On the back of our last 4 months’ client visits in the DRC, Zambia, Mauritius, Middle East and London we again had the privilege of engaging with various groups of highly skilled South Africans abroad, literally from all races, ages and backgrounds.
Many are now breaking residency with South Africa as they do not plan to return and are looking at careers and retirement plans which does not include South Africa. One expatriate stated emotionally; their family has made the decision to ‘divorce’ South Africa.
There is no doubt a haemorrhaging of South African talent and with no formalised and centralised government tracking in place, there is perhaps a bit of an ostrich mentality as to the severity of the brain drain. As one of the largest work permit providers, we increasingly see South African employers having to import critical skills into South Africa to fulfil key positions, but these skills do not always come with their families and their intentions are often to export their earnings to their home countries, as opposed to permanently settling and becoming permanently part of our society.
Most developing countries, including the well-developed countries such as the United States, Australia and European States, have long realised that foreign talent does not steal local jobs. It stimulates the economy, brings in foreign capital and stimulate local job creation.
Almost without exception, their message is that their borders are welcoming foreign investors and critical skills; with private public partnerships in many instances to target this sought after groups of society. Skills across sectors such as Information, Communication and Technology, Engineering and Executive Management have long provided a springboard for industries to develop and enable economic growth. It is therefore a sound conclusion that the quickest way to grow an economy is with an injection of skills.
In anticipation of the budget speech, I caveat the Minister that no matter how much extra tax he is able to collect or expenditures he may cut, the books will not balance long term in the absence of policy changes that allow for the attracting and retention of foreign capital and skills.
Having a visa regime and overall business culture that is welcoming to foreigners is also important when it comes to positioning South Africa as the gateway to Africa. South Africa’s ability to compete for and attract critical skills globally and the projects they enable, is key to realising our growth aspirations and increasing job opportunities and economic stability.
All government departments should be placed on notice that foreign investment should be treated with a clear message of welcome, which goes beyond mere rhetoric from certain ministers. Zimbabwe also thought they had lots of time and anyone who disagrees should pop over for a quick lesson on what happens when you displace talent, from all backgrounds, and do get it right to find the right foreign investors.