World Bank, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Unesco, the SA Police Service and the departments of Home Affairs and Basic Education, the report was funded through the European Union’s Southern Africa Migration Management Project.

The country’s first migration report shows the brain drain is significant and long-lasting, as reflected in the declining numbers of South Africans returning to our shores in the past decade.

Rising numbers leaving

In 2000, 501 600 South African citizens resided abroad. By 2010, that number had increased to 743,807, and by 2020 — the latest available data from the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs — their numbers had reached 914, 901. 

Europe is the most appealing region for residence, attracting 39,3% of migrants. North America’s share is at 18.1%; Oceania 29.9%; Asia 2.2%, and Latin America and the Caribbean 0.3%.

Since 2000, the number of South Africans in the UK has grown from 136,720 to 247,336; Australia from 80,650 to 199,690; and the US from 65,171 to 117,321. New Zealand has almost tripled its SA emigrants, from 25,359 to 73,846 and Canada — popular with healthcare professionals and other highly skilled immigrants — from 36,949 to 48,093.

Gone for good

Between 2011 and 2022, a sharply declining number of South Africans came back to give the country another try. 

In 2011, 45,866 citizens returned (46.2% were male and 53.8% female), but by 2022, the returns had dropped to 27,983 (with an equal split between male and female). 

The distribution across population groups, ages and sex has shifted noticeably since 2011, when white South Africans comprised 56.6% of returnees, contrasting with black Africans at 32%.

In 2022, whites accounted for 52.9% of returnees, black Africans for 37.1%,  coloureds 4.9%, Indians/Asians 4.6%, and “other” for 1.9%. 

The report shows that by 2022, there was a notable shift in the composition of returnees, with white South Africans still constituting the largest group, but their proportion had decreased to 52.9%. The proportion of black Africans increased to 37.1% of the returnees, while coloureds remained relatively stable at 4.1%, Indians/Asians decreased slightly to 3.3% and “other” increased to 2.7%.

Where they are returning to is also shifting: In 2011, Gauteng saw the highest number of returnees — 17,684 (38.6% of the total) — but by 2022, that number had dwindled to 7,447, just 26.6% of the total. 

The Western Cape is the most popular destination, seeing a sharp rise in returnees (from 23.3% in 2011 to 35% in 2022), despite a slight decrease in absolute numbers.

The second part of the report dealing with the governance of migration will be released in early May. DM

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Micheal Steyn says:

    I often wonder if we do not have a department of propaganda in South Africa. From the moment these rumors started theydid not make sense or correlate with our daily experiences here.

    • Sphamandla Lushaba says:

      I doubt that the information is false, especially Western Cape being the preferred destination for returnees..
      hopefully 2024 election outcomes will favour even more brain regain!

      • Kenneth FAKUDE says:

        It’s sad that people are not returning because the country is once more attractive, in Europe the prospect of ww3 is real and it might contribute to this shift, we are doing worse than 1994 to 1997.
        Depending on a lot of backlash from the toes we step on a financial setback is possible.
        Decisions have consequences but it doesn’t mean selling our souls we just need to be human and self reliant.

        • Jimbo Smith says:

          “The country is once more attractive.” Really!!?? Could you unpack that comment with some practical examples. Why do you think emigration is spiking at present?

        • Denise Smit says:

          We have more than a WW here, with murders, rape, robberies, high jacking, attacking of people in their homes and with no able police or prosecuting authority. We all live behind walls and security guard for protection. It comes hugely and for free of course if you are a politician on the right side of government

        • Jennifer D says:

          How is the country “more attractive”? No electricity, no water, no infrastructure, no law and order. I guess it would appear that total degradation is attractive to a large number of South Africans as that is where we are.

        • Mark Penwarden says:

          I am not sure how the country is suddenly more attractive. With failing water and electrical infrastructure, rampant corruption, ineffective civil services etc. it’s tough to see SA as more attractive than say 10 years ago. Or even 5 years ago. I do concede that the cost of living and housing in SA is better relative to places like the UK or Australia, but safety and security are massive draw cards.

          • Kenneth FAKUDE says:

            The comment said the people are not returning because the country is now attractive, it even says the country is worse than 1994 to 1997 during the rainbow blues

          • Johann Fourie says:

            The cost of living might be higher if you calculate in Rand’s, However once you are in the new. Country of residence’s earning system, financially it becomes as good if not better than South Africa financially. Include all the other benefits that all South Africans wish for and the new country is king.

        • Lynda Tyrer says:

          I disagree with you this country is a mess right now,tell me what is attractive. My family are well settled in their new countries and would not for one second think of returning here, I would also not let them knowing the truth. Btw any world war would affect all countries not just the EU.

        • Geoff Coles says:

          The risk of WW3 has only been more likely since about 2020, all Russia and Putin of course, and this mostly postdated the latest stats.

        • Patterson Alan John says:

          Hello Kenneth. Unfortunately, people have misread your sentence. If I am correct, what you are actually saying is – If the country were more attractive, people would return, but unfortunately, SA is worse than the 1994 to 1997 period, when there was hope for the future. Perhaps the fear of a WWIII in Europe, is encouraging some expats to return.

        • Patterson Alan John says:

          Hello Kenneth. Unfortunately, people have misread your sentence. If I am correct, what you are actually saying is – If the country were more attractive, people would return, but unfortunately, SA is worse than the 1994 to 1997 period, when there was hope for the future. Perhaps the fear of a WWIII in Europe, is encouraging some expats to return.

