Should I stay or should I go?

Although there aren’t official figures available of how many South Africans have emigrated as the Department of Home Affairs does not track people who leave the country; anecdotal evidence suggests that there is another wave of middle class people who are packing and leaving for other shores. The general perception is that it is mostly Whites that are leaving but companies who deal with emigrants report a trend of educated people of all races who are moving to where they think the grass is greener. As we are sitting in the afterglow of the Springboks winning the Rugby World Cup with pictures of a smiling Siya Kolisi showing off the cup all over the country with coach Rassie Erasmus and President Cyril Ramaphosa; it is easier to push the hardships of a struggling economy and racial divisions to one side for a moment. But many South Africans are considering whether they should not look for a future elsewhere; it dominates conversations around the braai. Chartered Accountant Dean Gerber has come up with 20 reasons to stay in South Africa. Apart from the emotional connections and the fact that you will be missing family, the bush, South African food and sense of humour that persuades South Africans to stay put; Gerber has come up with compelling financial reasons to stay in the country. Can I add that you will miss South African ads – yes really – as the overseas ones aren’t a touch on Nando’s and others of its ilk.  – Linda van Tilburg

20 reasons to stay in South Africa: For the would-be expat

By Dean Gerber*

Dean Gerber

Over the last seven years, I have travelled internationally for work to hundreds of cities. I expected that my exposure to other places would create the desire to leave South Africa and experience living overseas. In fact, it has had the opposite effect. My time spent in other countries has helped to highlight all of the positives that SA has to offer on both a personal and economic level.

I recently attended a braai at an expat friend’s house in London. There were between 50 and 60 ex-South Africans in attendance. All were highly qualified, young professionals – talented and ambitious. CA’s, Doctors, Lawyers etc boasting SA government-subsidised educations and training that are seemingly in great demand everywhere except in SA. I had a sick feeling in my stomach to think of the potential that our amazing country had lost. The job creation, economic activity and entrepreneurship lost to that friendship group in London alone is devastating to our hopes of building a better South Africa. But as the day wore on and I chatted to many of them, it became clear that life away from home is not always as good as it looks on social media, and that many of them were considering returning home for good.

After chatting to this group of expats (trying hard to enjoy a braai in overcast, rainy London weather), I wrote these 20 reasons to stay in South Africa, directed specifically at those with the means and skills to consider immigration overseas:

