Exodus

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.

Thoughts of Home (The Prelude)

There are a number of thoughts about South Africa that I’ve had over the last few weeks. Being at home and having a decent amount of time on my hands gave me the opportunity to re-encounter and sharpen a number of thoughts that I’ve been mulling for some time now. This post won’t quite get into a number of those thoughts, but it will start in on one or two of them.

For starters, I’ve started thinking about employment in South Africa in a fairly abstract sense. I don’t mean personal employment, but rather the employment opportunities available to millions of South Africans. These opportunities are really scarce – the last time I checked, estimates of our unemployment rates were somewhere between 30 and 40 percent. It doesn’t take a genius to see why theft, robbery, fraud, et al are so prevalent in South Africa – people don’t have means of acquiring wealth legally. That’s not the main problem, however. Before I left high school in 2002, I could already tell what that was, but I don’t know how much has been done to address the situation. The problem is quite simple: far too many South Africans receive terrible educations. The effects of Apartheid are brutally evident in our education system, where a large number of schools have continued to offer a similarly poor level of education in spite of Apartheid’s demise. As a result, we not only have millions of people who received poor educations under Apartheid, we are not producing the intellectual capital needed to increase levels of employment. It’s a vicious cycle, because we need better teachers, who themselves need to have been educated. We also need people capable of doing more than manual labour or simple clerking duties. And then we have AIDS…

And that is enough for now. I don’t have the energy to broach AIDS and its ramifications quite yet. But I will soon. (So stay tuned.)