        • Mary Contrary says:

          There won’t be a WW3 in Europe. I think Putin is problematic and has to be watched carefully, but the conditions that usually lead to war, as in the 1930s, are not present in 21st century Europe. Everyone is too well-off to let that happen. And we still have NATO watching our backs, at least for the moment. I’d like to think the Americans won’t let us down. Too much at stake.

          • Johann Olivier says:

            The main reason there will not be a (survivable!) war is that Putin’s Russia has been shown to be a paper tiger. All he has is a nuclear deterrent. Does anyone truly believe that modern Russia, unable to control the skies over neigbouring Ukraine, could/would roll into NATO-Europe? This whole Ukraine exercise has been the most disastrous debacle, perhaps, in military history. In one fell swoop, Putin punctured Russia’s conventional ‘super-power’ status/myth, lost his lucrative Western energy market & watched NATO expand. Is Russia still dangerous? Yes. Whenever someone delusional has control over nukes & can make military decisions based on myth, there is danger. Finland would kick Russia’s conventional butt. If he goes with the Samson option, we’re all doomed.

    • Piet le Roux says:

      It’s natural to doubt stories that don’t match up with what we see every day. But saying it’s all propaganda oversimplifies things. Rumors can come from many places, like misunderstandings or exaggerations, not just from a single source trying to control information.

      It’s fascinating how these findings make sense to me, having left South Africa. Being outside the country gives me a different view. From where I stand, the report actually seem to fit better. It’s a reminder that context and personal experiences can shape how we interpret information.

  • Gxobinjasambe Mntungwa says:

    Hamba uzobuya wena,hamba angikathali mina😂😂😂😂

    • Richard Baker says:

      “Go and come back, go, I haven’t started yet.” Sorry Gxbinjasambe-this is Googles translation of your message-sad to say I still don’t understand-please elucidate!
      Sad to say but this article hits the serious consequences of these numbers-the effective decimation of South Africa’s middle class. Those who go to work, create jobs and wealth and pay taxes. Coming soon is the demographic winter of 30-40 years having left with their children ( the missing middle class of the future) in combination with the post-war baby boomers reaching retirement and drawing down their retirement provisions.
      Long term insurers are already warning of reducing numbers of pension contributors and premium incomes-which, in writers view-together with the reducing number of companies on the JSE-signal a massive hole coming within a decade.
      SA is holed below the waterline-no coming back from that!

      • Greeff Kotzé says:

        I think it’s along the lines of: “You leave and come back. (Just) leave, I don’t care/mind.” But I had learned isiXhosa (none too successfully) instead of isiZulu, so take that with a pinch of salt.

        The last bit might also be translated more literally to “I haven’t gotten tired (yet)”, though.

    • Karsten Döpke says:

      Perhaps he means that getting rid of those pesky ex colonials is worth it, even if it means destroying the country to achieve it, the equivalent of burning down your house to get your ex to move out.

    • Patterson Alan John says:

      “You can come and go, go and I don’t care.”
      Sir, you should be worried.
      That may be so, but the loss of skilled people and their taxes and GST paid, all goes to support all the people of SA. My estimate is that R100 billion of taxes each year, has been lost by these people leaving. so, if these people work for another 30 years before they retire, SA will have lost R2.88 trillion and that does not include inflation over the 30yrs. Also remember that they take their children and when they start working, their future taxes are lost to SA as well.
      Start working out this figure and SA is very much poorer than it could have been, had the Government done the job they were elected to do. No country will prosper when skilled people leave in these numbers.
      “Nami angikhathazekile. Ngihlala e-Australia.” – I’m also not worried. I live in Australia.

  • J dW says:

    Funny how the colours of graphs represent the old SA flag!

  • Colin Louw says:

    I believe Kenneth sees only one side of how attractive SA is when compared to Europe! WW# in Europe?? Not sure what he is on but there is no way that is not even a one in a billion chance. Anyway most Saffers don’t go there – they go to Aussie NZ, Canada and USA. The country has got less attractive over the last 5 and 10 year period. No employment opportunities for honest folk especially those of the paler inclination. looming medical chaos, possible expropriation of not only your land, but your possessions too (read the fine print in that nefarious act) totally stuffed infrastructure. Who in their sane mind would want to come back to SA? Sure it is a wonderful country BUT to make it better there is a desperate need to get rid of only 3% of the population on a permanent basis.

  • DOUGLAS MACARTHUR says:

    Interesting how the figure for South Africans in other African countries at over 10% is not mentioned at all by the author?

    • Vernon Hatley says:

      It is not just African countries. The Middle East (United Arab Emirates) is another destination. Saudi Arabia is another common destination. I personally spent 10+ years in Saudi Arabia. Never an unsafe moment, despite what people may think. On one occasion I was on the border between Iraq, Jordan and Saudi Arabia under heavy armed guard by the Saudi Arabian military. All very good experiences.
      Our first use of explosives at a mine in the far north adjacent to the Jordanian border had a Jordanian battalion across the way keeping a close eye on what we were doing.

  • DOUGLAS MACARTHUR says:

    It is very sad that SA has ended up with nearly a million South Africans living and working abroad. There are a lot of us that work abroad but still live in SA. Imagine how different SA would be with this million economically active people in the country. I.e. if they had never left. Or us that work abroad had opportunities or create opportunities in SA. Would be a totally different place.

