Not packing for Perth, but making aliya or semigrating

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With the ANC elective conference around the corner and the country in an economic slump, the discussion around many Shabbos tables - particularly in Johannesburg - is around staying or leaving.
by TALI FEINBERG | Dec 07, 2017

It appears that for the most part, those who are moving are either heading for Cape Town - in other words, semigrating - or making aliya.

Although our situation seems gloomy, it appears that South African Jews are really “packing for Perth” in large numbers, and those who are choosing to “semigrate” from Gauteng, are doing so for lifestyle reasons.

The number of South Africans making aliya has increased dramatically over the last two years. By the end of this year, 300 people will have made aliya from South Africa in 2017. Between 2004 to 2014, there were between 30-40 Capetonians making aliya a year, and this year the number has shot up to almost 70, according to Shana Beinart of the Israel Centre.

“In 2018, it is projected that up to 330 South Africans will make aliya,” says Daniela Shapira, aliya and klitah advisor at Telfed in Israel. “We have definitely seen an increase in South Africans making aliya, because they want their children (or themselves) to have the stability, freedom, safety and education that Israel can provide.

 “Israel is a natural choice, considering the strong Zionist ideology within the South African Jewish community and the fact that Israel is the only country in the world that provides an extensive basket of benefits to immigrating Jews,” she adds.

“This is a specifically South African trend,” agrees Beinart. “While in the first quarter of this year, most Western countries’ aliya numbers were down by 20 per cent, South Africa was up by 100 per cent.

“Formerly, we saw more families from Johannesburg, and our Cape Town olim were mainly young single students, couples without children, and retirees,” she explains.

But all that has changed since the #FeesMustFall protests at South Africa’s universities. Now, multiple families are choosing to make aliyah, specifically because of fears for their children’s futures and education at university level.

“Many of them cite this as the primary reason for wanting to leave now. They know it will be tough, but they are looking ahead  if their child will be able to have a good quality education in 10 - 15 years’  time,” says Beinart.

Sigalit Levin, who made aliya from Cape Town in February this year with her husband Ivan and their three young children (one just three months old at the time), agrees with this statement. “#FeesMustFall was part of our decision - worrying about the future of our kids after school, and that, after school, our kids will probably leave us and go study abroad.”

She says that Israel is not easy, but it is worthwhile - particularly from a safety aspect. “It was worth it as my kids just run freely in the park... we can sit eating burgers or shwwarmas and the kids can play in the park without us stressing about their safety the whole time. Of course we need to watch them without a doubt, but not like a hawk.”

Levin adds: “I am part of an ‘olim from South Africa’ WhatsApp group and we are adding people onto the group every few weeks. A lot more are definitely considering it.”

Olim enjoy the low costs of healthcare and education, and the minimum wage offers a higher standard of living in Israel than it does in South Africa. In addition, the tech industry is booming, which means plenty of job opportunities in that sector, and English is actually a huge benefit for anyone working in hi-tech in Israel. “Most people see a good future there,” concludes Beinhart.

But, generally, the number of people leaving is not huge. Most people are not rushing out and are definitely still banking on things improving in South Africa. When Stats SA published its annual mid-year population estimate in August this year, the estimate for net emigration by white people has dropped by 36 per cent.

But there is a definite trend towards Cape Town. This can be seen in the number of enrolments at United Herzlia Schools in Cape Town, which have been steadily increasing over the last five years.

UHS Director of Education Geoff Cohen, says that this could be due to “semigration” from Johannesburg. He added: “It seems to me that our Jewish youth are staying in Cape Town and having their children in Cape Town.”

In addition, membership numbers of Orthodox synagogues in the Cape have steadily increased, from 2 582 total members in 2015 to 2 693 in 2016 and 2 700 in 2017.

Ian Slot, MD of Seeff Atlantic Seaboard, City Bowl and V&A explains: “While FNB recently reported a slowdown in semigration, much of this is due to the overall slowdown in the property market, rather than people no longer wishing to move to the Cape.

“In fact, most of our agents continue to report strong interest from Johannesburg buyers, not just Jewish, but across the board. Those who can afford to make the move, are doing so, but others are investing in second properties to perhaps make a later move, use for holiday or later retirement.”

His colleagues Cecily Sher and Adrian Mauerberg agree: “We continue to see a steady stream of Johannesburg buyers. These are often families who at times find it difficult to adjust to the Seaboard prices and sizing of homes. We have dealt with a few who have turned to rentals until the right property comes along for them. Some are also purchasing sectional title units, ranging from smaller lock-up-and-go units to bigger end-user properties.

“We have also sold to ‘empty-nester’, couples whose children have either left the country or are planning on coming to Cape Town in the next few years. They are planning ahead to get into the market for later when they are ready to make the move.”

Guy Friedberg (Seeff Atlantic Seaboard & City Bowl Commercial Property Agent) adds that some Johannesburg-based businesses are also looking to move to the Cape. “The three main reasons I'm always given by these buyers or tenants looking to relocate their business to Cape Town, are that the owners of the business can enjoy a better lifestyle; wages are lower; and premises in Cape Town are seemingly cheaper compared to Johannesburg, where you need a safe location which comes at a premium.

“In Cape Town, you can safely open a call centre for example in Mowbray and it's relatively cheaper and safe.”

But will emigration to other countries increase? “All South Africans will be looking to the December ANC conference to get a sense which way the country is moving,” says Milton Shain (emeritus professor of historical studies at UCT). “It will not be a specifically Jewish thing,” he continues.

“Those with skills - black and white - may well consider greener pastures (notwithstanding the weak rand) should Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma win the leadership of the ANC. On the other hand, should Cyril Ramaphosa win, there will be an infusion of confidence.

“Whether this will be justified, time will tell. The task will be enormous. (Jacob) Zuma's reign has been catastrophic. Who knows, the conference may not even take place,” he concludes.

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