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White expat South Africans returning home in record numbers

‘Virtually zero unemployment in highly skilled professions’ – Sharp.

Note: The article was amended on 3 September 2015 to reflect that the migration figures for white South Africans is based on Loane Sharp’s analysis of job candidates held by the country’s largest employer. This research is not based on StatsSA figures.

More than 400,000 white expat South Africans have returned to the land of their birth since the apex of the financial crisis in 2009, according to research by Free Market Foundation economist Loane Sharp. This is based on extensive analysis of job candidates on the database of the country’s largest recruitment firm, Adcorp.


Sharp says SA’s white population of working age (15 to 64 years) peaked at 5.9 million in 1973, but declined steadily to 3.9 million in 2009. Since then, the white population has risen to 4.3 million, a net gain of 400 000 over six years. That’s a substantial brain gain for the country, since most of these returnees bring vast international experience in finance, engineering, medicine and other professions.

Some employment agencies are specifically targeting expatriate South Africans to fill highly skilled positions in sectors such as engineering, mining and construction, and that is accounting for some of the migration back to SA.

Free Market Foundation economist Loane Sharp says returning whites have little trouble finding work because of the high level of skills they bring with them. “The truth of the matter is that SA has virtually zero unemployment in highly skilled professions, so those returning whites of working age – most of whom would be classified as skilled – are easily absorbed into the economy. Those without skills, or without sufficient skills, are those that cannot find work. This is why the overall unemployment rate for the country is officially above 26%.”





Source: Quarterly Labour Force Survey, Stats SA

A variety of reasons account for the two million drop in the country’s white population between 1973 and 2009. Sharp says many of them left in the 1970s and 1980s out of a disdain for apartheid and fears over what the future held for their children. Those who left in the post-1994 era were pushed out by Black Economic Empowerment, crime and a deteriorating political environment. Thousands of young white graduates with little prospect of employment due to BEE quotas ventured overseas in pursuit of careers, usually in English-speaking countries such as the UK, US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Many of these are now returning armed with skills that are still in high demand in SA.

“South Africans working abroad got a rude awakening after the financial crisis in 2008 when they realised their overseas jobs were not as secure as they had once thought,” says Sharp. “Many of them realised there is no such thing as permanent, as in guaranteed, employment, and this is when they started to look for opportunities back in SA. This has been a huge net gain for the country, since we are acquiring skills that might otherwise have been lost forever to SA. In addition to this, they bring experience of working in highly developed economies.”

The Institute of Race Relations estimated that 841 000 white South Africans had left the country between 1995 and 2005, and by some estimates two million South Africans live abroad. Based on more recent figures, SA may be experiencing the biggest in-gathering of its Diaspora since the end of apartheid 25 years ago.

Philip Park, MD of recruitment agency Professional Career Services, says there is a notable influx of returning South Africans looking for work on his firm’s books. Ten years ago, they would have slotted into the larger corporations, but today it is medium-sized firms that are doing most of the hiring. A growing proportion of South African firms are hiring for projects in Africa and elsewhere, particularly in the construction and engineering sectors, says Park.

Screen Shot 2015-08-18 at 5.33.20 PM


Source: Quarterly Labour Force Survey, Stats SA

While the job prospects are good for those with skills of any race, the same is not true for those without education or skills. Sharp reckons the unemployment rate at 26% is skewed by Stats SA’s loose measure of employment – defined as one hour in the survey reference week. He believes SA’s unemployment rate will rise to 40% within seven years, and over 50% if a narrower definition of employment is used.

Employment by numbers (Second quarter 2015)

Looking for work                              20.9m

Employed                                        15.7m

Unemployed                                     5.2m

Discouraged                                     2.4m


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Since 2009? Wonder what the recent stats look like – I doubt in the past 2 years there’s been a nett inflow..

The increase in the white working population could also be because of the shape of the white population’s age distribution. Blacks have a pyramid shaped age distribution but whites have an hour glass shaped distribution. Looking at an 2005 shape the 10 to 19 years olds are substantially larger number than the 55 to 64 year olds which will be replaced from 2005 onward as the working population. Another explanation is that the white population was underestimated in 2009. The last census before 2011 was in 2001. Out of personal experience none of my friends and family have returned . One additional family member and one friend moved recently.