    • Vernon Hatley says:

      Totally agree. We need to make a distinction between an expat and an emigrant.
      Emigrants leave for good. My brother is a case in point – went to Australia after a very bad experience with young children in Randburg. Some MAY return.
      Expats on the other hand leave the country for work purposes – in my case I worked abroad for 20+ years, earning US$, tax free, accommodation etc. all paid, regular flights home (business class). Why? Because I was considered as unemployable in South Africa. I have two engineering degrees and an MBA. I know many, many people in the same position. All working in parts of Africa, the Middle and Far East. A very good lifestyle.
      One of my sons is currently in the USA. He left for the same reasons as I did – but he left when he was about 25 years of age, for Dubai. He is a qualified Metallurgical Engineer, has subsequently obtained an MBA (London University) and is currently working towards a double masters degree (statistics) in the USA. He graduates in May and is considering converting one of the Masters degrees to a PhD – a further two years study, at the request of the University. He will lecture at the University in this period. Is he likely to return – NO.

      • Kenneth FAKUDE says:

        Off the record Vernon you are a lucky parent I hope you tell the kids how great they are and that’s a big loss for much needed skills in this country.

      • Norman Sander says:

        Yep, agree, the tax lost from expats working offshore is significant. Mostly white guys, who, because of BEE, cannot work in SA and are in the process of developing the infrastructure in a number of countries in West Africa, Central Africa, East Africa.
        I read an article in Nigeria, according to the stats held by the govt, there are circa 60,000 expats in Nigeria and of those Saffers are by far the majority.

    • Vernon Hatley says:

      Totally agree. We need to make a distinction between an expat and an emigrant.
      Emigrants leave for good. My brother is a case in point – went to Australia after a very bad experience with young children in Randburg. Some MAY return.
      Expats on the other hand leave the country for work purposes – in my case I worked abroad for 20+ years, earning US$, tax free, accommodation etc. all paid, regular flights home (business class). Why? Because I was considered as unemployable in South Africa. I have two engineering degrees and an MBA. I know many, many people in the same position. All working in parts of Africa, the Middle and Far East. A very good lifestyle.
      One of my sons is currently in the USA. He left for the same reasons as I did – but he left when he was about 25 years of age, for Dubai. He is a qualified Metallurgical Engineer, has subsequently obtained an MBA (London University) and is currently working towards a double masters degree (statistics) in the USA. He graduates in May and is considering converting one of the Masters degrees to a PhD – a further two years study, at the request of the University. He will lecture at the University in this period. Is he likely to return – NO.

  • Mkili Muzenha says:

    So, SA has lost 1 million people in 24 years, and the writer says this has helped boost other countries population 😄. The US has over 200 million people and how is even a million a significant boost?😄😄😄😄. We have drama Kings and Queens in the DM

    “In fact, the rising numbers of South Africans emigrating to the UK, Australia, and the US — long favoured destinations for South African émigrés — have helped boost those country’s populations by significant percentages”

    • Gavin Hillyard says:

      You are right Mkili. Small percentage for overseas countries. But a significant percentage of economically active South Africans don’t you think?

    • Oom Paul says:

      They significantly boosted the IQ and GDP of those countries, with significant inverse effect on SA

    • Michael Thomlinson says:

      USA is not a preferred destination – Aus and NZ are more popular as they are both looking for skilled immigrants and South Africans and are making up significant numbers in both countries. When I was in Aus for a time I came across many South Africans and even caught a couple speaking Afrikaans at a table next to mine in a restaurant. Remember also that we are the loosers in that these countries did not have to pay for the education of their immigrants. Instead SA taxpayers have paid (partly) but we no longer have the benefit and we have lost their skills. Stats say that for every one professional person, jobs for 3-4 other people are created.

    • Johann Olivier says:

      The US actually has a population of roughly 350 million. So, yes, SA immigrants are a miniscule fragment of a %. They do, however, punch above their weight. They generally come in well-schooled & skilled & generally end up doing pretty well. Dare I say ‘Elon’? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ The loss of these types of folks would be a horrorshow for any country.

  • gorgee beattie says:

    As long as there is an anc government it is downhill all the way.
    How can the present mess be improved by those who created it

  • Guido Frederico says:

    I relocated to the UK from SA with my company in 2021, and over hee it feels like there is well over 1m saffers living here alone. We filled up Twickenhams 100k seater stadium almost completely with green jerseys in Aug last year for the all blacks game. I think the difficulty with gathering stats on emigration is that a lot of saffers have EU or UK passports which means they don’t register in those locations as SA cirizens

    • Barry Charnock says:

      The stats possibly don’t count people with RSA permanent residence status ie Foreign passports as emigrants. That could make for an interesting stat.

      • Paul Morris says:

        There are many dual citizens who leave SA with their foreign passports but don’t formally emigrate. I don’t think these are represented in the quoted stats. It means that there are many more South African emigrants than the above statistics represent.

        • Alan Watkins says:

          I think this is particularly true for young people. Consider two cases. The first, a family of three, ages say 40, 40 and 15. This family has to go through the formal process of emigration, pack their house contents into a container, and is no doubt counted in the stats. The second, a young graduate couple, maybe married maybe not, both aged 25. Neither has been in the job market very long, neither has accumulated any assets. They just sell their few possessions, and buy some plane tickets. They are almost certainly NOT included in the stats.

          • Eon van Wyk says:

            This was exactly my situation. I sold and gave away my belongings, kept the money in my account and just left for the EU.

            Will I come back, probably not as its much better to raise a family here since my taxes are spent correctly and kids won’t sit with years of debt due to study loans for instance.

          • G C says:

            Spot on, that is exaclty what I did at 25, british passport holder. I would not be included in any stats. There are many South Africans here with a british heritage.

        • Dave Reynell says:

          Why would one “formally” emigrate when SARS nails you ?

