2008 October 12 Sunday
Bad Signs In South Africa

Glad I'm not in South Africa.

The past year has been especially unnerving, with one bleak event after another, and it is more than acidic politics that have soured the national mood. Economic growth slowed; prices shot up. Xenophobic riots broke out in several cities, with mobs killing dozens of impoverished foreigners and chasing thousands more from their tumbledown homes.

The country’s power company unfathomably ran out of electricity and rationed supply. Gone was the conceit that South Africa was the one place on the continent immune to such incompetence. The rich purchased generators; the poor muddled through with kerosene and paraffin.

Other grievances were ruefully familiar. South Africa has one of the worst crime rates. But more alarming than the quantity of lawbreaking is the cruelty. Robberies are often accompanied by appalling violence, and people here one-up each other with tales of scalding and shooting and slicing and garroting.

The poor apply padlocks in defense. The rich surround their homes with concrete and barbed wire — and there are suggestions that more are simply fleeing the country.

“On our street alone, just that one small street, three of the husbands in families were killed in carjackings or robberies,” said Antony McKechnie, an electrical engineer who a month ago moved to New Zealand. “If we had stayed and something had happened to any of our three children, we would never be able to forgive ourselves.”

The skilled whites are more able to leave than the unskilled whites. So fleeing people like Mr. McKechnie take skills with them disproportionately for their numbers.

Recent South African political leaders have opted not to compete with Nelson Mandela for saintliness awards.

Mr. Mbeki was president for nine years, and his image slowly warped from someone aloof but well intentioned to someone secretive and conniving. During the past year, he went to extraordinary lengths to protect his police commissioner, accused of shopping with mobsters in an expensive haberdashery and permitting them to pick up the tab.

Mr. Mbeki’s political nemesis is Mr. Zuma, whom he once fired as deputy president and who has image problems of his own. In 2006, he was tried on rape charges and acquitted, testifying that his accuser had encouraged him by wearing a short skirt and sitting provocatively. As a Zulu man, he said, he was duty-bound to oblige her. He then showered, as he described it, to “minimize the risk” of contracting the virus that causes AIDS.

The ratio of blacks to whites has risen from 6.625 to 8.55 since 1996.

Since 1996, the black population has risen to a projected 38.5 million from 31.8 million, according to government statistics. The white population has dropped to a projected 4.5 million from 4.8 million.

John Loos, an economist at First National Bank of South Africa, who tracks the reasons given by people who sell homes in white suburban markets, said 9 percent cited emigration in the last quarter of 2007. In the first quarter of 2008, the number rose to 12 percent; in the second quarter it reached 18 percent.

These numbers suggest that the white flight is accelerating dramatically. Maybe we can't trust the official figures on the size of white flight. Even a guy who wants to look on the bright side admits almost everyone who took an accounting course with him have since fled.

Since May, one of the nation’s best-selling books has been a pep talk titled “Don’t Panic!” by a businessman, Alan Knott-Craig. Aimed primarily at downhearted white people, the book laments the “tsunami of negativity” and discourages those packing for Perth.

Mr. Knott-Craig, 31, said in an interview that 67 of his 72 classmates in an accounting course had emigrated.

Another source of data claims the white flight since 1995 is closer to 20% of the whites.

The South African Institute of Race Relations, a think-tank, guesses that 800,000 or more whites have emigrated since 1995, out of the 4m-plus who were there when apartheid formally ended the year before. Robert Crawford, a research fellow at King’s College in London, reckons that around 550,000 South Africans live in Britain alone. Not all of South Africa’s émigrés are white: skilled blacks from South Africa can be found in jobs and places as various as banking in New York and nursing in the Persian Gulf. But most are white—and thanks to the legacy of apartheid the remaining whites, though only about 9% of the population, are still South Africa’s richest and best-trained people.

Talk about “white flight” does not go down well. Officials are quick to claim that there is nothing white about it. A recent survey by FutureFact, a polling organisation, found that the desire to emigrate is pretty even across races: last year, 42% of Coloured (mixed-race) South Africans, 38% of blacks and 30% of those of Indian descent were thinking of leaving, compared with 41% of whites. This is a big leap from 2000, when the numbers were 12%, 18%, 26% and 22% respectively. But it is the whites, by and large, who have the money, skills, contacts and sometimes passports they need to start a life outside—and who leave the bigger skills and tax gap behind.

