I’m starting to notice the extent of the brain drain South Africa is experiencing at the moment. When I was at home, I barely managed to make contact with any of my friends from high school. A large number of them were working overseas during our long summer holiday, and I started thinking about where many of my friends are going to end up working.
It didn’t take me long to sense that a good number of them won’t be working in South Africa. The vast majority of my friends are white and live comfortably. More importantly, however, they have all received university degrees that are marketable elsewhere in the world. At the moment, a number of my friends were simply spending a few months in the UK or US earning some money. But the prospects of working elsewhere in the world are alluring. (I would know – I am thinking about staying on in the US for a few years.) In my case, it’s just easier to find a job because I am already here and companies are looking to recruit students to start work in June. The starting salary that I am liable to earn dwarfs what I would receive at home, even relative to living costs. And that’s just a financial motivator. As white males, my friends and I are right at the bottom of the pile when it comes to affirmative action, which is really aggressive in South Africa. Many posts are advertised as “Affirmative Action Positions” that are designated to go to groups disadvantaged by Apartheid. (Needless to say, white males do not fall into any such group.) That’s not to say that jobs are impossible to come by: a number of my friends are working in South Africa at the moment or have deals set up for after graduation. But the allure of foreign employment remains for other reasons.
If one’s involved in healthcare, social services or governance, then South Africa is a really good place to be. If, on the other hand, one’s an engineer or involved in a technical field like computer programming, it isn’t quite a hotbed of activity. So a friend of mine who’s just finished his Electrical Engineering degree wants to try his hand in the UK – he wants to be exposed to cutting-edge technology as it’s happening, and being in South Africa won’t give him much exposure. Another acquaintance of mine is currently in the US working for NVIDIA before continuing completing his computer science degree: in his case it’s also clear that he won’t be involved in the same level of development at home.
On top of all these things, South Africa is not the safest place in the world. Crime rates are really high (for reasons I’ve already touched on) and white paranoia (and wealth) doesn’t make the situation seem any better for middle- to upper-class South Africans. Going to live in Canada or New Zealand is a much safer move.
But it isn’t necessarily a moral one. I know that I want to return to South Africa, despite its problems. If anything, I should do something about its problems because I have access to so many resources. How to do so is a question I haven’t answered as of yet, but it’s something I’m thinking about. Any and all decisions I may make are littered with moral landmines, but I’ll see how I can navigate them as time goes by.