UK the second most popular destination for emigrating South Africans

Searching for greener pastures, many South Africans are selling up and booking one-way tickets in their search for new lives abroad, and the UK is the second most popular destination.  

According to Rand Merchant Bank, around 23,000 South Africans are estimated to be emigrating every year, with over 100,000 having left since 2016.

The UK has one of the highest South African diasporas in the world, with an estimated population of 229,000 as of 2020, according to the Office for National Statistics, with over 53,000 in London alone.

Wandsworth is the borough with the highest number of South Africans, an estimated 6,000, while Merton reported approximately 3,000 and Lambeth, Kingston and Richmond each reported around 2,000.

London has one of the largest concentrations of South Africans in the UK, with 53,000

This is also evident in the fact there are around 13 South African shops in south west London alone, which cater for both Brits and South Africans alike, selling a variety of South African staples from rusks to biltong. 

South Africans are leaving for a range of reasons like crime, safety and rolling blackouts but their motivations, according to James Formby, CEO of Rand Merchant Bank, are more about leaving these issues than actually wanting to be anywhere else.

In a statement to news site the South African, he said: “South Africans tend to move not necessarily because they feel the opportunity is better elsewhere – it’s just that they’re terrified of what’s happening in their own backyard. Load shedding, crime, and safety are the primary concerns.”

South Africa has one of the worst crime rates in the world, with only 29% of people feeling safe to walk alone according to Gallup World Poll.

Corruption and mismanagement have also created a tense atmosphere which resulted in load shedding, a series of rolling blackouts for multiple hours a day, rising unemployment, was exacerbated by the pandemic, and failing infrastructure.

But despite these difficulties many South Africans still express a deep love for the country and admit that they would return if things improved. 

South African born couple, Tannagh Pfotenhauer and Nick Conyngham arrived in the UK in mid-May after Conyngham accepted a new job opportunity in London and the pair decided it was time for a new adventure.

Nick said: “We’d sort of for the last few years said that it might be nice to experience living in another country and if we could choose what country to live in, we both quite liked the idea of living in the UK, but I don’t think it was always a sure plan. 

“I think the job offer came as a result of our decision to go but in terms of the decision to go, it was always the plan eventually.”

FRESH OFF THE PLANE: Tannagh Pfotenhauer and Nick Conyngham endured hotel quarantine before settling down in their new home

The couple’s decision to leave differs from the general belief that South Africans are escaping the country and is a result of a decision to explore before they set up permanent roots.

Tannagh said: “A lot of people, when we told them that we’d made the decision to move to the UK, it was met with a lot of ‘you’re making the right decision’, like ‘get out while you can you’re young and can get out of there’ and we were saying, actually we’re not leaving because we hate South Africa, we’ll always love South Africa. 

“We are leaving because we do see the benefits of moving to a country like the UK but it’s going to be first and foremost adventure for us.”

Nick added: “It’s a decision we made where both options are great. It’s either that if we have been enjoying it here in the UK and we can see a long future, let’s stay or if we decide, South Africa is where we eventually want to end up and stay, then we can head back or even something in between if we decide that way.”

Chelsea Herdon has lived in both South Africa and the UK during her life, but spent the majority of her time in South Africa after her family emigrated in the early 2000’s.

HAPPY TO BE BACK: Chelsea is finishing her studies to continue teaching in the UK.
Credit: Chelsea Herdon

Chelsea decided to return to the UK earlier this year despite the added red-tape created by the pandemic and accepted the added levels she had to go through to make her way here.  

She said: “I’ve been wanting to move back for quite a while. I just felt like my heart was still here.”

Chelsea’s parents also felt the UK was the best place for her to ‘experience life’ and get out of the ‘small’ mindset of South Africa.

But she reiterated that she still looked back on her time in the country with fond memories and that she will return to see her family and may one day settle there again. 

She added: “I don’t regret any of the time that I spent in South Africa. I love South Africa. I don’t know what it is about it, it just creeps into your skin and a piece of my heart will always be there.

“If I move back, it’ll probably be, way down the line but I definitely want to go back because obviously, my family and all that are there, it’s just wonderful to be there.”

Emigrations were not uncommon during the pandemic according to a new study by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and CareerJunction, as around 59% of South Africans were still willing to move to another country for work but this was a dip from a 72% willingness level in 2018.

Credit: BusinessTech

Young and highly educated South Africans were also willing to move abroad with 56% of young people and 61% of highly educated people in the country saying they would be willing to relocate during the pandemic.

One British born woman recently returned back after a holiday at her home in South Africa, but this may have been one of her last she told South West Londoner.

Joanna Wilson, 74, moved to South Africa in 1970 and married a South African farmer in 1971.

The couple spent 40 years of their life farming in the Magaliesburg, in the Gauteng province, but after her husband’s death she began to split her time between the UK and South Africa.

FARMING: Magaliesburg, located in the Gauteng Province, is roughly an hour and 45 minutes from Johannesburg

Now she is looking at permanently basing herself in the UK due to the uncertainty the future holds in the country and the toll travelling is having on her. 

She said: “I’m thinking I might sell my property in South Africa next year because how long can I keep on going back? And, you know, what is the future? I don’t know. I think it may come to the point that I just have to see.”

Wilson’s decision could become easier following her son’s recent move to the UK in late May, albeit, she said, with a heavy heart. 

She added: “He’s not leaving, like so many people are, by leaving the brain drain. He loves South Africa. His family do too. 

“It is slightly different to your normal South African that is leaving, there are so many of his age group that are leaving because they see no future, but his was simply because of his job.” 

Wilson acknowledged that her family, herself included, had an easier move to the UK because of their family history and similar culture, but said that she knew that many South Africans struggled with their emigrations.

But many South Africans are still remaining, primarily because of their financial situations according to Wilson.

She said: “We have a lot of roots here in the UK and a lot of tradition here and a lovely life here, but it’s very different for a lot of South Africans. I take my hat off to them because they come with none of that.”

“There’s a lot of money around, they have very comfortable lives, they are retired, they’ve had good lives, they had good careers and their own families.

“If they haven’t moved already, they will live their lives up comfortably. But all their children again may move, everybody here is saying the same thing.

“My friends always speak of a doomed South Africa.”

Despite the number of South Africans leaving, many are doing so reluctantly, often facing difficulties along the way but with South Africans the seventh most reported country of origin for non-UK born residents, the community is not going anywhere soon.

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