World: `Fed-ups' flee an uncertain future

As South Africa's election nears, Alex Duval Smith meets the `chicken run' whites - and blacks - who dream of a new life elsewhere

IT HAS been called "white flight", the "chicken run" and the "brain drain". But John Gambarana assured last week's crop of would-be emigrants - about 50 people gathered in a suburban auditorium - that there was no stigma attached to leaving South Africa for good.

"We all know the reason we want to leave," said Mr Gambarana, rep of a company called International Immigration Alliance. The omission of the word "crime" - psychosis of most whites, but also a hot issue in next week's election - heightened the complicity between the visa salesman and his audience. All were under 40, including some mothers and babies, and two couples were black. Collectively, they have become known as the gatvol, an Afrikaans word meaning "fed-up".

In the 2 June elections - in which the African National Congress may get an increased majority - the "gatvol vote" is being targeted by the Democratic Party, home of those who consider themselves part of a uniquely South African phenomenon, the privileged but excluded.

In all probability, the potential emigrants in the auditorium in Sandton shopping mall, north of Johannesburg, will not vote. They are among thousands of South Africans who leave the country every year for a future as far away as possible. Favoured destinations are Canada, the US, New Zealand, Australia and the UK.

It costs at least 25,000 rand (pounds 2,500) to "relocate" - Mr Gambarana's favoured word - which explains, in part, why most of the emigrants are white, educated and high-earning. President Mandela has several times begged them to stay. "We must stop this brain drain. They have a role to play here," he said in the first of many appeals in 1996. "To think that you can just push whites aside is fatal. It is suicide." Last week, in a farewell television interview, he went out of his way to praise whites, saying they had behaved "beyond expectation" in making the new South Africa.

But to thousands of whites who grew up in a cocoon of privilege, isolated from blacks and brainwashed into believing the majority of the population was by nature lazy and stupid, staying is as good as suicide. They point to the high crime rate and concerns about the economy, education and corruption.

"There is no future for us here," said Jutta Swanepoel, a travel agent, aged 32 and five months pregnant. "We are going to Canada as soon as the baby is born. My parents came here from Austria, so I'm only doing the same thing a generation later." She and her husband Pieter do not have jobs to go to, but "we are prepared to do anything". In his presentation, Mr Gambarana is at pains to point out that Vancouver and Perth are just like Cape Town, and New Zealand has a magazine called Afrikaanz.

Because of the emigrants' trepidation - and their desire to evade laws that limit the wealth they can export - reliable figures are not available for the number of people who have left since the first multi-race elections, five years ago. The Institute of Race Relations, which has charted social trends for years, notes that while the South African government recorded 1,767 emigrants to Australia in 1996, the Australian government reported receiving 3,200 immigrants from South Africa that year. The US says it issued 1,205 immigrant visas to South Africans in 1997; South Africa says about 700 people went to the US. The British High Commission says more people emigrated to the UK in the first five months of this year than throughout 1998.

Many of the emigrants at some stage pass through the "seminars" of companies such as Mr Gambarana's. Every week, half a page of the local Sunday Times is crammed with their ads: "Emigrate to Australia", or "Points drop by 5", indicating a temporary easing of immigration criteria.

After his 90-minute presentation, Mr Gambarana invites the would-be emigrants to individual hour-long consultations, costing R350. The process is rather reminiscent of timeshare sales, but he says that 3,500 people - his clientele over five years - cannot be wrong.

And just in case anyone should forget that South Africa, for all its beauty and sun, is the crime capital of the world, he throws in a story about the time it takes for an abandoned suitcase to be stolen in London, Toronto and New York. The answers are: four minutes in London, one minute 14 seconds in Toronto and 12 seconds in New York. "In Jo'burg you get hijacked on the way to the airport," he said. But the crime stories do not impress everyone. Sandy and Brian Semake, both 28, are one of the black couples in the audience. "We have always lived with crime," said Sandy. "It can happen anywhere. You just have to take a few precautions like removing your radio from the car and closing the windows.

