|The ZIMBABWE Situation||Our
thoughts and prayers are with Zimbabwe |
- may peace, truth and justice prevail.
FOR Francois Pienaar, the World-Cup-winning former rugby captain, moving back to South Africa from England in 2002 was one of the best decisions he ever took. Going to Europe for a few years was a good professional move, but he missed friends and family and thought South Africa a better place to raise children. He has now become the poster boy for the Homecoming Revolution, a non-profit outfit helping South Africans living abroad to come back. Its aim, with a warning that it is not for “pessimists, racists, bigots and moaners”, is to bring talent back home. Apartheid deprived the black majority of high-quality education, leaving the country with a shortage of skills that the education system is now struggling to remedy. The brain drain of the most highly qualified has worsened the problem.
Though hardly new, emigration accelerated after the country moved to democracy in 1994 and its international isolation ended. While 70,000 South Africans are thought to have left the country in 1989-92, the estimated number ballooned to over 166,000 in 1998-2001. Some 1.4m South Africans are thought to be living in Britain alone. According to official statistics, over 16,000 highly-skilled South Africans emigrated between 1994 and 2001, but the real numbers are probably three to four times higher. Close to half of the South Africans living in rich countries have higher-education degrees.
Official statistics do not offer a racial breakdown of migration, but a survey has indicated that white professionals are only slightly more likely to consider emigrating than black professionals. Whites probably make up the majority of those who leave, largely because they are disproportionately well-educated: close to 45% of South Africans with a university degree (and possibly over 70% of those with a doctorate) are white, though they make up less than 10% of the population.
But South Africa is hardly alone. The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in Geneva reckons that the global stock of international migrants more than doubled in 30 years to 175m in 2000 and the African continent probably has the most mobile population in the world. Many Africans are pushed out by conflict or poverty. Those with exportable skills are lured by countries that pay better and offer more attractive career prospects, work conditions or lifestyle. South African expatriates also cite crime as a reason to leave, while some whites say that affirmative action to advance blacks is shrinking their career opportunities at home.
The effect of emigration is hard to assess. According to the Human Science Research Council, a South African think-tank, the country's research-and-development activity has been resilient. But the departure of doctors and nurses, for instance, is hitting the region hard. The British Medical Journal has reported that 23,000 of them leave Africa every year. According to some estimates, 10% of hospital doctors in Canada are South Africans, while the countries whose nurses got the most British work permits in 2001 were South Africa and Zimbabwe. The IOM says that more Ethiopian doctors are practising in Chicago than in Ethiopia.
Emigration is aggravating already crippling staff shortages in many of Africa's state clinics and hospitals. Only 50 of the 600-odd doctors trained in Zambia since independence have stayed. In South Africa, over a quarter of annual vacancies for doctors and nurses in the state hospitals and clinics are unfilled; as many as two-thirds of such jobs outside the bigger cities are not taken up. About $1 billion has been spent on training South African health-care professionals now working abroad.
Those who leave can still, however, help their home countries develop. An increasing number of diaspora networks, such as the South African Network of Skills Abroad or the IOM's Migration for Development in Africa, are trying to foster research and exchange programmes or even business links between those who have left and those who have stayed. The Francophone Initiatives of African Women in France and Europe, another diaspora network, has contributed to humanitarian aid, vocational training for orphans and micro-credit for women in places like Congo, Gabon and Cameroon. Many African expatriates also send money back to their families. The amount is a lot higher than the $4 billion officially recorded in 2002, as cash often travels in suitcases or through informal channels. For small countries, such as Cape Verde and Lesotho, remittances make up 12.5% and 26% of GDP, respectively.
In a regional powerhouse like South Africa, the migration door swings both ways. The number of foreign students enrolled in South African universities, most of whom are from other African countries, is reckoned to have grown from 12,600 in 1994 to 35,000 in 2001. South Africa has also signed agreements with several countries, including Cuba and Germany, to lure doctors to South Africa for a specific period. New immigration rules, in force since last month, are supposed to make it easier for educated foreigners to move south, while staunching the inflow of illegal migrants; some 2m Zimbabweans are now said to be in South Africa.
Most African countries are still a long way from being tempting places to come back to. But those such as South Africa, with strong and sophisticated economies and fine amenities, are plainly better placed. South Africa The Good News, an outfit which has produced a series of books, arranges public events and has a website, all born out of the frustration of two Johannesburg businessmen tired of hearing their compatriots moan about their country, is trying to change perceptions. A lot of young South Africans working abroad are keeping their options open—and may come back. The Homecoming Revolution has organised events in London to convince South Africans that, in the wake of Mr Pienaar, it is worth returning. But it will be an uphill task