World Culture

Brian Isn't Leaving South Africa

I've been a Facebook friend of Brian Tristam Williams for some time. Bri, who's South African, lives in Johannesburg, and took an interest in our topic yesterday on South African emigration. I asked him what he thought of the subject, so here's Bri:

Thinking about the South African "Brain Drain," I have to take my history in the country and couple it with the actions of my peers. I'm sure I couldn't come up with a 100% accurate historical record, but in the context of my own life, why do I have a brain that hasn't been drained from the national skill set?

I'm a 35-year-old white male in the movie industry, specifically handling online stuff for a national entertainment company. I've never been out of South Africa. I do, however, live vicariously in the world, via the international media, and NPR is the major part of that. I have no great desire to emigrate, although I do intend to travel. I was considering emigration in around 1997/1998. It had become a fad among my peers.

My interest in emigration declined as South African consumer confidence continued to grow in the early 2000s. Apart from the notorious decline in public safety due to violent crime, there are many opportunities here, and the preceding late-90s "Brain Drain" made a skill-set more valuable right here.

Consensus among people with whom I surround myself, and the local media, seems to be that things were on the upswing in the early 2000s. Emigrants were returning, crime was declining, although very slowly. However, at the end of 2007, President Thabo Mbeki, lost the nomination of his party, to be replaced by Jacob Zuma, around whom considerable political baggage hovers (sex scandal, corruption charges, etc.).

This prompted a political nervousness of skilled South African workers. Further, it didn't help when our infrastructure appeared to be under imminent collapse in early 2008, when office workers spent two hours a day chatting amongst themselves because the electricity had been abruptly terminated.

"Load-shedding," the somewhat awkward moniker for this, was here to stay, said the experts. It stopped several months later, and the inevitability of an overwhelmed supply grid mysteriously dried up. However, just as the collective consciousness of South Africans might have began recovering from inherent pessimism, the U.S. economic collapse triggered a domino-effect around the world, including in South Africa. I understand that this is a global thing, but for the majority of South Africans, who live on the local media alone, it does not leave a good taste in their mouths - "in South Africa things are bad," once again.

So, yes, there is more talk of up-and-leaving by many, although I'm not sure they realise that jobs are hard to come by everywhere. This may be the first time a South African downturn was matched by possibly worse conditions where the grass is supposedly greener. This, combined with the knock-on effect of laying off thousands of workers, will surely not serve to improve the crime situation.

I am single and hence not too concerned about a wife and children in a supposedly dangerous society. I live next door to a black middle-class family, which is concerned about crime — they have burglar bars, despite our the gated complex. Cries of "run away" will grow louder in the next couple of years, I'm sure.

There is a light on the horizon, however: The Soccer World Cup of 2010 is driving infrastructure growth. The Olympics are great, but Africans just love soccer. An unprecedented public transport rail network, bridging Johannesburg and Pretoria, is being built right through the heart of the two cities and the highways joining them. Railcars are being imported. Trenches are opening up on all of our city curbs for fibre optic cable, and high-speed international fibre will go live to accommodate the plethora of high-definition content that will need to be streamed from here. And when the World Cup is all played out, the billions spent on our infrastructure will continue to bubble in the cauldron.

I'm not too worried about the prospects. And as I lay in the sun next to the pool, in our "California" or "Florida" weather, I watch black, Indian, "coloured" and white kids swimming together.

I sip on my beer and I think, "these kids are gonna be fine." — Brian Tristam Williams

Thanks, Brian.

— Korva Coleman

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