The murder rate in South Africa is almost an order of magnitude higher than that in the US.

Violent crime is undoubtedly the biggest single driver of emigration, the one factor cited by all races and across all professions when people are asked why they want to go. Police figures put the murder rate in 2007-08 at more than 38 per 100,000 and rape at more than 75 per 100,000. This marks a big fall over the past several years, but is still astronomical by international standards (the murder rate was 5.6 per 100,000 in the United States last year). It has reached the point where most people say they have either been victims of violent crime themselves or know friends or relatives who have been victims. Typically, it is a break-in, carjacking, robbery or murder close to home that clinches a family’s long mulled-over decision to leave.

The skills shortage is worsening.

On Mr Abedian’s reckoning, about half a million posts are vacant in government service alone because too few South Africans have the skills these jobs demand. Not a single department, he says, has its full complement of professionals. Local municipalities and public hospitals are also desperately short of trained people. Dentists are “as scarce as chicken’s teeth” and young doctors demoralised by the low standards of hospital administration. Last May Azar Jammine, an independent economist, told a Johannesburg conference on the growing skills shortage that more than 25,000 teachers were leaving the profession every year and only 7,000 entering.

The white flight numbers will translate into an even bigger white population drop since the ones leaving are at reproductive age.

“Among my age group the chorus is absolutely insistent,” said Geoff Landsman, 25, a civil engineer. “You must go abroad. If at all possible equip yourself with a foreign passport. I have a Dutch one. I’ll leave by Christmas. I’m not saying I’ll never come back but I want to see if I can cut it abroad.”

Anna Davids, 62, an ophthalmologist, lamented: “There’s a whole generation missing. Look around. Where are the young white couples aged 25-45? At least two-thirds of them are gone.”

She said that affirmative action plans discouraged young whites from staying. “Everything’s loaded against young whites, no matter how well qualified they are.”

The skills shortage will become much more acute when the older skilled workers who are still there retire. The departure of the younger skilled workers will leave an economy unable to maintain all the most complex pieces.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2008 October 12 03:25 PM  Civilizations Decay

Ned said at October 13, 2008 4:41 AM:

Unfortunately, the current South African government is verifying the assertion of the apartheid supporters that black rule would ruin the country (the same thing happened in Zimbabwe). Under apartheid, there was no political freedom, at least for non-whites, but the country was prosperous. In fact, black Africans migrated to South Africa to find work because there were no jobs in their own countries. Now South Africa is politically free for all races but the economy is failing fast. There are 47 countries in Africa, but Freedom House only rates 8 as truly free (one of them is South Africa). Botswana is the poster child for a free, prosperous African democracy, maybe due to the diamonds, although mineral wealth is no guarantee of freedom (just ask the Saudis). By the way, Botswana has the highest prevalence of HIV infection in the world (around 35%).

Sgt. Joe Friday said at October 13, 2008 11:29 AM:

Something tells me a similar story will be written about California without a trace of irony 20 years from now. The people who keep things running, who are disproportionately white, will begin to feel marginalized and eventually tire of paying sky-high taxes to support a population that is dysfunctional, hostile, and equipped with a sense of entitlement.

Short Timer said at October 13, 2008 7:32 PM:

“Everything’s loaded against young whites, no matter how well qualified they are.” This observation is similar to how Washington today interprets and implements "Army Pamphlet 600-26 -- Department Of The Army Affirmative Action Plan."

MaryJ said at October 18, 2008 7:31 PM:

The people who keep things running, who are disproportionately white, will begin to feel marginalized and eventually tire of paying sky-high taxes to support a population that is dysfunctional, hostile, and equipped with a sense of entitlement.

This is already happening in California, and has been for some time. Typically, though, they won't admit why they are moving on to Oregon, Washington or Idaho. It's as if California just became a Third World toilet all of the sudden, for no reason at all. Natural forces that no one could resist or predict. The level of fantasy in the US is scary.

Big Bill said at October 19, 2008 8:15 PM:

The frightening thing about the white California refugees is htat they have not learned their lesson.

The places they go to are white, much whiter than California now, but they still talk about California and its wonderful multiculturalness (i.e. restaurants, street clothes, different facial features, etc.) I just want to b!tch-slap the ones who talk that way.

I know why they left, THEY know why they left, but they refuse to drop the liberalism for even a fleeting second, and still look at us in our town as backward.

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