A possible explanation is the shape of the white population distribution. Its shaped like an hour glass. When looking at a 2005 distribution the 10 to 19 years olds that would have replaced the 55 to 64 year olds over the following 10 years are much more in numbers. Another explanation is an underestimation of the white population in 2009. The last census before 2011 was only in 2001. Personally none of my family members or friends have returned. In fact one family member and one friend moved last year.

I think you are correct. Anecdotally I know many who have left and none who have returned except for a visit from my technically and stem inclined cohort.

Wow, this article is really going to stick in the craw of all the bears on this site 😉

It is always interesting speaking to these SA expats living overseas. They are usually so proud to say “in Aus or New Zealand or the UK you can walk alone in the streets at 01:00 in the morning and still feel safe”. The fact is that at 01:00 in the morning I am fast asleep in my bed, tired
after a hard day’s work . So I really have no longing to go wonder out on the streets on my own at 01:00 in the morning. They can really keep that privilege for themselves. Better still, save your energies for doing your house chores on Saturday and Sunday like the ironing, washing
and gardening. I will be out playing golf and my wife at the spa whilst you happily do your chores. Did I mention we have a domestic every day of the week???

I remember we were planning to move from a security estate into a “country estate” as we wanted more space, walking/cycling tracks and amenities in walking range without having security and safety concerns. One trip to Aus and we realised that what we were about to pay a premium for in SA (in a 400 hectare space), was already included in your taxes in Australia. So mate, you can really keep “your” domestic; We happily do our chores and garden work as a family, and will normally finish off the weekend by taking a relaxing bike ride from our front door (on dedicated bike tracks) through the golf course, all the way down to the beach. Life is good!

You are an idiot. 1am is a figure od speech, something you cant do there even if you were not sleeping with your alarm on, a 9 mm under your pillow and your guard dogs roaming the yard. While you play golf with your 9mm and your wife goes to the spa…and locks her doors while she drives in case she gets hijacked and your house id being cleaned. You call that a quality life…you are screwed in your head. I would rather do my own housework that live that life…here you wont killed for R5 like that hole…so you carry on playing golf…don’t forget to take your 9mm wherever you go…

@ jnrb

The fact is that we are living in a country that is failing and soon that failure will affect every aspect of our lives. Your frivolous comments in the face of irrefutable evidence that this country is going to the dogs tells me that you are simply too blind to realize you need to emigrate and possibly too stupid to be of use to a first world country anyway.

I cannot fathom why you and some of the other commentators treat expats like enemies. Many expats fled South Africa because of crime that had affected them personally, or because despite their skills they cannot advance and make a decent living in this hell hole. They have managed to make a living in foreign countries at a massive cost to them and their families.

If you’re too blind to see at what cost the golf and spas and domestic servants come or you’re too lazy to live without these I propose that you keep your silly opinions to yourself.

Perhaps you should go “wondering” (sic) more often and think clearly about where you are and where this country will be in another 5-10 year’s time.

So if one reads these numbers correctly only some 15.7 m people support and pay taxes to provide freebies for the balance of the 54 m people in this country. That’s some 29% of the population are being sucked dry by the fiscus – crazy economics by this government

What never ceases to beguile me is that, they leave but everyday foreigners come into this country. Yes 2 million may as well be living abroad, but how many white non-south Africans come in to make it their home… give us that number as well. I know quite a few who settled here after 1994…. someone also must know somebody.

Don’t know too many white ones but the number of black ones I have met is extremely high. As they are eager to please and work hard they are of course taking the place of a fair number of locals.

Imagine how many more would return if;
1. We had a Government that did not steal anything that moved.
2. Had a credible Education system.
3. Had a functioning health system.
4. Had a police force that – well policed the country, and wasn’t always the first at the scene of a crime, whether they were called or not.
5. Had a Municipal Structure that did their jobs, without stealing.
6. Had a president that set the example as a Country’s no 1 citizen, and was not a joke both at home and abroad.
7. Had a currency that was worth something.
….. I have run out of ink. The local stationer cannot deliver – something to do with the postal strike ?

Number 8 for your list – an adequate and efficient electricity generation system. (Get a courier to deliver your ink!)

Actually many returning to SA have accumulated financial wealth and can now move to Countries such as Canada through VIP Business Immigration Program and obtain permanent residency as an Immigrant Investor. They come back just the time required to sell their assets and apply for Canadian Permanent residency or if they are younger even Australia .

The goal for many South Africans is to leave if they can .