  • Large, untapped population: South Africa has a relatively large population – the 22nd largest in the world. As a result of our political history and the resultant economic inequality, there is a much lower proportion of citizens actively participating in the economy than in most other countries. As we continue to find ways to educate and upskill our younger generation and economically inactive people urbanise (which they are currently doing in their droves), it creates opportunities both for them and for everyone else. In short, there could be more upside potential economically in South Africa’s “sleeping” economy than in some of the world’s more mature economies, where most of the population is employed and participates to the full extent already.
  • Our imperfect markets: In some cases, a developed and well-run economy can also mean less opportunity because everyone has easy access to a wealth of reliable information. This allows people to make educated decisions on both a macro and micro level with very low risk of deviation from what is expected. In turn, everything is priced more accurately, there is less market volatility and therefore less opportunities for bargains and arbitrage on all levels. While this makes for a safe-haven for cash and assets, it means that these economies are far more competitive amongst those seeking predictable investments. South Africa may have more potential for significant economic upside (albeit with higher inherent risk).
  • Competition for jobs and opportunities: In big metropolises like London, New York and Sydney, the best talent from all over the world converge in one place to compete with each other for jobs and opportunities. For example, if you’re looking for a high-paying banking job in New York City, chances are you will be competing against thousands of candidates with MBA’s from the world’s top Universities, who are willing to work 16 hours a day and who had the initiative and means to re-locate to New York in the first place. You may be better off being a bigger fish in the smaller SA pond. Granted, there are far more opportunities to go around in these cities. However, it’s doubtful whether these are in any way proportionate to the amount of talent from all corners of the globe competing for them.
  • SA property, stocks and businesses are currently attractive: Assuming that you are net positive about SA Inc’s long-term future under our new and more business-friendly leadership, South African asset prices are currently relatively cheap. The JSE All Share Index and Top 40 Index haven’t grown in over five years. In real terms, markets have depreciated. In the middle to upper tier of residential sectional title property (in which I have been investing for the past twelve years), many properties are selling at prices last seen six or seven years ago. In a high inflationary economy, that is great news if you’re looking to enter the market now. If there was ever a time to invest in South Africa, it would be now and at these levels.
  • Live in SA financially hedged: If you’re net negative about SA Inc, you can still live in South Africa and limit your exposure to local markets. With the number of investment instruments that allow you to invest in foreign markets as well as the relaxed foreign currency allowances, you can save a portion of your money elsewhere and still live locally. There are also many South African listed shares that provide an inherent level of hedging. If you have a bond on your South African primary residence and a large amount of your savings invested overseas, market volatility locally could even benefit you. Higher inflation and a weaker currency would decrease the real value of your mortgage in relation to your foreign savings.
  • Cost of skilled labour: SA is now competing with the likes of India and Poland in terms of the cost of skilled labour. Businesses that operate in SA and earn foreign revenue, can attract skilled SA talent far more economically than they can in most developed countries. In a global economy with blazing fast internet, skilled employees can work remotely anywhere in the world. A good example is in the audit industry, where desktop or remote audits are increasing in popularity. An auditor can be based anywhere with virtual access to the clients accounting records.
  • Political instability and corruption are not unique to SA: You need only turn on the news while abroad or speak to the locals and you’ll notice that they complain just as much about the same issues that we do. I was recently in Marseille, France, where my friends complained about a corrupt Mayor that had been in office for 20 years. I was also recently in Seattle, where the news was all about an irregular tender process that delayed the building of a bridge for years and skyrocketed the costs when they eventually did build it. Sound familiar? There are also many cities around the world that implement load shedding/rolling blackouts – including in the United States (and also due to ageing and badly maintained grids).
  • Family, friends and business network: Rebuilding a social and business network takes time and energy, which could be better directed towards growing a business or career. You often don’t realise how well connected you are in South Africa until you live overseas. The relationships you have built at school and University are extremely valuable and likely to be more resilient than those you build later in life in a foreign country and culture.
  • Quality of fresh produce, meat and food in general: Wherever I travel (western world included), I can almost never seem to find a salad or a cut of meat that stacks up to the quality that we have available in most local South African supermarkets and restaurants (unless I’m willing to pay top Dollar for it). It’s also more reasonably priced, relative to income levels, to eat out at a restaurant in South Africa than in the likes of London, New York or Melbourne. People that I know living in these cities consider eating out far more of a luxury than they used to when they lived in South Africa.
  • The best weather in the world: The weather in most of our big cities is not too hot in summer (nor humid in the case of Johannesburg and Cape Town) and not too cold in winter. I’m a little biased because I live in JHB, but potentially the only climate that comes close, in my opinion, is that of Southern California (although they have had a drought for the most part of the 21st century). This makes for an amazing South African outdoor lifestyle most of the year and is a huge attraction in terms of tourism. There is also a marked correlation between the weather and your mood and energy levels.
  • Commute times and traffic: While South Africans love to complain about traffic, most major metropolitan cities have it worse. Not only do they often have far more congestion than we do on our South African roads, but you are more likely to live further from work due to the exorbitant property and rental prices near the city. In London, for example, you might choose to live far outside the city in order to have a chance at finding a braai-ready patio or garden. If you can afford your own transport in South Africa, you may also struggle to get to grips with overcrowded public transport systems in your adopted country.
  • Beautiful cities: Cape Town, Durban and other coastal South African cities are arguably some of the most beautiful places in the world. They are also just a short flight away from JHB.
  • Cost of living: I’m not only referring to the cost of food, alcohol and entertainment when compared to most Western countries. In some countries, the proportionate tax cost to own a property or a car, for example, are also excessive – never mind the cost to buy them.
  • Democracy and institutions: We have freedom of religion, gay rights, equal rights for minorities and women and we’re a truly democratic country. That can never be bad for business or for long term prospects. Our courts and chapter 9 institutions have held up against all odds under direct attack by the state capture epidemic that crippled the country. It will take years for the positive steps taken by the new administration to filter through and show benefits.
  • Friendly people and business culture: it is my own opinion that South Africans are the easiest and friendliest to do business with. Americans find us too passive; Australians find us too aggressive. You can also live in SA and do business overseas either remotely or through travel – many SA businesses have succeeded by earning foreign income while incurring SA costs.
  • No natural disasters or wars: We don’t have earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, volcanoes. We have no threat of war or conscription – many countries live with the constant threat of war e.g. India or South Korea or have mandatory conscription e.g. Singapore.
  • Globalisation: As the world becomes a smaller place, with less constraints to doing business across borders, it doesn’t hurt to be an English-speaking country, located on a central time zone. Globalisation has also given us access to everything available in the rest of the world immediately – that we might have had to wait for in the past – the latest electronics, movies, music etc. The costs of international travel have also been on a steady decline over the last decade and it has become far more plausible to live in SA and still have the opportunity to experience foreign travel.
  • Infrastructure and global access: Our roads, ports and other infrastructure are run far better than the likes of our fellow developing countries like India or Brazil. We also have direct flights to all continents. Most other African countries don’t have direct access to the world’s major economies and need to connect through a hub.
  • Job security: whilst our stringent labour law policies may make being an employer in South Africa more burdensome than in many Western countries, our local regulations do, at least, provide you with a certain level of job security. Your employer is also less likely to treat you unfairly – or if they do, then you have recourse. In the US, for example, you can be told to pack up your desk and leave your job same-day, for almost any reason.
  • Cost of tertiary education and childcare:  The necessary move closer to free tertiary education by government is painstakingly slow. However, a quality, internationally recognised tertiary education at the likes of Wits or UCT is still highly subsidised and a fraction of the cost of what you would pay for a similar education should you immigrate to the US, for example (even after taking income levels into account). Childcare – both in the home and at creche – are also beyond reach of many families in the likes of the US and Europe, where it is often more economical for one parent to remain home to look after a child than it is to employ someone to help or to pay for the cost of creche.

Dean Gerber is a CA (SA) who works for VAT IT Pty Ltd. He can be contacted at [email protected]. Previous articles available at gerberdean.wordpress.com.


From Biznews community member Wayne Crewe-Brown

With all due respect I have to take issue with your article.

As an ex-South African, happily living in the United Kingdom, my adopted homeland, I read this and  similar articles with incredulity. No matter how much you prattle on about the weather etc, you fail to understand why the country is doomed and holds no future.

Nowhere in your biased article do you mention the obscene unemployment rate, crime, corruption and the downward spiral towards “junk” investment status with the Zimbabwe-like scenario that brings with it. Education is broken, unless one can afford private schools for one’s children, and soon SA university degrees will not be worth the paper they are written on. State healthcare is non-existent and the proposed NHI state health system will inevitably destroy the private healthcare system currently in place.

Whatever “sacrifices” I made emigrating were well worth it and gave my children and their children hope and a future. No such hope or future exists in the broken country that is South Africa.