Remarks delivered today by Deputy Minister Ebrahim Ebrahim to South African Diaspora in Perth, Australia:
There has been much handwringing over the years about the level of emigration from the South Africa, but here is one thing I will say for it: it is wonderful to be able to travel 9000 km from home and still find oneself in the company of so many of one’s countrymen and -women.
Whatever your present address, or whatever passport you hold, or for whatever reason you Packed for Perth, of this I am convinced: there is no such thing as an ex-South African.
What divides us can always be mended, and as we showed the world in 1994, we are good at mending.
What unites us is immutable. We will never stop cheering for the Springboks or the Proteas. We will always miss the astounding beauty of our land. We will never stop craving biltong and we will never barbecue but always braai.
But let us be candid. It has not been easy to watch so many exceptional South Africans leave home. To the extent that the exodus could be seen as a vote of no-confidence in the future of our hard-won democracy, many of us had bitter thoughts of the good riddance kind.
Nor were these feelings assuaged when we heard the harsh things some of our émigrés were saying about us to their new neighbours.
But today, I truly believe we are putting these feelings behind us, both at home and abroad. Our successful hosting of the World Cup in 2010 gave South Africans everywhere a renewed sense of pride in their country. More recently we have been brought together by our shared concern for the health of Nelson Mandela.
It is also possible that in the global economic downturn since 2008, the grass on the other side of the fence has not always been as green as anticipated.
I referred just now to exceptional South Africans. That is what you are. It takes get up and go to get up and go. It takes drive, talent and resourcefulness to leave the familiar and seek new horizons.
That is why Ian Goldin, a former advisor to President Mandela who now heads the Oxford Martin School, called his recent book about migration “exceptional people”.
It is also why Brand South Africa has chosen to brand its Diaspora outreach project – Global South Africans – “a network of exceptional people”.
Brand South Africa, formally known as the International Marketing Council, is a presidential initiative to promote our country as a competitive business destination and partner.
It has launched the Global South Africans program in the conviction that you and hundreds of thousands of South Africans like you can be priceless resource for our country – your country – as we strive compete and win in the global economy.
How priceless? Brand South Africa’s US country manager has done some research on America’s South African born population. It currently numbers around 85,000. Its household income is roughly double the US national median, likewise the value of the houses it lives in.
South Africans in the US are also vastly better educated than the general population and much more likely to have advanced degrees. Overall, Brand South Africa estimates, the net worth of South Africans living in America is around thirteen billion dollars.
Everywhere you look nowadays, diaspora networks are making a difference in their mother countries. Overseas Chinese communities have played an important part in China’s extraordinary growth story by helping build linkages with global markets. India owes much of the success of its burgeoning IT sector to expatriates working in Silicon Valley. Remittances are helping fuel the African growth story.
More and more countries are looking for ways to turn brain drain into brain gain by connecting with their exceptional people.
Many of you will likely have heard of Advance, an organization described on its website as “a community of global Australians who are able to make a difference for Australians, Australian companies and Australia around the globe”.
Kea New Zealand describes itself as a not-for-profit organization whose purpose is to reach and motivate expatriate Kiwis and “friends of New Zealand” to increase their contribution by turning them into a strategic national asset.
Kea New Zealand, its website description continues, aims to contribute to the economic growth of New Zealand by helping New Zealand become the most globally connected nation in the world.
Now, I ask you, are we really going to let New Zealand beat us at this game any more than we would let them beat us at rugby?
South Africans abroad are already helping South Africans at home in countless different ways.
In the UK, Dame Janet Suzman, is playing a cutting-edge role in putting South African actors and performing artists at the forefront of arts festivals the world over.
World-class opera singers such as Njabulo Madlala in the UK, Pretty Yende now at La Scala in Italy, Pumeza Matshikiza, currently in Stuttgart, Germany, July Zuma in Berlin, and popular singers such as 11-year-old Asanda Jezile in the UK are taking the world by storm.