Based on the exodus of whites kids from private schools due to emigration, I don’t think that these stats reflect the past 2 years. I would say that any white thinking of coming back to SA, would be making a serious long term mistake, rather take the short term pain in the 1st world and give your kids a chance because in SA they have none.

sadly these stats are desperately out of date.

it is well documented that there was a surge in returning offshore workers around 2010. anecdotally and based on stats issued by schools, estate agents and monitoring other community sites the trend has been wholly reversed in the last 2 years. i myself know of more than a dozen families (only 50% of those white btw) that have moved in the last 2 years, at least 50% of which were also in those that returned c2010.

there is a massive exodus underway again. of course this is all fine in isolation. the problem though is that people who can afford to leave are also the top rate tax payers which means smaller tax base, less tax receipts and increasing unemployement as their helpers, gardners etc lose their jobs.

as they say – you get stats, and then also you get stats!. stats can be skewed to prove anything and everything. in july (ie last month) one of the radio stations (cape talk I think) talked to emigration agents in the gold coast (aus) who had received a 7 fold increase in immigration enquiries since jan. now who does on believe?

It was refreshing to read some good news on SA for a change – the stats look solid to me and they back up my own experience as I know of a number of young professionals coming back from the cold as it were – especially the UK – as they cannot see themselves raise their kids in that environment and without some “domestic assistance”. All of them landed excellent corporate jobs before they even got here and live very happy lives here in SA. Yes, like the rest of us, they worry about things like loadshedding, Nkandla and failing SOEs but they all still firmly believe they have made the right decision to come back.
I must also say that it did not take long for the negative comments to coming streaming in – it may be best for these individuals to sample life on the outside, but before they do it would be advisable for them to read this well written column on emigration:

you hit the nail on the head – domestic servants! yes places like aus, Canada and nz cannot for most people offer things like a sleep-in domestic. what they offer is a safe and secure environment to bring up your children and see their children grow up in similar circumstances. one only has to read the daily carnage of farmers to realise something seriously is wrong in sa. sa was today voted as the 2nd most unequal country in the world – something to brag about. emigration is not for the faint hearted. it is very hard – even if you can get a visa out. the reality for the most is that it is not available. to brag about people finding living in a foreign country as “too hard” – just shows what sheltered lives thjey have led

Are you physically in Sydney or are you packing for it Robert? Either way, I see how and understand why you feel the need to justify your one-sided and negative views on SA. The carnage of farmers is very disconcerting but no less disconcerting than the fact that more African people get murdered and raped in the townships on a like-for-like comparison. SA, and Africa as a whole, has always been and will always be a hard and challenging environment (not for the faint hearted) – you will find that the ones finding it “too hard” to make it in SA are the ones leaving – they almost always hide behind the “we are doing it for our kids” spiel and citing rampant crime to back them up. The people I know who have come back do so because of the lifestyle, jobs and opportunities they can have here – challenges and all. If you are already in Sydney or going there please be sure to enjoy your carefree life without having to harp on about how bad things are in SA and badmouth the country and its people… it just makes the Aussies more glib and the other Saffers there more depressed about their home country…

@PPompies – how is ‘doing it for our kids’ hiding behind something? It is a valid, well thought out and life changing plan that people make in order to give their children a safe environment to live in, without prejudice and the hope for a future 20 years down the line.

If you have kids, can you honestly say they will have the best schooling, tertiary education, safety, financial independence that money can buy?

Emigration is difficult when based on diplomas but not that hard for South Africans , for business owners that have at least 20M ZAR of assets . Best choice is Canada through the VIP Business Immigration scheme which as no age limit and no business creation needs . Its perfect for retiring in one of the TOP quality of life country , certainly the safest by far. OH Canada , here I come

@PPompies: How did your post garner 115 votes? Been busy on the self-like button? It’s not a matter of hiding behind a cliché – doing it for our kids – it’s plain common sense. I have two little grand-daughters and I fear for their safety.

It’s 6 votes Gramps – I would also fear for their safety if you are the one doing the driving wihout getting your eyes tested… o_O

Oh I see what you mean now – my reply to expat Robert. Geez – cannot believe it myself. Did not know you could like your own posts – I’ll be adding at least one like (which I think is the limit)… thanks for the support and safe driving

the irony which is lost on most is that the very problems which beset SA are exactly what lay the groundwork for you to have live-in assistance at a pittance.

