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After emigrating, there is nothing better than coming home

  • Immigration
An unstable economy, a highly charged political environment, and the threat of crime are just some reasons why many South Africans leave our shores seeking greener pastures. Yet, the same could be said of many of the countries in which they find themselves. In fact, an increasing number of emigrants are coming home.
by GILLIAN KLAWANSKY | Jul 05, 2018

According to figures from Economist Loane Sharpe, a staggering 400 000 professional South Africans have returned home since 2009. Gia Kalk, Talent and Brand Manager at Homecoming Revolution, a global headhunting firm for Africa, says her company’s observations echo this trend.

Founder Angel Jones originally set up Homecoming Revolution in 2004 as a non-profit organisation aimed at encouraging South Africans abroad to return home. The company commercialised in 2013, and now focuses on finding and placing globally experienced African talent across the continent, with a focus on middle management up to C-Suite.

“We refer to ourselves as the ‘brain gain company for Africa’,” said Kalk. “Our aim is to help reverse Africa’s brain drain by bringing some of the continent’s best and brightest home. Home comers are highly sought-after due to their unique combination of global experience and local commitment.”

There are also considerable drawcards for expats. “Africa offers significant opportunity for the diaspora,” said Kalk. “Goldman Sachs has identified South Africa as the ‘big emerging market story’ of 2018.”

Indeed, the number of enquiries from South African professionals interested in opportunities back home has trebled since the start of this year,” Kalk said. “This is due to the significant shift in political and economic sentiment in the country since the start of 2018. We’ve been receiving enquiries from South Africans in the UK, US, New Zealand, Ireland, Canada, and Australia interested in opportunities back home.

“Many enquiries have come from young families who want to return home and raise their children with family and friends close by,” Kalk said. Lifestyle, a sense of belonging, exciting career opportunities, and a sense of purpose are some of the reasons why many of their clients are keen to return.

The call of family and friends was definitely a factor for Jacqui Schewitz and her husband when they returned to South Africa from Israel a few years ago with their then one-year-old son. “We’d lived in Israel for five years, but we just found it too difficult there,” she said. “We made Aliya because of the appeal of living in Israel – it wasn’t about wanting to leave South Africa.

“But in Israel, there was no family, there were no connections, all the things you take for granted here. We’d been planning our lives in Israel, but we eventually decided to come back. It’s not necessarily South Africa itself that drew us back, but rather the fact that this is where we grew up, this is where our family and connections are. This is where we know people, and we know the community. That familiarity is so important.

“Now with two kids, I also like fact that there’s a grey area in South Africa. Israel’s very black and white, there’s no middle ground. South Africa is very understanding of that [factor]. At the moment, we see our future here and we have no plans to move. Life’s pretty good in South Africa. We have our hardships, but there are amazing opportunities here that we take for granted. We don’t realise how lucky we really are.”

For Nola Lerner and family, returning to South Africa after living in Sydney for ten years was simply about coming home. “We weren’t unhappy in Australia – we had a very good life. We’d finally bought a house, the kids were in good schools, and everything was actually good,” she said.

“My parents had come to live in Sydney for a little bit, but it hadn’t worked out for them and they’d just moved back to South Africa. We decided we wanted to be back home. There was something that was missing – that drumbeat of Africa. It’s in your soul, and it never leaves you.”

Lerner is also frank about the challenges that come with emigrating. “We felt like outsiders for ten years. As immigrants, you spend your life feeling like you don’t quite belong as much as you try to assimilate.”

The Lerners moved from Johannesburg to Cape Town just a few years before going to Sydney. “In the short time that we’d spent there, Cape Town felt like home to us. That was our home base, and if we were going to come back to South Africa, that was where we were going to be. No future anywhere in the world is absolutely guaranteed, but our future is in Cape Town for now. Our kids are happy at Herzlia. We’re settled.”

Those who emigrate often look to create a brighter future not just for themselves but for their current or future kids. Yet, in some cases, it’s the kids who long for a life in South Africa.

Such was the case for Yoni Travers, who was born and raised in Manchester, but now calls South Africa home. His South African mother left Cape Town and moved to Manchester more than 20 years ago. She got married in England and had Yoni.

“We came to South Africa once a year for a holiday, and I just started loving the place,” said Yoni. “I came to Johannesburg straight after school to study in a yeshiva, and then stayed on. I’ve been here for two and a half years now. I’m happier living in South Africa. I like the weather, the people, and it’s just generally a nicer place. I have a lot of friends who’ve moved out here as well. I see my future here.”

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