Sharp rise in number of South Africans leaving the country

Travelers with suitcases walking through the airportPHOTO:
Travelers with suitcases walking through the airportPHOTO:

It’s expected that the number of South Africans leaving the country this year will rise sharply as politics, crime and job security are cited as reasons to go

You see them advertising their houses for sale on community Facebook groups and standing in queues at visa offices.

Although neither the department of home affairs nor the international relations department keeps figures on how many people are leaving the country for good, anecdotal evidence suggests a sharp rise in emigration among South Africans seeking new lives abroad as they become increasingly fearful of the current economic and political situation.

Experts predicted that last year would prove to be a record year for emigration after a spike in 2015, when more than 25 000 citizens moved abroad.

The UK’s Office for National Statistics told City Press last week that, in 2017, an estimated 7 300 people emigrated from South Africa to the UK.

Ryan Rennison, managing director of UK visa solutions firm Move Up, said the company had seen a 22% hike in inquiries to leave in the past two years because of political uncertainty and economic decline.

“There is a percentage of migrations motivated by concerns of financial and educational stability. Few cases are motivated by concerns of security alone,” Rennison told City Press.

In September, the FNB House Price Index stated that, for the first time since 2010, more than 7.5% of South Africans selling their homes were emigrating, and that there was an upward trend in FNB clients selling up and leaving the country.

The most recent figures on emigration come from Stats SA’s Community Survey 2016, a large-scale survey conducted between censuses.

The survey showed that 97 460 South Africans had moved abroad since 2006. The bulk of them were between the ages of 25 and 44.

Of the almost 100 000 émigrés, 12.5% had moved to Australia, 12% to the UK, 6.5% to the US and 4.6% to New Zealand.

The trend is set to continue this year.

Moira Luyckx, marketing manager for international removals company Elliott Mobility, said they had dealt with 2 500 moves abroad last year, “and we are expecting an approximately 20% increase”.

Among the most popular destinations, she said, were New Zealand, Canada, Australia, the UK, the US, France, Germany, Mauritius and Panama.

“People are emigrating for job and family prospects. There are also some who are relocated by local and global corporations for their specific skills,” she said.

Elliott’s emigrating clients are aged between 30 and 55, and are 85% white, 5% African and 10% Indian.

Stuttaford Van Lines’ marketing manager, Rocco Olivier, said the firm was also expecting more clients this year.

“We deal with thousands of families a year, with an average increase of 15% year on year,” he said, adding that his clients – “a true mixture of all ages and races” – move for various reasons, including financial, political or family reasons. Others, he said, were transferred abroad within multinational companies.

Many, he added, were qualified and skilled workers.

The most popular destinations his clients emigrate to are the UK, Australia and New Zealand. Others move to the US, Canada, Asia, the rest of Africa and parts of the Middle East.

This, says the Homecoming Revolution – a Pan-African company that encourages Africans to return home – is not good news.

“We exist to bring Africa’s skills back. For every one skilled African who returns home, they have a ripple effect of directly creating 12 new jobs in the formal and informal sectors,” said managing director Faye Tessendorf.

She said there was a trend for predominantly white South Africans to leave because they had access to dual nationality and ancestral passports because of where their families came from.

“What drives talent out of the country is political violence, a rapid increase in crime and uncertainty in the economy,” she said.

“Many young families just starting out unfortunately worry for their children’s safety and the opportunities they will have. So, if they move, they decide to do so just before their kids start school so that they are not disrupted later on in life.”

Home affairs spokesperson David Hlabane referred enquiries to the department of international relations and cooperation as it “has a voluntary online programme through which people going abroad may register called Register South Africans Abroad”.

Department spokesperson Ndivhuwo Mabaya said: “The only way government knows that you are out of the country is when you stamp your passport at the airport or any border. That function is with the international relations department, not ours. We also get information from them. We cannot help you beyond here.”


Deborah Hall (49) is emigrating to the UK early next month with her new husband and three daughters because she has been struggling to make ends meet at home.

At least living in Britain, she says, will come with the benefits of free education and healthcare for her children. 

“The biggest motivating factor has definitely been a financial one. I have struggled for some time as a single mum with three children. Despite the fact that my personal circumstances have changed and we are now a two-parent household, our decision was cemented after I was retrenched for a second time last year and once again found myself wondering how we would manage on a single income,” she said. 

“Understanding that the UK supports the middle-class family – specifically with regard to healthcare, schooling and transport – and qualifying under an ancestry visa, it made perfect sense to explore this opportunity. The country also boasts a less than 4% unemployment rate and finding work will be relatively easy for me and my husband.”

Hall is moving in three weeks – along with her 13-year-old daughter and nine-year-old twin girls – leaving behind most of her immediate family. 

