The most dramatic figures can be found among South African whites, who are leaving at a pace consistent with the advent of “widespread disease, mass natural disasters or large-scale civil conflict,” according to a report by the South African Institute on Race Relations. Some 800,000 out of a total white population of 4 million have left since 1995, by one count. But they’re hardly alone. Blacks, coloreds (as people of mixed race are known in South Africa) and Indians are also expressing the desire to leave.
The primary driver for emigration among all groups, but especially whites, who still retain the majority of South Africa’s wealth, is fear of crime. With more than 50 killings a day, South Africa has one of the highest per capita murder rates in the world. The same goes for rape—ranking the country alongside conflict zones such as Sierra Leone, Colombia and Afghanistan.
Then there’s the problem of affirmative action, which many whites feel limits their opportunities for advancement and which keeps many émigrés from returning. “You can attract people home, but there are still the same concerns when they get here,” Chen says. “Crime and lack of job opportunities if you’re not the right color.”
Still another factor driving out citizens of all races is the country’s political crisis. National elections are due in April, and the likely next president, Jacob Zuma, faces a battery of serious corruption charges and accusations of autocratic behavior.
Zuma raped an HIV-infected woman in 2005. He washed up after, assuming that would stop the virus from infecting him.