If SA was an equal society and everyone who wanted a decent job could get one, do you think it would be any cheaper to hire domestic help in SA than elsewhere ?

Yes Bertie very ironic indeed – but this irony is increased ten fold when you consider that every middle class white family fleeing terrible South Africa leaves on average two people and all of their dependents without a source of income. Cheap labour, wrongly or rightly, is one of the things going for SA – and it is definitely a case of like SA or… leave it

Exactly Bertie, though it provides much needed work and there simply is not enough money in the economy to pay better wages, it is this income inequality that causes much of the crime and social problems. That is why we gladly do our chores and garden work and fill up our own tanks with a smile 🙂

I absolutely agree with the sentiments in the comments above – I highly doubt that these figures reflect the actual scenario over the past two years.

@Jnrb – sleeping sweetly at 1am behind a large wall, electric fence, alarms and panic buttons? Be careful putting too much trust in that domestic, you never know who she will let onto the property while you are out playing golf.

No Smiggy, we live in a secure golf estate in the Western Cape with an electrified fence system and 24/7 security. We don’t have burglar bars or an alarm and 5 of our external doors are made of glass. Crime is an absolute non-issue in my life. We send our kids to a private school and there is a hospital full of specialists 10 km away, so medical care is not a problem. SA is not all doom and gloom and everybody is not a criminal.

Good for you – living the dream then. Where do you keep your cash and investments, are they rand based?

Sounds like Brand South Africa (the advertising agency PAID by the government to lie about SA) has been telling porkies again?

Ironic that only yesterday they had a workshop about how to lie about SA and make it look “good” in the eyes of the world…

And here we have a text book example. NO DIRECT evidence to support their claim. NO STATS about immigration or emigration. All anecdotal suppositions based on sketchy job data in a country where truth and reality are deliberately hidden to keep the sheep calm…

Dream and lie on on… everyday I see SKILLED people begging for jobs in the abomination that is SA. In the last 6 month alone enquiries about people wanting to leave SA has increased TENFOLD!

Exactly, SAFFA. “South Africa stopped collecting data on people leaving and entering the country in 2003, when the Immigration Act came into effect.” and, according to StatsSA, “The number of whites thought to have left between 2011 and last year is 95,158, just over 2% of the current population. ‘In numbers it is not so high,’ SA Institute of Race Relations researcher Thuthukani Ndebele said.(Timeslive 24 July 2015).

And those are the whites who were ABLE to leave. Far more interesting and relevant would be a survey of how many white Sout Africans WANT to leave (and why) but are unable to because they don’t “tick all the right boxes” for their applications for immigration to be acaccepted, because they don’t have the financial means, or because they feel they will not cope without family support.

This article is complete manipulation of old stats and the fact that Moneyweb has regurgitated this ANC propaganda is shameful.

erm 2% of the current population is 1 million…
How can anybody come to any conclusion except that someone is trying to manipulate the people.
We have not even discussed those that leave on a holiday or working visa and never return, I believe they are even more than the official emigrants!
I can quite easily accept that 2 Million are living in exile in diaspora but it is all hearsay and anecdotes.
Given the totalitarian censorship bill the Cabinet passed yesterday we can expect an “Iron Curtain” of lies and deceit and brainwashing in years to come…
I hope it is not too late for those with their heads in the sand to catch a wake up and realise they system and its corporate supporters are enslaving them.

yes after posting my tuppence worth I remembered the anc and its cohorts has put out a decree – only good news – to all media. so this is just a set up

Those that come back usually achieve there goal of getting a residency or passport of the country they went to. Makes them have comfort in the fact that there is a plan B should it really fall to bits.

Ah but for your tax you get domestic help can play golf go the the spa and sit on your backside while the world around you collapses.

Whether or not to leave SA or stay is a personal choice, based on each individual’s priorities and appetite for risk. There is no right or wrong, patriot or prophet.

Whatever choice we make, we must accept the consequences, both good and bad – and then get on with it. I personally chose to clean my own home and look after my own children, in exchange for security and (relative) political and economic certainty. But if that recipe doesn’t work for someone else, then who am I to judge? It’s their life, not my mine. I can only say that I am extremely happy with my
choice and that it works for me.

Well done NicolaR for bringing, intelligence, balance & poetry to the dialogue. How sad for the country that you are no longer here.