Names like Mark Shuttleworth (IT and space travel), Elon Musk (innovation, science and space travel) and Charlize Theron (actress) are global household names who grew up in South Africa.
Artists such as Marlene Dumas and William Kentridge are among the best visual artists on the planet. Andre Brink, J.M. Coetzee, Nadine Gordimer and Wally Serote – all South Africans – are among the literary greats.
Soula Proxenos from the Johannesburg suburb of Springs runs a Washington DC based private equity fund that is raising millions of dollars to invest in low and middle income housing in South Africa.
Willem Ellis, an engineer who was part of the independent electoral commission’s extraordinary success story in 1994, now lives in Minnesota where he has brought together a consortium of technical schools to train a new generation of South African tool and die makers.
Donovan Neale May, an alumnus of Rhodes University, has established an organization called the South African Business Linkages Exchange, to connect South African entrepreneurs and venture capitalists in Silicon Valley with South African startups at home.
Thiru Govender has just led a delegation of renewable energy companies in North Carolina, where he now lives, to South Africa to scout out the rapidly expanding opportunities now on offer.
Wherever you look, South Africans are in leadership positions.
Gale Kelly here in Australia is the CEO of Westpac Bank, while Professor Ginoski at the University of New South Wales is one of the country’s top educationalists.
Dr Kobus de Swardt in Berlin is a South African who heads up Transparency International, the leading global anti-corruption body.
Judge Navi Pillay heads up the UN’s Human Rights Commission, Dr Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka is in charge of Women’s Rights and Fink Haysom is a senior UN official on the conflict-resolution front.
South Africans abroad are helping raise money for education projects. University alumni are reaching into their pockets and giving of their time to support their alma maters. Fund managers are educating investors about South African equities. The list is endless.
But one of the most valuable contributions any Global South African can make is to speak well and proudly of the country and to be living proof of the caliber of people South Africa produces.
Next year, the South Africa reborn in April 1994 turns 20. Over that time, our country – your country – has achieved a great deal of which, as South Africans, we can all be justly proud, starting with a constitution that is the envy of much of the world.
Our economy is today nearly twice the size was in 1993. In real terms, national per capita income has grown by nearly half.
The fact that we are still profoundly challenged by unemployment should not mask the fact that total employment has grown by 3.5 million.
We have built more than three million homes and the vast majority of our people now have access to electricity, water and sanitation. We have successfully extended to the social safety net to fifteen million people, lifting them from poverty.
Do not mistake the glorious cacophony of our democracy for a symptom of malaise.
We are working through, and solving, problems generations, even centuries, in the making. Yes, corruption is a serious problem but we are completely open about it, our media and other institutions shine a fierce and constant light on it, and we will root it out.
Our country is entering a critical phase in the quest for equitable development and attracting foreign direct investment to fuel our R1-trillion infrastructure plans and assist in creating jobs and fighting poverty.
Drawn up by some of the country’s best minds of the extensive consultation, hour National Development Plan is now firmly established as our roadmap for the next 30 years.
It provides the vision and formula for equitable and sustainable growth and for the confirmation of a social contract which will elevate those things that unite us above those that remind us of our divided and unjust past.
We are confident that with the growing national consensus around the NDP, South Africans at home and abroad will feel encouraged to play an active part in building a successful nation — a nation which finds strength in diversity, celebrates innovation and points the way to a world in which human generosity prevails over greed and self-interest.
With ground-breaking projects such as the Square Kilometre Array telescope, the successful launch of our renewable energy program, and the discovery of new reserves of shale-gas as well as off-shore reserves, the drivers of the economy for the next generation are in place.
In inviting us to become part of the BRICS group, the world’s largest emerging economies, China, India, Brazil and Russia, recognized us as the engine room for growth of the African continent, in aggregate the world’s third-largest market and future growth frontier of the global economy.
This is an exciting time to be a Global South African – to be part of the South African story, to be a son or daughter of Africa, to be connected directly to what we confidently predict will be the African century.