          • Paul Rodda says:

            Quite so. When any state actively makes it more difficult/expensive to comply than to abandon assets, then little surprise that some simply fail to formally emigrate. This is not SA/SARS-bashing … it is a bit of a theme in many places (here’s lookin’ at ya too, USA/IRS).

  • Bryan Shepstone says:

    1 million x R500 000 in personal income tax and VAT each? 🤔
    R500 000 000 000 every single year we are losing. Think of that. 😢

    • John Kuhl says:

      netso !!!

    • Random Comment says:

      THAT, Bryan, is exactly the point that everyone misses… we are losing our best and brightest TAXPAYERS.

    • jason du toit says:

      who is paying R500k tax a year? even personal income tax, plus VAT on everything and even the fuel levy doesn’t come CLOSE to that for anyone other than top earners.

      PIC on R100k/month and paying 15% VAT on every last cent of the after-tax income – an insanely unlikely event (home loan, anyone?) – comes to a little under R50ok tax/yr. how many people actually earn that much money monthly, do you think?

      how many couples both earn R100k? and how many kids earn R100k?

      there is no doubt that we are losing a lot of tax money, but R500k per person per year is not a realistic amount.

  • Gavin Hillyard says:

    Despite all our problems SA is still the best country in the world. Or should I add a rider the the Western Cape is the best spot in the world.

    • Lindy Gaye says:

      I second that.

    • Malcolm McManus says:

      Best, most beautiful country in the world, run by one of the worst governments in the world.
      Western Cape is certainly a beautiful spot and best run, but many other South Africa provinces are extremely beautiful. Just wish they had the right party running them, for the sake of all of our citizens.

  • Rob Fisher says:

    One stat that is not in there is how many young Saffas are working (online) overseas for 6 months (for tax reasons) and then returning for 6 months. Both my kids are doing this and they would still be listed as SA citizens with no official emigration. Luckily we live in the Western Cape so there may still be a country to keep coming back to.

  • Just Me says:

    Through the sheer number of skilled and monied South Africans that have emigrated over the last 30 years, the impact on the SA economy has been massive.

    With less skill and money to grow the economy, the effect is seen in the shrinking of the growth and the economy and an increase in national debt and a junk ratings status.

  • Geoff Young says:

    This kind of migration research is not complete or accurate because SA citizens must use a South African passport to enter or leave the country for whatever purpose. This includes a short holiday in say, Kenya, or returning home to the UK after a short but regular visit to family and friends in SA or whatever. The traveler’s intention isn’t recorded anywhere and when I moved back to SA from the UK in 2014 my intention to stay indefinitely was undetectable to dept of Home Affairs (and possibly to me as well!) unless they have sophisticated systems to track and process individual travel itineraries. Yeah right. The real numbers are not known and this is not quality reporting DM – naughty naughty!

  • Colleen Dardagan says:

    Both my highly qualified daughters have gone and it’s awful. There is a human/family cost behind these numbers which is immeasurable.

    • Kenneth FAKUDE says:

      Colleen we always measure things in monetary value and forget the family perspective, there is no place like home, fortunately those who go to Australia and Nz bring back good news, UK has high crime rates not sure if it’s the uncensored information there.
      Hopefully we will get the correct balance of votes to get out of the prisons we call homes.

      • G C says:

        UK has a high crime rate, where do you get that from. I live in the UK , car is unlocked, back door never locked. My sister left her purse on the bus, purse was handed in with all the money. I can on and on gicing you examples.

    • Johan Buys says:

      Also have kids overseas, I doubt they are coming back. There are three stages that run in weeks, months and years:

      When they go makes you sad.
      That they had to go makes you mad.
      That they went makes you glad.

  • Mbulelo Journey says:

    Interesting and informative article, but from my reading there is a significant portion of the claim in the subheading that is unsupported: “Stats SA’s first migration report shows SA has lost almost a million citizens to emigration since 2000.” The data presented doesn’t seem to fully support this number. “In 2000, 501 600 South African citizens resided abroad… and by 2020 — the latest available data from the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs — their numbers had reached 914, 901.” This would imply around 415k citizens emigrated between 2000 and 2020 not almost 1m. This is still an alarming number given they are likely skewed towards being people with valuable skills (especially looking at the countries taking them in).

    • Mbulelo Journey says:

      Lastly, it is also odd to use a comparison between 2011 return figures and 2022 to debunk recent (from late 2023 to present) claims from, “estate agencies, tax practitioners and international moving companies”. I don’t buy the claims either but I don’t believe using dated information disproves the claims (perhaps a study including 2023 will do the job).

    • Greeff Kotzé says:

      You’re correct that these numbers aren’t supported by a source. But not everyone who moves overseas retains their South African citizenship indefinitely (although there is no real drawback to holding onto it — unless the country you are gaining citizenship of does not allow dual citizenship, of course).

      So there may well be many more emigrants in total than there are “citizens residing abroad”.

  • Peter Holmes says:

    My three adult children, born, raised and educated to tertiary level are now all UK citizens contributing to their skilled work force, paying taxes and raising young, bright children who will, in turn make their positive contribution. The stark reality is that SA has lost 500 000 (largely skilled) emigrants and gained millions of unskilled immigrants at the same time. What could possibly go wrong?

  • Peter Holmes says:

    My three adult children, born, raised and educated to tertiary level are now all UK citizens contributing to their skilled work force, paying taxes and raising young, bright children who will, in turn make their positive contribution. The stark reality is that SA has lost 500 000 (largely skilled) emigrants and gained millions of unskilled immigrants at the same time. What could possibly go wrong?