Ok you got me, that’s not entirely true … I actually have a Russian lady cleaning my home and my kids are at daycare right now. But the principle remains

South Africa’s total white population was 3.75 million in 1970, 4.3 million in 1977 and peaked at 5 million in 1991. How on earth could the working white population have numbered 5.9 million in 1973?

Black privilege allows an enormous amount of political licence…

Well if these stats were taken from the most recent census then they are woefully inaccurate, I am not aware of any of my neighbours who bothered to complete the census documentation so its is really data skewed, also they had an 18% undercount which Census SA failed to follow up on

Very suspicious. If your stats are correct it means that there are blatant lies in this article.

Okay, that’s great.
What about the ones that chose to stay and also the ones that will be going into the market in the next 5 years? Will they also be applauded? Hey, if you chose to run…….

What a load of absolute rubbish and like most stats in SA they use the ones that make things look good.

So they came to this conclusion by looking at the racial identity of working South Africans as the government has long since stopped measuring the number of people leaving and returning to SA.

There are a couple of reasons that there has been an increase in the number of whites in the workforce since 2009. Firstly each year it is getting harder and harder to emigrate to other countries especially from SA where our education standard has dropped to such a poor level that where once teachers, doctors etc were welcomed with open arms by other countries they now have to jump through hoops to get their qualifications recognised. This means that less whites are able to leave the country and since 2009 many of those who haven’t been able to leave have had children finish school and enter the workforce thereby increasing the number of whites in the workforce.

Another reason is that a lot of young white South Africans used to leave to have a working holiday abroad when they finished school then just stay in their country of choice after gaining some experience there and being able to get a permanent visa. Working holiday visa’s are generally given on a reciprocal basis between countries and since SA did away with the visa a few years ago and stopped allowing foreign youngsters come here for working holidays most other countries including UK, Aus, USA etc stopped allowing SA youngsters to apply for working holiday visa’s. This means that the kids leaving school in SA have no choice but to join the workforce.


Agree with many of the comments. Have been in Oz now for 4 years and know lots of South Africans (In my street of 15 houses there are 4 South African families as an example). Have not met a single person that has returned or plans to return to SA. The only ones that I have heard of that have done so had no choice as they may have lost their jobs and had been on temporary visas (and in these cases they typically try all avenues to remain here through trying to find new sponsors or enrolling at uni). Am also a member of a few SA Facebook groups in Oz and there are daily posts from newbies that have just arrived seeking advice and also regular enquiries from people in SA on how to get into Oz. Suspect it is generally one way traffic (apart from some trips to visit family in SA or to go on holiday).

As an expat of 7 years living in Sydney I am always amazed at how annoyed South Africans in the country get at those who have had the balls to leave. I left a great country with many problems to come to a great country with fewer problems. Living in a first versus 3rd world country is a choice and I have nothing against those who stay , in fact I understand it. The SA community in Sydney is vast with very few (1 or 2 families) a year that return to SA for good. So whilst the story may in fact be accurate I have my doubts. The thing that most don’t understand is that you can always go back as an expat. In fact when you leave you have a free option to do so any time you want as the Rand performs so badly. In my case i have a 50% gain on my assets i left with in Rands purely and soley as a result of the currency . This excludes any investment return on these assets. Most expats are in the same position but as I said VERY few seem take up the option.

Just because AUS is good for you does not mean we should all leave or “do not have the balls to leave”. Lots of professions are very well paid in SA and life is good here for lots of us. We can send all our spare cash off shore and live like kings on very little here. And really crime in Cape Town is not all that bad!

some good points. re-reading this i am also wondering why this type of article gets so many people worked up.

surely no south african no matter where located wants SA to become a complete basket case. so if more whites are moving back, thats great. good for the country and good for the economy.

anyone who bases their own decision on articles like this and the related unsubstantiated stats that are thrown around pretty much deserves the unhappiness that is coming to them.

you only have your own demons to face when awake at 4am …. if you sleep better in SA then good for you. if thats aus then booyah! just be happy with your choices.

I think the take away is that an econmoy can only absorb so many unskilled workers and the only way to reduce unemployment is too increase skills. But with poor parenting and so many children just dumped with relatives there is little will to become educated and attend school. In order to changed this we need a major cultural shift.

It always amazes me how the expats appear out of the woodwork when an article like this appears, and then go on to rubbish it. What are you doing hanging around South African websites? Longing for home? I am sure there are plenty of Aussie, NZ and Pom websites, or expat Facebook groups, that will love your negative views.

End of comments.





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