A growing number of skilled South Africans are leaving the country and the main reasons behind this exodus are what many people would expect: affirmative action, BEE, and crime.
Data from emigration assistance groups and receiver countries point to a sharp increase in South African citizens moving to the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States.
Many of the people who leave South Africa are highly-skilled professionals and executives in the IT and telecommunications industries.
To replace the experience and skills of these high-level ICT executives is nearly impossible, especially when considering their knowledge of the local environment.
While companies may try to retain these IT executives, it is challenging as these companies are not able to influence the political, criminal, and social economic challenges that drive many executives out of the country.
Why IT executives are really leaving
To answer the question “Why are skilled South Africans leaving the country?”, MyBroadband interviewed high-level ICT executives who have left South Africa for Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
These executives were guaranteed anonymity to give them the freedom to freely discuss the real reasons behind their decisions.
What emerged from the feedback was that a lack of opportunities caused by affirmative action and Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) were the main reasons for leaving the country.
Other prominent trends were safety and security, and South Africa’s long-term future – especially how it related to their children’s prospects in the country.
The sections below provide a summary of the feedback from the ICT executives who MyBroadband interviewed.
BEE and Affirmative Action
The negative impact of BEE and affirmative action on the opportunities for non-African professionals and executives was the dominant reason for leaving South Africa.
An IT executive who now lives in Sydney told MyBroadband that BEE is negatively impacting the opportunity pool for non-black IT executives.
Another executive explained that the number of positions in Cape Town with an executive salary for a non-BEE placement were rare.
“I didn’t realise the impact of BEE on employment prospects until being told when applying to a couple of positions that ‘we wish we could hire you, but you’re the wrong colour’,” he said.
An ecommerce executive said there are more opportunities for him overseas. “I wouldn’t say South Africans are particularly sought after, but you’re definitely not discriminated against,” he said.
Crime, safety, and security
“Crime – nothing further needs to be said about this reason. Neither my wife or I had been victims of violent crime, but it became a ‘when, not if’ scenario,” one ICT exec told MyBroadband.
Another top-level executive from Perth said the safety and security of his family were far more important to him than any business proposition in South Africa.
“Moving to Australia and living in a safe environment is a decision I am grateful I made each and every day,” he said.
Another executive said he was advised to put the child seat behind his chair in his car to make it easier to get them out in the event of a hijacking. “That’s a pretty crazy way to live,” he said.
A high-level executive who left a large South African telecoms company said he wanted a more stable life for his children from a safety and job prospect point of view.
“As a white South African, I believe there was a glass ceiling for me and my career. I believe that it could possibly be worse for my children,” he said.
Other executives expressed the same concerns, saying while their positions were secure they were concerned about the impact of affirmative action and BEE on their children’s prospects in SA.
A top-level executive who moved to the United States said political instability and future unbiased opportunities for his kids played a role in his decision to leave South Africa.
Lower and better-spent taxes
A telecoms executive who moved to Australia said the lower tax rate means he takes home more money than what he did in South Africa.
“The tax that you pay in Australia goes towards a tangible benefit in the form of great schooling that is almost free and full medical cover,” he added.
He said that while housing is very expensive, his quality of life is generally the same as in South Africa on a single salary (in SA they had two incomes to support the family).
Another Australian executive said he now pays less tax than what he did in South Africa and gets free health care.