/ 19 April 2009

Jobs, crime keep expats away from home

As South Africa prepares to go the polls next week, expatriates nearly always mention two obstacles when asked if they would ever move back: crime and the lack of jobs.

South Africans who left after the end of apartheid 15 years ago — most of them white — said better job opportunities and less fear of crime abroad made it difficult to head home, no matter how much the country needs them and their skills.

Standing in line to vote in London last Wednesday — overseas voters cast their ballots a week before the April 22 presidential and parliamentary election — expats showed little desire to give up well-paid work in Britain and return.

”I think most people would like to go back one day, but everyone is waiting to see what happens over the next five years,” said Marcel Van Wyk (29), a commodities trader, as he waited to vote outside the South African high commission in London.

”Most people know the ANC is going to win this one; I think the next election will be the big one for them,” he said.

Thousands of South Africans left home after the African National Congress came to power in 1994, in the first all-race elections that ended white minority rule. More than 140 000 live in the United Kingdom, according to the 2001 UK Census, and many more have settled in the United States, Australia, New Zealand.

The exodus, depriving South Africa of skilled workers in the health and business sectors, prompted groups like Homecoming Revolution, a non-profit group sponsored by a South African bank, to urge them to come home and support the economy.

As the financial crisis wipes out swathes of jobs in London, some South Africans are looking for work back home, and several Johannesburg executives and bankers have cited a sharp increase in job applications from overseas.

More jobs in Britain
Other expats told Reuters there were still better work opportunities in Britain, even if the weather is not as good and some home comforts are missing.

”There’s no doubt I have better economic prospects here,” said Charles Lowis (31) a government employee who emigrated to Britain with his parents more than 10 years ago.

”I’ve toyed with the idea of going back … but I would have to see exponential improvements in the economy and security situation before doing it,” he said.

For health worker Chris Monwabisi (46) a decision to take his family back to Johannesburg would hinge on job prospects more than security. ”If we could make the same money at home, we would go tomorrow.”

This is the first time since 1994 that South Africans abroad have been allowed to take part in an election, but only a fraction of the expatriate population voted on Wednesday.

Pansy Tlakula, chief officer of the Independent Electoral Commission, said about 16 000 expats had registered worldwide.

Care worker Jonet Van Den Heever said the turnout reflected the apathy of those with stable jobs, tempered by the enthusiasm of those who felt they had a stake in South Africa’s future.

”Some South Africans don’t want anything to do with it [the vote] because they’re here for a long time with a highly skilled work visa,” said Van Den Heever (25) as she left Snoggy’s, a boerewors stand in west London.

”My friends and I are quite patriotic, though, and found it important to vote.”

Many black voters said they believed the ANC would rule responsibly and protect the independence of the judiciary.

Whites said they feared the ANC might amend the Constitution and ride roughshod over property owners’ rights if it won the two-thirds majority needed to change the Constitution.

”I’m worried that things will go like they did in Zimbabwe,” said Mark Booyens (26) an accountant, referring to the eviction of more than 4 000 white Zimbabwean farmers in 2000. – Copyright Thomson Reuters 2009