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Many South Africans leave the country seeking better opportunities, and there’s no judgement here – each to their own. Yet, there’s an inspiring trend: many South Africans who move abroad eventually return home. Here’s why.

 

Global (05 June 2024) – South Africans often leave for what they perceive as greener pastures, seeking better career prospects, higher education, and safer environments. The allure of first-world infrastructure and the promise of new experiences draw many away.

However, after experiencing life abroad, numerous South Africans find themselves longing for the unique charm and warmth of their homeland.

Estimates suggest that over two million South Africans live abroad, with significant populations in countries like the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, the United States, and Canada. According to Statistics South Africa, the number of people emigrating has been steadily increasing over the past few decades. For example, the data shows that, since 2000, around 413,000 South Africans have emigrated to other countries.

But the exact number of South Africans returning is harder to quantify. Reports indicate that thousands of South Africans return each year, though this is a smaller proportion compared to those leaving.

An online community that beautifully captures this phenomenon is the “Return to South Africa” Facebook group. With 18,000 members, this closed group provides support and information to expatriates who want to return, are in the process of returning, or have already returned.

We reached out to this group, asking members to share their reasons for coming back. Here are some of their heartfelt stories:

Susan Krause returned after four years in Austria. “For us, it was the triple F: Family, Familiarity, and Flipping Good Weather. We missed our friends and family and that feeling of HOME. Not speaking the language and always feeling like a foreigner made every day unfamiliar and quite honestly—hard work! We wanted to raise our sport-loving twin boys in SA. What better place to do it! Happy to be home ❤️🇿🇦”

Natasja de Kock moved back after three years in Australia. “The culture in South Africa is like no other. We have that ‘maak ‘n plan’ attitude when things go wrong. Family and friends were a huge pull, as well as higher education standards and better medical care. And the food! We are really spoiled with our quality, variety, and just general awesomeness 😋”

Taryn Parry returned from Spain. “Our girls attended a British school in Malaga for just over a year, and we hated the experience. Five weeks in a good government school here, and they are completely different children. Also, space—we have so much space in Africa. Apartment living in Spain has nothing on the space and greenery of Johannesburg.”

Heather Hartley came back from the UK after a long time. “We decided to come back to be close to family. And the weather 😱. We arrived last week and are setting up home in KZN. The sun shines, people smile, and they help you when you need it. SA life is good. We brought our English dogs back, and they’re settling, albeit they are not sure about the monkeys. We are adjusting to load shedding and not having water every so often. But wouldn’t change it for anything.”

Nix Kemp moved from Scotland. “After 18 years in the wet and cold, we took the leap and moved here. It’s the best move we ever made. The cost of living in the UK skyrocketed, and the schooling wasn’t enough for our children. We now have a quality of life that we never had in the UK. The weather is amazing, plenty of free things to do. We are mortgage-free, own two properties, and are much healthier here.”

Jacqui Solomon moved from the USA. “We returned 4 years ago from the USA. My hubby is American, my son was born in the US, and I am as South African as you will find. We returned for the lifestyle, weather, family and beauty of the country. My son will have a better upbringing here with the school system compared to the States, he will be raised to be outdoors almost every day and most importantly will hopefully have the resilience, positivity and determination that so many South Africans have! I sometimes feel you need to have lived elsewhere to appreciate what we have here 🙂”

Lauren Bradley moved back after more than 20 years abroad. “We bought a farm which many folks didn’t quite understand why someone would return to sa to live on a farm. However it’s probably the best thing we did for our kids. They live a beautiful wildlife. We help to start and support a conservation project to rescue South Africa’s most endangered freshwater fish which only breeds in our river, the Clanwilliam Sandfish, we are entering our 5th year of the project and it’s amazing. We’ve also turned our farm into a proper working farm for the first time since the 50s. There is hope here, there is work here, and we love being home. It’s like getting to know an old friend all over again.”

The common thread as to why South Africans return home after living abroad is rooted in the profound significance of family, a deep-seated sense of belonging, and the unparalleled lifestyle and cultural richness that South Africa embodies. These elements form the fabric of South African identity and create a magnetic pull that draws expatriates back to their homeland, even after experiencing life abroad.

While the allure of life in foreign lands may offer its own attractions and opportunities, the intrinsic sense of belonging and the high quality of life found in South Africa, serve as compelling reasons for many to return to their roots.

It’s exactly as another “Return to South Africa” group member, Shona Salver, expressed, “I honestly wasn’t truly happy in any of those places… it is incredibly freeing to be where you belong.”

So to every South African who has returned or is considering returning: welcome home. Whether you’ve been away for years or just returning, know that your presence is a cherished addition to our community. May your journey here be filled with joy, opportunity, and a deep sense of belonging that only home can provide.

Ukukufisela izinto ezinhle kuphela (wishing you only good things).


Sources: Return to South Africa 
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Recognised as one of the Mail and Guardian’s Top 200 Young South African’s as well as a Primedia LeadSA Hero, Brent is a change maker, thought leader, radio host, foodie, vlogger, writer and all round good guy.

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