Sat, Jan 08, 2005 - Page 6 News List

South Africa urges whites who fled to return home

THE GUARDIAN , JOHANNESBURG

Ten years after the so-called "chicken run," South Africa is welcoming back whites who fled during the turbulent transition to democracy.

Several campaigns are under way to lure back a generation which left when civil war seemed to loom, only for violence to recede and be replaced by black rule, peace, stability and a growing economy.

Advertising Campaign

Advertisements on satellite television will be backed later this year by an international roadshow of seminars and exhibitions urging expatriates to return to a land of sunshine and opportunity.

Anecdotal evidence suggests whites have started to trickle back from Britain, Australia, New Zealand and North America for what has been dubbed the "homecoming revolution."

Some commentators complain that the return of people who skipped the original revolution -- apartheid's demise in 1994 -- is no reason to celebrate. But most welcome the phenomenon as a vote of confidence in South Africa.

Over the past few weeks the country's cinemas, newspapers, billboards and radio and television stations ran adverts appealing to those who had returned for Christmas to stay.

"This country is really rocking," said Martine Schaffer, chief manager of Homecoming Revolution, a not-for-profit group spearheading one of the campaigns. "But a decade ago a lot of people were scared of what was going to happen, that things would collapse. That's no reason to say to them don't come home."

Its Web site, www.homecomingrevolution.co.za, offers tips on immigration, schools, property, banking and tax. The site drew 30,000 visits last month. Of those who registered, 90 percent said they were back already or intended to return.

Concern about crime seemed to be ebbing and expatriates were more worried about affirmative action policies, which reserve certain jobs for non-whites, Schaffer said.

Planning to Leave

Messages on the Web site's noticeboard, however, included references to the possibility of South Africa following Zimbabwe into chaos, as well as numerous racist taunts about blacks, from expatriates who clearly had no desire to return. Other messages were from white people planning to leave, citing crime, joblessness and a sense that they were not liked by the African National Congress government.

There are no official statistics on returning citizens but the number of new arrivals in 2003 rose by 62 percent. An estimated 5 million South Africans live abroad; more than a quarter of those are in the UK.

Homecoming Revolution grew out of a corporate social responsibility campaign by an advertising agency, morrisjones&co, and is now sponsored mainly by First National Bank. Mari Grobler, a spokesperson for the bank, said: "For whatever reason people left, they remain South African citizens and we think South Africa has so much to offer them."

Other companies, as well as trade unions, have sponsored similar initiatives and publishers have marketed books on the basis of their optimistic take on the country, a mood bolstered by peaceful elections last year and winning the right to host the 2010 football World Cup.

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