"For us, the reason to go abroad is the adventure. We are young and energetic, and it sounds like the UK is a fun place to be at the moment. But we would definitely come back for our retirement - before the arthritis sets in."

The extent of the South African brain drain is hard to measure, since it includes both adventure seekers and the gatvol. A survey last year said 78 per cent of whites had considered emigrating, but against this is the reality that South Africans were barred from much foreign travel during the apartheid years. Travel and working abroad have novelty value.

But John Chapman, whose upmarket ACN Consultants offers a full service, including finding housing and schools in adopted countries, said: "The interest base is definitely broadening, though the number of applications from blacks is still very small. Ninety per cent of South Africans are going to Australia. They cite crime, declining education standards and affirmative action. I am seeing people in their twenties, just out of university, who want to emigrate to avoid being marginalised."

There was also increasing interest from Afrikaner farmers, many of whom were going to New Zealand. "If the South African government wants to reverse the trend - or attract a few skilled immigrants of its own," said Mr Chapman, "it needs to learn from countries like Australia and New Zealand, and provide incentives to businesses."

SEE ALSO, THE SUNDAY REVIEW

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Britons buy more than 30 million handsets each year, keeping them for an average of 18 months
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Alloysious Massaquoi, 'G' Hastings and Kayus Bankole of Young Fathers are the surprise winners of this year's Mercury Music Prize
musicThe surprise winners of the Mercury Prize – and a very brief acceptance speech
Arts and Entertainment
TV Presenters Ant McPartlin and Dec Donnelly. Winners of the 'Entertainment Programme' award for 'Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway'
musicAnt and Dec confirmed as hosts of next year's Brit Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Orson Welles made Citizen Kane at 25, and battled with Hollywood film studios thereafter
film
News
video
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Primary Teachers Required in King's Lynn

Negotiable: Randstad Education Cambridge: Primary Teachers needed in King's Ly...

Primary Teachers needed in Ely

Negotiable: Randstad Education Cambridge: Primary Teacher needed in the Ely ar...

Teaching Assistant to work with Autistic students

£60 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Randstad Education Leicester ...

KS2 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Cambridge: KS2 Teacher needed in Peterborough a...

Day In a Page

Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes
Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs:

Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs

"I have never regarded anything I have done in "the media" as a proper job"
Lyricist Richard Thomas shares his 11-step recipe for creating a hit West End musical

11-step recipe for creating a West End hit

Richard Thomas, the lyricist behind the Jerry Springer and Anna Nicole Smith operas, explains how Bob Dylan, 'Breaking Bad' and even Noam Chomsky inspired his songbook for the new musical 'Made in Dagenham'
Tonke Dragt's The Letter for the King has finally been translated into English ... 50 years on

Buried treasure: The Letter for the King

The coming-of-age tale about a boy and his mission to save a mythical kingdom has sold a million copies since it was written by an eccentric Dutchwoman in 1962. Yet until last year, no one had read it in English
Can instilling a sense of entrepreneurship in pupils have a positive effect on their learning?

The school that means business

Richard Garner heads to Lancashire, where developing the 'dragons' of the future is also helping one community academy to achieve its educational goals
10 best tablets

The world in your pocket: 10 best tablets

They’re thin, they’re light, you can use them for work on the move or keeping entertained
Lutz Pfannenstiel: The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents

Lutz Pfannenstiel interview

The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents
Pete Jenson: Popular Jürgen Klopp can reignite Borussia Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern Munich

Pete Jenson's a Different League

Popular Klopp can reignite Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern
John Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

The use of the British hostage demonstrates once again the militants' skill and originality in conducting a propaganda war, says Patrick Cockburn
The killer instinct: The man who helps students spot potential murderers

The killer instinct

Phil Chalmers travels the US warning students how to spot possible future murderers, but can his contentious methods really stop the bloodshed?
Clothing the gap: A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd

Clothing the gap

A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd
Fall of the Berlin Wall: Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain

The Fall of the Berlin Wall

Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain