Drawing expats back to SA


South Africans at Homecoming Revolution’s
entrepreneurship seminar in the UK
in May 2009.
(Image: Homecoming Revolution)

Nomsa Mthembu plans to come back
to South Africa soon.
(Image: University of Derby)

• Brigitte Lightfoot
Homecoming Revolution
+27 11 327 3668

SA a favourite among expats
More SA expats plan to return
Joburg cheapest city for expats
South African banker soars in Australia

Bongani Nkosi

Nomsa Mthembu, a 34-year-old South African tourism consultant, has been living in the UK for the past seven years, but now she wants to return home.

Before she makes the final decision, boards that plane and flies back, she wants to be sure of potential job opportunities. For this she’s banking on the 2010 Homecoming Revolution London event taking place at the Kensington Olympia Conference Centre on 20 and 21 March.

“I am looking forward to going to the conference, I would like to know what companies are offering jobs and I’m willing to talk to people,” said Mthembu, who graduated with a BA Honours in travel and tourism management from the UK’s Derby University in December 2009.

“I am expecting to get more information from companies and generally find out what is going on back home.”

The annual event, now in its fourth year, will host about 38 South African companies offering job opportunities and recruitment programmes for suitably skilled expats. “We’ve got great companies coming with us to recruit South Africans who want to come back home,” said Brigitte Lightfoot of the Homecoming Revolution.

The event – boasting speakers such as University of Pretoria Vice-Chancellor and Principal Professor Cheryl de la Rey, Bafana Bafana captain Aaron Mokoena and a range of company executives – has attracted high-profile corporates such as Eskom, South African Breweries, the CSIR, First National Bank (FNB), Nedbank, Group Five, Investec Bank and many others.

“The companies are coming mainly to recruit … it’s also an opportunity for them to tap into new skills,” Lightfoot said.

South African recruitment agencies will also be there to broaden the scope, she added.

Bite of UK recession

Mthembu, who was born in KwaMashu in KwaZulu-Natal, currently lives and works in Manchester. She relocated to further her studies, and said she was offered jobs there even before she graduated.

“At the moment I work in the hospitality industry, which I love,” she said. “I have been working and studying at the same time – it has been hectic.

“If I had my way I would come home tomorrow, I am tired of running around like a headless chicken.”

But Mthembu said she doesn’t “regret coming here, [as] I have achieved so much academically and financially”.

Her desire to return home is driven by ambitions to advance in and contribute to South Africa’s growing tourism industry, she said. “It takes time to get a promotion at work here – unlike back home.”

She said she’s noticed that job opportunities in the UK have shrunk somewhat due to the recession, which hit the UK hard in late 2008.

Interest in the Homecoming event

Mthembu said most South Africans she knows in the UK have bought tickets and she’s predicting a full house in Olympia.

“It will be full – I can promise you that. Everyone I know has bought tickets for the event,” she said. “People want to go home, there is no place like home.”

Last year’s event, also held in London, attracted about 1 200 South Africans. Lightfoot said she’s sure the 2010 turnout will be even better. “It’s really exciting this year,” said Lightfoot, who previously lived in the UK for six years.

Reversing the ‘brain-drain’

The Homecoming Revolution is an NGO that encourages and helps South Africans abroad to return home. Supported by FNB, the organisation helps address the skills shortage in the country, which spiked in the 1990s.

“We’ve seen an increase in the number of people wanting to come back to South Africa,” Lightfoot said. “We get a lot of enquiries about South Africa from people abroad.”

Besides facilitating the journey back home, the organisation also helps expats find jobs through its online careers portal.

‘SA tourism booming’

There are plenty of opportunities in South Africa’s growing tourism industry, Mthembu believes. In 2008 the industry contributed R25.8-billion (US$3.3-billion) to the national GDP, attracting about 42.5-million local and international tourists.

“South African tourism is big,” she said. “I learned more about it when I came here. Even though I worked in the travel industry back home, there are some issues I did not know about.”

She now has a greater understanding of the various multinationals that own hotel chains in South Africa, which has helped her assess the scope of opportunities back home.

“I have travelled to Spain, Italy, Germany and Greece and – guess what – South Africa has got the best five-star hotels,” said Mthembu.