  • Sam Fuller says:

    I can’t understand why “Saffa” is still so blithely used as a term of endearment, despite the disgusting rhyme it was created to play on. Tone deaf ignorance?

    • Guido Frederico says:

      Not quite. I was in the UK in late 90s early 2000s and it was a phrase coined by our kiwi and aussie compatriots to call us rather than calling us south africans. I doubt they were attempting what you are insinuating but instead were innocently referring to us in what they viewed as a friendly slang in the same way as we referred to them as kiwis and aussies

  • Rob Wilson says:

    I wonder of these figures are in any way abnormal across the board? If a person emigrates and successfully establishes in the other country there is very little chance that they will return. There is just too much evidence of a downward trajectory and looming disaster on the economy front. On the other hand, if establishment in the new country proves difficult (migrant status, jobless, culteral issues) they will generally come back home. Our problem is that we are losing the movers and shakers permanently. The ones that have ideas to create jobs and wealth for others. Its really an eye opener when you can speak Afrikaans to multiple people in a US boardroom. That’s sad for the poor South Africans. And its self inflicted by government actions and utterances.

  • BM Ace says:

    What I’m reading is that from 2010-2020, 17,000 people per year, on average, left. A decrease from 24,000 per year during 2000-2010.

    And in 2011, 45,000 people returned, far more than the 24,000 who left annually (on average). Same pattern in 2022: 28,000 returners that year, greater than the annual average of leavers for the previous ten years. I’m not sure what I’m looking at here but it does not support the title and conclusion of this article. I did consider that this was published on 1 April but I don’t think that’s it, either.

    • Greeff Kotzé says:

      I also wondered whether the number of returnees “in 2011” and “in 2022” were meant to be read as annual figures, or not. It’s quite ambiguous in the article.

      But looking at the graph and table (embedded images) again, I notice that it states “Source: Statistics South Africa, Census 2011 and 2022”. Since censuses are only take once per decade, what the period covered by these figures really needs more clarification, then! And also whether any of the 45 000 people in 2011 are included in the count of 28 000 people eleven years later.

      What was the actual census question?

  • Jack Russell says:

    This will greatly please the anc who consider being shot of whites is infinitely more important than the huge contribution they make to the country here; the evidence is so palpable that it could not be otherwise.
    Beyond sad, a crime against humanity?

  • Petrus Kleinhans says:

    South Africans don’t even realise the stress they live under. Whether in a township where police wont go, or in a gang ruled community, or even an affluent suburb.

    Many of us have experienced crime first hand. All of us know someone who has. In my case our house was broken in to after the front door lock was destroyed with an axe. On another occasion the apartment where my mom stayed with us was broken in to. This kind old 85 year old woman, who always had alms for the poor, was hit in the head with an axe, she was lucky to survive but now live traumatised. My sister in law and her family was twice robbery victims after being tied up in their own homes at night under threat of death. My 30 year old cousin was robbed at knifepoint while she was going shopping. This is just within my own family.

    This is not normal. In most countries in the world this kind of life is unimaginable. South Africa is beautiful, it is a special place and the majority of it’s citizens are good, normal, hardworking people. But for many reasons it has been sinking ever deeper into woe.

    Without leaders with a will to make radical change, who will be really honest with themselves and the people, the way things are going will not change and that means that there are fewer and fewer reasons for our countrymen to want to return.

  • David Crossley says:

    Generally, the grass is greener on the other side of the fence because there is more manure, and you have to mow the grass yourself!
    In all seriousness, every country has its problems and what I read coming out of the United Kingdom in terms of social and economic changes is horrific.
    Be careful that you don’t exchange one set of problems for another!

  • Ian Mann says:

    Your article is basically true, but I wouldn’t trust the actual figures that you have quoted. Many South Africans, traditionally have gone overseas for a year, after finishing school or university just to see what is going on in the rest of the world. They have no intention of leaving permanently but you may have included them in your returnees. Many young people leave unnoticed in their youth, arriving in their chosen country with a second (ancestral)passport. They would not come up on your emigration figures.
    I used to run a business near Cape Town. Many of my customers were middle age white women. Almost without exception they had one or more of their grown up children living and working overseas.
    Many other people I have spoken to would like to go, but they are economic prisoners because of the low value of the Rand.
    In short, I think the brain drain is far worse than your article suggests.

  • Aluwani Nengovhela says:

    I’m pretty sure that the trend is that people are starting to return. The percentages are very high in comparison to the actual numbers (high percentages off a low base)…but the trend is towards coming back. That I can put my life on.
    Anyway, do these stats include people who are overseas for contract work: English teachers, au pairs, farm work, etc?

  • Dani Werner says:

    I’ve lived abroad most of my life (1997-2023). I returned home last year because I’ve seen the other side; I’ve lived in Asia growing up and then the UK for 14 years, and I couldn’t handle it anymore. We have problems here, sure, but SA is and will always be where my soul considers home.

    • T'Plana Hath says:

      Your observation reminds me of a parable: A guy dies and arrives at the Pearly Gates. Saint Peter is there and says, “You’ve been a good egg, I shall grant you a boon. Make any request of me that you like, you can even choose where you want to go.” The guy reckons, “Schweet, I’d like a tour of both Heaven and Hell.” “Let’s go”, says St Pete and they do a whirlwind tour of Heaven – it’s all very clean and very organised, and very white, but it appears to be boring AF. “Nooit”, says the guy, “Let me see Hell.”
      So they pop down to Hell, and it’s like a flippin’ mardi gras down there. People are drinking and partying, topless dancers are swinging from the chandeliers (for purposes of this parable, our guy is cis-hetero-AMAB), people are tossing dwarves, hard trance is pounding, and okes are schnarfing rails off Satan’s bottom … It’s bananas.
      “This is more my speed!” says, our guy, “I’d like to go to Hell, please!”
      “Sure thing”, says St. P, and POW!
      Next thing you know, our guy is stretched out on a rack, naked as a jaybird, on fire, with a pitchfork in his ass, getting scourged by demons, while Satan threads a length of razor wire up his urethra.
      “Dude! What the actual F–!”, screams our guy. “Where’s the party? Where are the topless dancing girls?”

