This has been an interesting week for me. You know, I have worked in South Africa for some five years or so. To be honest, in intellectual terms, I had the best time of my career there, as the work I undertook was - on my books anyway - truly meaningful. Made some great friends there, too. Eventually I left, for all sorts of reasons, chief among them the unpleasantly low salary that made me wonder about my pension (or lack thereof), lack of personal security (living in Jozi probably didn't help), the deteriorating administrative infrastructure at my university, continuing electricity failures in my suburb, and most importantly nagging doubts about the country's future (I had seen what happened to Zimbabwe next door).
Anyone who has been following this blog knows that I am continuously railing about the dangers to democracy the ANC poses in the country. Large sections of its senior leadership are convicted fraudsters and thieves who have decided to use the public purse as their private piggy-bank. The organisation has long ago begun to use the public broadcaster as a propaganda instrument. The lack of any serious opposition in effect renders the country a one-party state akin to Mexico during its decades under the PRI. Well, there is one-party states and one-party states. Singapore is also more or less run by one party, but it's well-run, something one cannot reasonably claim for South Africa. Its current President presided over a preventable genocide-equivalent tragedy due to his crazy handling of the AIDS crisis in the country. Nobody has as yet held him accountable for the crimes he and his health minister committed against the South African people (aided and abetted by the ANC). Here is evidence demonstrating that the President was pro-actively involved in protecting corrupt underlings of his, in this case the country's former Police Commissioner. His most significant rival (the party's current President) is a bone head of sorts. Aged 65 he just married his fifth wive, a 33 year old woman. Him becoming the next President of the country would be akin to Homer Simpson becoming President of the USA ... well, come to think of it, someone akin to Homer Simpson is currently President of the USA. In South Africa, the separation of state organs and party organs is weakening.
The only hope I have for the country rests with its young people. Many of them don't have the near-pathological hang-up's about race/ethnicity/skin-color that frequently prevent the current ruling class from instituting prudent policies. Thinking back of many of my students, and reading what's currently going on in the country, you'd think they were already a different kind of person. They seem to have been spared the crippling effects of apartheid South Africa on their personalities, very much unlike many members of the current ruling class who have undoubtedly sustained very serious psychological damage. Given a decent education (I won't even go into years of failing education policies that the ANC can also take credit for), they are the last best hope for the country. Thing is, they got to get rid of the current ruling elites altogether, as well as their hand-groomed 'youth' successors in the ANCYL (the party's youth league). Oh well, there's wishful thinking.
So, bad news all around. Let me get to what triggered this commentary: I got three different email messages independently of each other from South African friends/former colleagues during the last week. One from an Afrikaner who has decided to leave the country for good. One from an Indian student of mine who has just graduated as a medical doctor, and will move to Canada. One from a Nigerian medical professional who is in the middle of sorting out his immigration documents so that he can also move to Canada. He told me that he holds little hope for the future of the country and that he's getting out. This, while completely anecdotal, is quite significant. All three of them are very highly trained - and badly needed - professionals, yet they all have decided to get on with life, having lived in Africa for many years. Just today the Mail and Guardian reports that Gauteng's (the country's - and continent's - industrial and commercial powerhouse) pathology services are 'bleeding pathologists dry', meaning that they're in danger of collapsing due to too many of these specialists leaving the country. A brand new survey in Human Resources for Health reports that about 1 out of every five Africa born doctors now works in a developed country.
I have had the 'brain drain' discussion the other night with a Jamaican acquaintance of mine who pointed out that at the end of the day, people only have one shot at life, so one cannot really blame people for moving to countries that are reasonably stable and guarantee a better life for these professionals and their families. He is right, of course. It is all the more important then that developing countries leaders think more carefully about how to make life and work for such professionals better than it is right now, or else risk losing them to countries like Canada, Australia and the UK.
For some African countries the failure to have done so translates into a loss of 70% of its locally trained medical professionals. The signs are probably on the wall for the powers that are in South Africa, get your acts together or join the rest of the African basket cases. It's your call.