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South Africans abroad feeling the tug home

THE WORLD

Hungry for their own culture and trusting in the country's potential, expats leave successful careers for uncertain futures in native land.

July 27, 2008|Devon Haynie | Associated Press

The government has launched a program called Global South Africans to encourage talented South African expatriates to share their skills and knowledge with their fellow citizens. And the office of the South African deputy president has launched similar initiatives to inspire South Africans to share their skills or return home.

But not everyone is receptive.

Louise Gardiner, a 31-year-old International Finance Corp. officer living in Washington, says she often takes trips back to her native Cape Town, but that the "general despondence" of friends and family has persuaded her not to return.

"Up until a year ago I thought I would eventually move back," Gardiner said. "But the violent crime, energy crisis, and just all-around feeling of things getting worse made me think again. I love my country, but I don't see a future there anymore."

Schaffer says South Africans have created their own image problem, and she believes getting accurate information to people can help.

"Many of the issues in this country we have invented: that political instability doesn't happen anywhere else in the world, that racism doesn't happen anywhere else in the world," she said. "We need to look at these things and put them in context. We're an emerging market and that should make us exciting. We have a wonderful country and we have to fight for it; we have to stand up for it."

Many of the people the Homecoming Revolution helps return to South Africa are shocked to find it's not the same place they left years ago. Prices are higher, and some jobs in some industries are scarce. But for the most part, Schaffer says, most who come home are thrilled to be back.

"I've been back for a month now and I find it exhilarating," said Anderson, who is trying to start his own business in Cape Town.

"It's a beautiful country and there are immense opportunities here if you are patient and you just look around."

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