      “Ah”, chuckled The Devil. “Never confuse tourism with immigration”.

  • Aluwani Nengovhela says:

    I keep seeing some comments abouts a shrinking tax base? That’s silly to say the least. If the jobs still exist, expats will be replaced. Our higher institutions are churning out more and more graduates by the day. The economy is struggling to absorb medical doctors and civil engineers amongst others. So no, with the exception of government – local government and SOEs, there’s no shortage of skilled workers.

    Rather worry about businesses closing or moving HQs overseas. That’s a serious concern.

    • G C says:

      Companies struggle having to train those new people who replace the old more experieced people. Look at eskom as an example. Those people leaving are the people who create jobs.

  • Gavin Cromhout says:

    The real problem here is that the author doesn’t understand statistics: “Between 2011 and 2022, a sharply declining number of South Africans came back to give the country another try. ”
    Rubbish.
    This is the same lack of understanding when advertisers try to mislead us by saying “50% more people now prefer x”. Well if the original number of people that preferred x was only 1% it’s now only 1.5% of people that prefer it. It’s meaningless to state things this way. The increase is statistically unimportant/insignificant. The same is true in this example. You’re looking at a change from 6% (circa 2011) of returnees to 3% (circa 2022). So to intrerpret this data correctly you can say the situation has gone from “very very few people return” to “very very few people return”. And guess what? That’s a worldwide phenomenon. When you go, you go. To say ANYTHING meaningful here, one would need to compare this to worldwide data.

    Honestly, this article seeks to draw a causal connection between the situation in South Africa (specifically) with the global trend of people that emigrate not returning. It does not consider the MANY extraneous factors (such as Covid, changing global economics etc). It doesn’t even consider covariance for one second. This is not only vacuous and facile, it’s also intellectually bankrupt.

  • Norman Sander says:

    Those are the emigrants that have left “officially”. There are plenty more who, due to having mostly British passports, despite being born in SA, just go away and never come back and tell no one they are going.
    I reckon the numbers are approaching a million Saffers in the UK, which is the most commonly held dual passport.

  • Snow Yeti says:

    My two daughters have left. It’s just us oldies who are here …. the youth must emigrate for their own good.

  • GERT CORNELIUS Cloete says:

    I read all the comments with interest and would like to provide my own perspective albeit probably not popular. I spent quite a lot of time in other countries in Europe, North America, Africa and even the Ukraine. I agree that these countries do have something to offer in their own unique way. I am also aware of all the problems we have in South Africa and the current noise a significant number of politicians are making in terms of the proposed expropriation bill. I also don’t blame people for wanting to leave because of this, the security problems we are experiencing and the lack of employment opportunities. (Don’t get me started on the total collapse of our infrastructure either). Taking all of the above into account, I still maintain that the country can be saved and even if we can’t save the country that it’s still the land of milk and honey, even though one needs to take the dead flies out of the milk en microwave the honey to make it usable again. At least we still have milk and we still have honey. We need to focus on local government service delivery and fix the infrastructure one town or suburb at a time. Forget support from the local councils, these are only cadre employment centres. Let’s take back our own immediate living spaces and fix it as fast as we can, because we can do it and the law also allows for it. I still love this country and it’s people.

    • G C says:

      I think you are living in cloud cookoo land if you think South Africa is the land of milk and honey.

    • Jane Crankshaw says:

      Thank you Gert – I do agree with you! Its worth fighting for this beautiful country filled with different people all wanting a better life for themselves and families. I believe it can be saved – our Constitution is its saving Grace, our currency is kuk but the Reserve Bank and SARS have done a sterling job under the circumstances…. Divisive and shameful BEE policies and Government Grants encouraging reproduction without family infrastructure notwithstanding!

    • Pieter Schoeman says:

      I left, the idea of South Africa being the land of milk and honey kind of loses its ring when you are a young graduate trying to save for an apartment waking up in the mornings without electricity and then going back in the evenings without electricity. Sure my parents have the capital to sort of insulate themselves, I don’t. There is also a moment where you go from the idea that living without power is kind of fun to realising you are just poor (and people elsewhere feel sorry for you).

      Can the country be saved, maybe but I am not betting the next 20 years of my life on it.

  • James Webster says:

    Of course the ANC and black apologists would trumpet the return of SA nationals, that dovetails with their delusional belief in their own excellence, their own competence, their own integrity and with the narrative they hammer on. The ANC’s relationship with the truth is not strained, rather it is non existent, which means they were probably the ones who started the rumour of emigres returning. Who in their right mind, would leave a functional foreign country which has electricity, which doesn’t demand you hand over what you built to a bunch of freeloaders, which doesn’t vilify you and falsely blame you for its own failure, which doesn’t threaten you with genocide, which doesn’t expropriate your land without compensation, which values your skills, which doesn’t promulgate racist laws, which doesn’t believe “the people must eat” and which isn’t regressing to mud huts, subsistence farming, witchdoctor based healthcare and being unable to read ?

