UAE | General

'Circumstances' force tough decision on South Africans

Rising crime and the effects of "reverse discrimination" are forcing more white South Africans to leave their country and look for better living and working conditions abroad, expatriates say

  • By Arno Maierbrugger, Sub Editor
  • Published: 00:10 July 3, 2008
  • Gulf News

Dubai: Rising crime and the effects of "reverse discrimination" are forcing more white South Africans to leave their country and look for better living and working conditions abroad, expatriates say.

One top destination for South African expatriates turns out to be Dubai and the last few years have seen their numbers swell here.

Jack Hirschberg, a South African who has been living in Dubai for more than 10 years, says "thousands" have possibly left the country because of rising crime rates and unable to cope with the negative fallouts of "black empowerment" and "reverse discrimination".

"The biggest reason, I feel, that people leave is because of the crime," says Hirschberg, who works as a manager for Daimler Benz in Dubai.

Feeble government

He says that "around 50 people are murdered daily, more are raped and burglaries are a norm in the suburbs, banks and shops. My own son was murdered in South Africa and police were totally ineffective in solving the case. People are leaving out of fear and a lack of respect for the government which does nothing to protect the people," Hirschberg told Gulf News.

"In all honesty, I think that the white South Africans who leave the country have simply given up hope."

Hirschberg though says crushed spirits were not behind his decision to leave, because "reverse discrimination had not been in existence".

And he still feels that "there is an opportunity for anyone in South Africa who has the guts to diversify and work, irrespective of skin colour, religion or sex."

Between 40,000-50,000 South Africans are registered with the embassy in Dubai. Highly skilled and educated professionals are moving to Dubai to join sectors like construction, management and sales, besides the healthcare and tourism industry, researcher Anco Fourie of the University of Stellenbosch recently wrote in a study about the brain drain from South Africa to the Mideast.

Top destinations

Dubai and the UAE are "top destinations" for South Africans who want to live and work overseas, the study reveals.

Brent Melvin, a South African working as business development manager for UPS Middle East in Dubai, says the brain drain has been playing out over the years.

"This is a result of many factors, one of which is the Employment Equity [Black Economic Empowerment] Act. I believe this has led to reverse discrimination, whereby white South Africans will find it very difficult to secure employment in many industries," says Melvin. "This situation is exacerbated by the levels of crime and the escalating cost of living."

Melvin echoes the views of Hirschberg when he says: "South Africans are very patriotic people and would in many cases not leave South Africa if the circumstances were different. I believe that many South Africans would return if a number of factors changed, violent crime being one of them."

On the Employment Equity Act, Melvin says: "It has been in place long enough to redress the imbalance of skills, I believe that it is high time that the Act is abolished. Let's allow the economy to be stimulated by employing the best skills for the job on offer, irrespective of colour, race or creed."

Touchy issue

The issue of brain drain from South Africa however is a touchy issue, one that not all expatriates are comfortable with.

Deon Heyns, general manager of Barloworld Logistics Middle East, said he had "no comments relating to this topic".

T.J. van Rooyen, secretary general of the South African Business Council in the UAE, said he was "not in a position to comment on behalf of the SA Business Council".

Dirk van Doorn, manager of DHL Middle East in Dubai, "would be rather not interviewed" on the issue, but proffered an "ants and grasshoppers" allegory he said was not the view held by him or his employer "but a broad overview of what has gone wrong in South Africa".

Not all South Africans living in Dubai have such a gloomy outlook though.

Sunny outlook

Julek Szczawinski, managing partner of interior design company Davies Group, says: "I personally don't think [the brain drain] has anything to do with reverse discrimination and one will be surprised that it's not only 'white' South Africans who are coming to Dubai. It's also Indian, Coloured and African. As South Africans we try not to distinguish between colours. The past is long gone."

Melanie Ridgeway, spokeswoman of South Africa's property firm eLan Group, which has a large sales office in Dubai, said: "I would like to state explicitly that we do not endorse a viewpoint that suggests that South Africans are leaving the country because of 'reverse discrimination'."

Mark Taylor, eLan's chief executive, says that "many young South Africans these days are venturing abroad for various reasons. Among these are the pursuits of more wealth or developing their skills in other countries."

Writer dismissed as crazy

The South African expatriate community still finds it hard to forget an article published by the Daily Sun newspaper of Johannesburg about four years ago. The fact that the offensive piece is still in circulation on the internet has not helped.

The article, titled "Taking from whites is not a crime in South Africa," quotes the leader of a Pretoria-based youth organisation, Faraday Nkoane, as saying that "young blacks should go out and steal from the white" because "this is the right thing to do."

"Nothing is wrong with it," argues Nkoane, "because the whites have stolen from the blacks. We only repossess from them".

Besides angry comments from readers and in web communities, Daily Sun journalist Africa Ka Mahamba, who wrote the article, told Gulf News that "other youth and political platforms" have dismissed Nkoane as "a crazy and irresponsible person".

"His views are not popular or widely held in the communities we serve", Mahamba adds. Nkoane was arrested for assault three years ago.

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