Let Us be Proud of Successful ZA Expats, but Learn Why They Left

It is always heartwarming to know that you come from a country of achievers, that some of that magic may have also rubbed off on you. So we are rightly proud to read that Patrick Soon-Shiong, who was born in Port Elizabeth, is the world’s richest doctor and one of the US’ Top-40 billionaires.

Of course, he is not the only ZA expat to be worth a bit. Entrepreneur and inventor Elon Musk, who was born in Pretoria and now operates in North America, has also been in the headlines recently, and there are other South Africans living in Switzerland and in London and in Australia who are not short of a billion or two.

Super. Bravo. Let’s be proud of all of them.

But let us not be complacent.   While these fine men are creating jobs and employing people and spending cash, it may not be doing the ZA economy much good. They may have philanthropic activities in the land of their birth, but their impact on ZA’s GDP may not be very high.

So we need to ask why they may have felt the need to leave this country to secure their success?

We do have to acknowledge that there are pockets of excellence in ZA education and training. We produce excellent accountants and engineers, doctors and entrepreneurs.   But you go to London, or Vancouver or Perth or San Francisco, you will find clusters of super-talented South Africa-trained people who are no longer living in this country.   Meanwhile, you look around this country and you see the millions who have been let down by the education system.

What drove them away?   Was it a fear of high and violent crime which threatened them and their families?   Was it the reverse apartheid of Black Economic Empowerment, which many believe bolsters less-able black people and penalises white (and Chinese?) South Africans?   Was it the kleptocratic culture of corruption which stretches from lowly functionaries to the very top of government? Was it concern that we will soon be unable to rely on basic services such as water and electricity? Was it the collapse of standards in education?

Was it a feeling that the rainbow miracle of Nelson Mandela is being destroyed by his former comrades in arms?

Unless we understand what drives the very talented out of ZA, the drain of those with the best brains is likely to continue. And that will be a very bad thing.

Maybe not so much for them, but certainly for the rest of us.

Tweet of the Day:

Edmund Blackadder (@BlackadderTweet): “There’s an air-raid going on and I don’t want to have to write to your mother at London Zoo and tell her that her only human child is dead”

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