    • Ellis Mortimer says:

      And what the earlier commentators seem to have overlooked is that during the ten years under review, the population of RSA has increased by ten million, most of whom, due to ANC policies and incompetence, will be undernourished, uneducated, unhealthy, unemployable with no access to basic services and with little prospects in life. They will spend most of their lives being recipients of social grants.

  • Jabu Mhlanga says:

    Man made disasters are the reasons for these avoidable emigrations. What we’re going through here is perhaps tantamount to WW3.

  • Mike Newton says:

    Some years ago my son emigrated.
    At that time he was a straight white male in his thirties.
    He headed up a cyber security team for a large bank.
    One day he was called to the HR lifeform office.
    He was told that as a straight white male he could expect no further promotions.
    He had participated in two armed robberies { as a donor}.
    He is now working in the UK .
    Unless and until the racist employment policies and the rampant crime stops he will never come back.

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    My family have been in this country for more than 300yrs – a mixture of hard working Dutch, Scottish and Irish roots with no chance of getting a passport anywhere else, even if I wanted one! The whinging poms, boring Aussies & New Zealanders and uneducated MAGA supporters in the US have absolutely no appeal! Im staying and taking my chances – fighting against racist BEE policies and for better education for all. One thing about this country…it’s not boring! Going to be an interesting ride!

  • Tim Parsons says:

    This world of ours has never offered more access for migration, be it health, education, economics or political. Inevitable, the First World looks more attractive to the younger generations and we should not be surprised at the increase of migration across the continents. South Africa has a huge amount to offer, we migrated here nine years ago for the reasons of standard of living, health, climate, activities .. all of which you might consider frivolous, however, one of our best ever decisions. Yes, political uncertainty, crime, corruption and many things required by younger families are disincentives but, each category has worse comparative examples in the First World. Accept this article as merely statistics, which can be interpreted and presented to suit the messenger, know you have many advantages in this country which outweigh the disadvantages, in perceived Utopia.

    • SavageGas says:

      “each category has worse comparative examples in the First World.”
      Pffffft. Yeah, so? Sounds like you’re insulated from the issues then, if you ‘migrated’ here, and are just here on a holiday to see the zoo. Maybe it’s fun for you, a nice little exotic adventure, living in the dark for a few hours a day, and without tap water some days; but for me, for us, we’re still trying to still make our lives, and make ends meet, and I will never be able to retire as I will not have the means to do so nor will 93% of my fellow South Africans. And all this, while the cities literally crumble around us from lack of maintenance.

      This country is in tatters, and people’s toxic positivity is starting to irritate me. Ignoring the the crap that’s been sprayed on the walls by calling it a Jackson Pollock is not the way.

      SA was once considered as a jewel of Africa but to me we’re now just the ass hole. Maybe I’ll be proven wrong, and I’d be glad to be, but I doubt it and I have my paraffin, my lamps, 200L water and 100kg of beans.

  • Tim Parsons says:

    This world of ours has never offered more access for migration, be it health, education, economics or political. Inevitable, the First World looks more attractive to the younger generations and we should not be surprised at the increase of migration across the continents. South Africa has a huge amount to offer, we migrated here nine years ago for the reasons of standard of living, health, climate, activities .. all of which you might consider frivolous, however, one of our best ever decisions. Yes, political uncertainty, crime, corruption and many things required by younger families are disincentives but, each category has worse comparative examples in the First World. Accept this article as merely statistics, which can be interpreted and presented to suit the messenger, know you have many advantages in this country which outweigh the disadvantages, in perceived Utopia.

  • Aluwani Nengovhela says:

    Gert, where have you been? I’ve been saying: most of SA’s problems are at municipal level and to a lesser extent with SOEs. I am an ANC member but I will not be voting for the ANC during the local elections. I read that President Ramaphosa has drafted a minimum qualifications bill for local government..just not sure if it’s been passed yet.

    The biggest problem was that most local government politicians were often trained school teachers who used their connections to SADTU to elevate themselves within the ANC. The case we have is that most of our mayors and municipal managers are primary school LO teachers… 😂 and they have to manage multi billion rand annual budgets. Recipe for disaster maybe?

    • William Stucke says:

      I’m glad to hear that you won’t be voting for the ANC in the upcoming elections, Aluwani, but I have to ask you why you are still a member at all?

      • Aluwani Nengovhela says:

        I’m voting for the ANC during the upcoming national elections. I’m on the fence for the local elections in two years time (municipal and ward elections).

        I’m a member because they’ve significantly improved the quality of life in SA, and for that I’m forever grateful

        • Pieter Schoeman says:

          This just makes me sad, you should know as well as I do that you don’t vote for a party because of loyalty. How would that ever be a good idea, you kind of break the very foundations of accountability if you think like that.

  • Aluwani Nengovhela says:

    Hi all, thank you for your insightful comments. Here’s my response if you allow:

    – Shrinking tax base? No. Not going to happen. As long as Wits, UCT, etc exist and are producing graduates annually, this can never be. In fact, SARS just beat their collections target by R10bn.

    – BBBEE? Smart companies are finding ways to make this policy work for them. Think: bursaries; vendor financing wherein the firm raises additional funds by essentially selling the shares to a black partner, which then applies for funding with the shares as collateral; job creation (read: cheap labour via internships and learnerships), etc. BBBEE works for the brain’s trust.

