About half a million white South Africans have left the country in the past three decades, and Stats SA estimates that a further 112 740 will emigrate in the next five years.
The white population is also ageing as younger people are mostly the ones who go, leaving their parents behind.
Population growth estimates show that the white population declined by 22 250 people, from 4.52 million in 2016 to 4.49 million in 2017. Over the same period, the total population increased by 900 000 to 56.62 million.
Frans Cronjé of the Institute of Race Relations said the white population structure resembled an hourglass after 1994, when many between the ages of 20 and 40 emigrated. Since then, the bottom and top parts of the hourglass have shrunk, because the white people who remained had fewer children.
Though Stats SA couldn’t say why whites were leaving, emigration agencies believe political instability, crime and uncertainty are reasons cited for leaving. Emma Waldorf, senior consultant at Compass Migration, explained: “Of late, the reasons for the increase in emigration are simply political reasons, safety reasons and uncertainty about the future.”
Reuven Abeshouse, migration agent at Migration 2 OZ, attested to this, adding that enquiries about migrating to Australia have increased in the past two years.
“The common reason clients advance is that there is no certainty about the future of South Africa, so they would rather leave while they still can. Many also cite that they are worried that their children may not have the opportunities that they had because of what is going on in the country, especially with the politics and policies around black empowerment,” he said.
Waldorf said her Cape Town-based agency has also seen an increase in those wanting to leave, particularly to Australia, Canada, the UK, Ireland and the US.
“There is certainly an increase in the number of queries we receive as each month goes by, but not all candidates qualify to go overseas and need to find jobs first. We are also finding that it is not only white people wanting to emigrate, we are increasingly getting queries from clients that are black, coloured and Indian.”
She also said those who were leaving were skilled professionals, tradespeople, entrepreneurs and experienced corporate employees.
“We are quickly losing all our skilled workers. One option for South Africa is to employ a foreign workforce to continue growing our economy and we all know how many South Africans feel about that,” Waldorf said.
“To understand the vastness of this: English language testing centres around South Africa are continuously fully booked. This is because applicants need to complete an English language test to qualify to emigrate. It takes months to get a spot to write this test, so this is a cause for concern.”
Abeshouse also said those who decide to leave haven’t made a snap decision. “Most have been thinking about it for years, but current affairs often push them to make that final call.”
The exodus - Critical skills are being lost
Let me say this, New Zealand has taken a lot from me. I’ve begun to suspect that it stalks me like a kind of reaper in All Black, cutting down the important people in my life.
The first was my hairdresser, Jean. The only hair professional I’ve met who understood that there is a time for chit-chat and a time to allow quiet contemplation of thoughts such as: “Hell, is that really what I look like or is it just these lights?”
One day, with hair so dishevelled it was not even acceptable by newsroom standards, I heard the news: “Jean has emigrated to New Zealand.”
Next, a friend from my twentysomethings. We used to rent a house with that charming twentysomething feel; furnitureless, echoey rooms, an empty fridge and beer. Marriage snuck up on him and, one day, out of the Facebook blue, he checked into Auckland.
But the most grievous injury by far has been the loss of my honest mechanic, Vern.
True Joburgers know there are about five honest mechanics in this city. Finding one is like winning the lottery. You don’t tell people, you just live out your remaining days in happiness.
This is especially true when, like me, you drive Hitler’s car. I call it that because it is a thing of true evil. Even when it is just parked in the driveway, it is silently trying to break down.
After the dealership was quoting state-capture sums to fix things, Vern would weld one wire together and gruffly say: “Just give me 50 bucks for the labour.”
Critical skills are being lost, I tell you.