Kaizer Nyatsumba: Britain should stop raiding our meagre resources

'A growing number of our professionals have been sought out and promised heaven on earth'
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The Independent Online

In the euphoria that followed South Africa's historic 1994 elections, which marked a break with the apartheid past, it was widely and legitimately expected that those South Africans who had lived and worked abroad over the years would return home to contribute towards the reconstruction of their country.

In the euphoria that followed South Africa's historic 1994 elections, which marked a break with the apartheid past, it was widely and legitimately expected that those South Africans who had lived and worked abroad over the years would return home to contribute towards the reconstruction of their country.

Many of these people were professionals - engineers, lawyers, doctors, teachers, journalists - who had left South Africa to study in such countries as Britain, America and Germany, but had not returned at the end of their studies because of apartheid. There were also many young white men who had fled conscription, or who were anti-apartheid activists working abroad with liberation movements that were involved in the efforts to free South Africa from the stranglehold of apartheid.

The vast majority of these people did return home after the 1994 elections, although some adopted a cautious wait-and-see attitude before making the decision to go back. Many who returned, including journalists Benjamin Pogrund and Donald Woods, and medical researcher Dr William Makgoba (all of whom had been in Britain) are still in South Africa, actively making their contributions at a time when the fledgling democracy so badly needs them. Others, admittedly a minority among the initial batch of post-liberation returnees, quickly became disillusioned for a number of reasons, chief among them crime, and returned to the countries where they had previously been based.

Although South Africa is no longer as fascinating or interesting to the international community as it once was, it is still in the middle of a challenging process of reconstruction and it needs all the help it can get. The country needs not only all its citizens, including those of our compatriots who daily swell the ranks of emigrants to Australia, New Zealand and Britain, but also assistance in the form of human capital from more established, First World countries to supplement its own reservoir of expertise.

South Africa is still engaged in the daunting process of getting all South Africans to act and think of themselves as citizens of one nation, and to accept the need to share equitably the country's limited resources. This process is getting more difficult by the day, as a result of South African professionals being targeted for recruitment by Britain and other developed countries in the West.

Sadly, our professionals are now to be found in growing numbers, particularly in Britain and the US, not because they all actively took a decision to desert South Africa at its hour of need, but because a growing number among them have been sought out and promised heaven on earth. There is hardly a borough in London today at whose schools South African teachers cannot be found, and more local authorities are still sending delegations to my country to recruit teachers, most of whom would be among the best South Africa has to offer.

And yet, whatever problems exist at schools here in Britain and however serious the teacher shortage might be, these difficulties cannot compare to the even more serious problems confronted by the government back home.

South Africa does have a surplus of teachers, as the many colleges of education mass-produced them in the past. Many young people, who either did not get a good enough pass at high school to gain university admission, or who did not have the money to go to university, went to these colleges where they were almost always fully sponsored by the various "homeland governments" that existed at the time within the borders of one country. However, it remains very worrying that we are losing our best, university-educated teachers to far richer, First World countries. South Africa still badly needs its better-educated teachers - the very ones targeted for recruitment.

While I freely concede the right of those recruited to sell their labour wherever they choose, and of the UK authorities to recruit wherever they choose (after all, the teachers are not brought here by force), it nevertheless leaves a terribly bad taste in the mouth when a former colonial power continues to raid the meagre resources of a country that needs them much, much more.

You do not need to be Freud to understand that, given the seductive strength of the pound compared to the rand and the natural human desire to experience something new or different, South African teachers are queuing up to come here.

They, like the growing number of nurses coming to Britain and going to countries such as Dubai on contracts, tell themselves that they will go back at the end of their allotted time, having acquired experience which they will put to good use at home upon their return. Sadly, not all of them will do so: many will enter into long-term relationships and remain abroad, while others will find different reasons to extend their stay. After all, what could be more seductive than riches of the West?

The writer, formerly editor of the Durban 'Daily News', is Associate Editor of 'The Independent'. He will return to South Africa after his secondment

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