“This is probably the hardest part of the move. I am not sure that I have even begun to let myself feel the magnitude of the loss. This will probably be the greatest adjustment for us,” she said. 

“More than that, South Africa’s spirit is unique, not only in its diversity and inclusion, but in the very character of its people. I believe there will always be an inexplicable and unfillable void for us and for all South Africans who have moved abroad.”

Hall said fears about the country’s political situation had nothing to do with their decision.

“There is political disruption worldwide, so this has not been a major factor in our decision. The economy has definitely been an issue for us. 

“My age has definitely influenced my decision to move. Here in South Africa, you face retirement from the age of 60, but in the UK, there is no ageism. So, if you are fit and healthy and willing, you can continue to work until you are ready to retire.” 

Hall hopes for some economic ease when she gets to the other side.

“We are hoping to settle close to friends in Hampshire in the southwest of England. I am hoping that the move will bring better job opportunities and peace of mind in terms of the day-to-day struggle of making ends meet. It will also present an opportunity for adventure and for us to explore Europe.”


Bushra Turk (30), a qualified teacher and the mother of two young children, says her family will be moving to Turkey in March in pursuit of a better life. 

Turk, who identifies as coloured, says she feels strongly connected to her Turkish roots and, after 10 years working in South Africa, she can no longer take what she describes as “disappointments”. 

“At the University of Cape Town, I did a PPE [politics, philosophy and economics] degree and then worked as a researcher for the ANC. That is when I got disillusioned with government and realised that it is all a big lie and I need to get out for my sanity. So I did a career change and pursued teaching,” she said.

“I feel that I have given 10 years of my working career to South Africa and I keep getting disappointed by government’s decisions. And now that I have a family, I really want to relax in terms of safety and give my kids the opportunity to play outside any time of the day.”

Turk, a Grade 4 teacher at a government school in a gang-infested neighbourhood, says she is also tired of the bureaucracy in South Africa.

“I hate the fact that anything to do with civil matters takes a long time. I don’t like the fact that government hospitals are bad and that the home affairs department treats you like it is doing you a favour; and some police give us second-rate service. 

“There is lawlessness happening here; my husband and I have spoken about it. We don’t want to live in this kind of environment. We want to see our tax being used efficiently, otherwise what is the point of paying taxes?” 

Turk will leave behind her mum and two sisters. 

“That will be the hardest part to deal with because I am so close to them. I don’t know how I will deal with it. My sisters and their husbands have discussed the possibility of leaving if South Africa becomes too unbearable to live in, which I hope never happens. 

“But if crime rises or civil war breaks out, they probably will leave. I have many friends who ask me to get them a job in Turkey because they want out and say the country is ‘in the gutters’.”

Turk says more than half of the people in her postgraduate education class have emigrated. 

“I studied with about 42 other students. We became very close. More than half are now overseas, mainly in the United Arab Emirates. Some are in Asia and some are in Europe. A few of us remained teachers here in South Africa.

“A lot of teachers move because it is easy to do so. There is a high demand for English teachers overseas. Secondly, the working conditions and pay overseas is much better. Here, it can take years until you get a permanent government post, and even then it could be a terrible school in a bad area. 

“A lot of people don’t take that risk and rather go overseas. The world is your oyster if you are a teacher from South Africa.”

Turk has already received two job offers. 

“We will be moving to Istanbul. I hope the move brings us more peace in our hearts, success in our careers and joy in our family.”


Taryn Kallie (38), an interior designer and the mother of two children aged eight and four, says she is leaving the country as soon as their house and other assets are sold.

Her mother moved five years ago and her father lives in the US. Her two best friends also emigrated last year.

For Kallie, racial animosity played a large part in her decision.

“I am tired of living with the uncertainty of what will happen; it is all so stressful. Everyone close to me has moved and the reasons are the same,” she said.

The driving forces behind Kallie’s family’s departure are politics, corruption, the unstable economy and a strong desire to explore the world in a free and safe environment. 

“My children are very young and there is a lot of negative press here, a high rate of crime, murder and rape. I pay my taxes, but I get very little for them.

“The country is very negative and it is concerning because all the politicians are such liars. Money has been stolen that should have been used for education and better healthcare.

“The Guptas hired an entire public relations company to fuel this ‘white monopoly capital’ agenda and make everything about race.

“My kids will be home-schooled. We are really not sure where we will be going, but we will use the next year as an adventure, travelling and getting some perspective.” 

While Kallie is uncertain that she will be able to continue her job as an interior designer abroad as her client base is in South Africa, her husband, a computer programmer, will have better prospects of finding a job abroad.

“We are aware that things will be a bit of a challenge, but, over time, we will recover,” she said.

“For now, it is about the travels and exploring that which we have always wanted to do – and the time and our age allows for this.”


How do you feel about the reasons people give for leaving the country? What conditions could drive you from the land of your birth?

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