    – Expropriation without compensation? I’m almost certain all of us will die without having witnessed this expropriation. Why? The law says that the land will have to have been barren for a long time; secondly there’ll have to be a sound basis for the state to expropriate the land; and thirdly, there’ll have to be a sound reason why some form of compensation is unjustified. Justifying these three points is close to impossible because it’s possible that I’ll plant maize after hearing of a possible expropriation if my land was barren. Now what? Some form of compensation is warranted; but how much? “Well, I’m planting maize so that I can raise funds to build a residential complex on this land. Here’s my business plan”. What now? What’s the value of my land?

    – Load shedding? My response is twofold:
    1. The root cause of load shedding was Apartheid. Accept it. In 1999 when Eskom first notified the cabinet of the requirements of new powerplants, SA was in dire need of basic services across the board: basic housing, access to electricity, roads, schools, etc. A decision was made to delay these fiscus-draining projects (new powerplants) in a bid to improve the quality of life for every SA’n. They hoped that an agreement would be reached with private companies so that they could take on the construction projects…deals which never materialised.
    2. President Ramaphosa’s master stroke act of increasing the private citizens’ electricity generating capacity is the primary reason why loadshedding will end much sooner than expected if one looks at the renewable projects being undertaken by mining and manufacturing companies, most of which are still under construction but we have already started witnessing a reduction in loadshedding due to those companies that have gone off-grid.

    -Quality of life overseas? A can of coke costs R30 in New York and I’m told it costs R40 in London. Hopefully you get where I’m going with this. It’s R11 here 😅

    – The next Zimbabwe? Hahaha. There are 4000 applications for mining rights pending. Car manufacturers are expanding their assembly plants. The world’s biggest retailer, Walmart, bought Game and Makro. The world’s second largest non-alcoholic beverage company, Pepsi co., recently bought Pioneer Foods. I can continue.

    Stop. Being. So. Negative. Please.

    • Pieter Schoeman says:

      Interesting response here is mine.

      1. You have to remember that all those graduates are going to need someone to train them when they start working. You don’t receive your electrical engineering degree and then immediately start building power stations. If you loose (or fired) your experienced people there is no one left to train the next generation.
      2. I don’t have any love for this country as a result of this, and thus I left. You cannot give people work or bursaries based on their race, how is this not obvious to you?
      3. Agreed expropriation without compensation is never going to happen. The ANC is smart enough to realise it will destroy the economy but they have to continue talking about it so people vote for them.
      4. Congrats you managed to build a narrative based around facts I agree with that somehow blames the policies of a government that was last in power 30 years ago instead of the one that was in power while it happened. I am frankly amazed. What gets me is this sentence “They hoped that an agreement would be reached”. How is this not enormously irresponsible for a government. You don’t get to avoid blame because you hoped for a different outcome.
      5. And finally your point on the quality of life overseas. For someone that is 25 years old earning a bit over a R120000 per month is quite nice. I can buy many more cans of coke here than I could back in South Africa even though they may be a bit more expensive.

  • Benevolence X says:

    Two points:
    It’s hyperbole that SA migration “gives significant population boost” to hosting countries, e.g., 0.036% in UK is hardly significant.
    Secondly, I don’t see the significance of categorising per race group, it clarifies nothing except increasing the toxicity in this debate. Residing in a country where I never had to mention my race, I see how helpful this is to social cohesion.

  • Dietmar Horn says:

    Emigration/immigration – this is a very personal decision that everyone has to make based on their own life situation, perspective and possibilities. As far as the EU countries are concerned, the requirements for legal immigration are relatively high and depend primarily on the ability to integrate into the labor market. Anyone seeking a temporary stay without a work permit must provide proof of the necessary funds and sufficient health insurance. Some visitors are surprised that English is not the lingua franca on the continent; the willingness to learn the language is extremely helpful for successful integration. If I am asked about the opportunities and conditions in South Africa, I refer to the website of the South African embassy and the current travel advice/warnings from the Foreign Office in Berlin, this information corresponds very well with my personal experiences. Emigration is a challenge, more so for a family with a child than for unattached young people. Anyone who can afford it should first get to know the country of their choice through an intensive, short visit rather than just from hearsay.

    • Rod H MacLeod says:

      The above does not apply to boat people, apparently.

      • Dietmar Horn says:

        My comment refers to legal (!) migration between South Africa and the EU. Of the people of South African origin in Europe that I know, not a single one made the journey in a rubber dinghy, paid $10,000 to smugglers, had their documents disappear, refused to cooperate with authorities, abused the right to asylum or pretended to be a war refugee.

  • Frans Flippo says:

    I moved to SA in 2016 on a critical skills visa and am a permanent resident, but will be leaving this year. People like me aren’t even included in these statistics.

    The thought of having to pay another cent in taxes to the gluttonous incompenents that supposedly run this country (not to even mention the city of Joburg where I’ve lived for nearly 8 years now) is enough to make me leave. But also the disregard for the environment (why is rubbish being burnt everywhere but nothing done about it — why is there no functioning public transport — why aren’t people driving big polluting SUVs and bakkies incentivised more to drive cleaner vehicles?), the crumbling of public services, the low standard of customer service in most companies, the list goes on.

    When I wrote to Home Affairs asking why my wife’s application for permanent residence still hadn’t been processed after three years, I got a defensive letter signed by Home Affairs minister Motsoaledi that amounted to “How dare you criticise the government” and “If you don’t like it, you are free to leave South Africa”. Thank you, minister, leave I will. And I’ll be taking my brain and my taxes with me, you short-sighted toad.

    We had so much hope when we moved here in 2016, but that hope is gone after having seen things go downhill ever since and seeing the complete lack of accountability of the government.

    I will miss the beautiful nature, the friendly people, the great weather, but that’s not enough to keep me here anymore.

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