ShapeShifter

Meet the woman behind South Africa’s tsunami of returning expats

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Angel Jones at the 2014 Homecoming Revolution London Expo.

You might be living the highlife in London or Perth, earning a fortune with the world at your fingertips, but where do you feel really alive?

Madiba sowed the seeds of the Homecoming Revolution when Jones saw him address a packed Trafalgar Square on a freezing cold Tuesday morning back in 1996. “I grew up always a South African, but never proud of my skin colour or flag,” says Jones. “Then I saw him and he said, ‘I love you all so much. I want to put you in my pocket and take you home’.

“He made us feel so proud of our shiny new South Africa. There was an idea that, actually, if you returned home you weren’t a failure. I realised there were opportunities back on the Continent and that there were stories to tell of those who returned home.”

Why expats are returning home

“People return home for emotional reasons,” says Jones. “They return for a sense of purpose and belonging. They return for friends and family. But they also return for the outdoor lifestyle and to contribute to the economy.”

More than 359 000 professional expats have returned home in the past five years. “The brain drain is reversing!” says Jones. “Economies abroad have slowed, rules around foreign workers have tightened and the viability of South Africa is more certain than ever despite, as usual, nothing being smooth sailing.

“It’s a trade-off to come back, but it’s absolutely worth it!”

Africa is rising and it’s scatterlings long for home

At the last Homecoming Revolution gathering in London there were 650 professionally qualified African looking for jobs so they can return home.

“It’s not just a job fair, however,” says Jones. “It’s an emotional decision to return home. You want to see the stories of other people who have done it for their children and for that sense of belonging. You need information about property, schools, relocation and entrepreneurial opportunities for those who want to start a business.”

An authentic brand

Homecoming Revolution is dedicated to providing a complete picture; both good and bad. “We make a point of asking every single homecomer what the worst part of returning home was for them. We make a point of it, because it’s important to be realistic. We don’t have our heads in the sand, but we just have so much proof of homecomers who are really making a go of it and really loving it.”

Homecoming Revolution, now sponsored by First National Bank, is a fully commercialised, revenue generating organ.

“We’re looking for wider sponsors across the continent. But we’re making our money primarily from human resource budgets that are servicing a lot of businesses in African multi-nationals looking for top talent. We’re head-hunters that market for companies who want to reach the African diaspora in numerous ways including showcasing property, schools, relocation services and all the rest.

“We have more credibility and respect as an organisation now than back when we were purely an NGO,” says Jones.

Stories of expats who have returned

Nicky returns home to work for Michael Jordaan

“I moved to London in 2001 and, in 2005, I heard about Homecoming Revolution. I went to their presentations and heard Michael Jordaan speaking. I leaned over to my friend and said to her, ‘I’m going to move home and I’m going to work for that man.’ Seven years later I’m still working for the First Rand Group.”

Madiba asks Freek Robinson to return home

“I lived in London where I worked as a journalist,” says Robinson. “I went to France to report on Madiba’s first visit back in May 1990. There were hundreds of journalists, but he walked straight up to me and said, ‘Mr Robinson, it’s nice to meet you.’

“He said he watched me many times when he was in prison and that its time for me to come home. So that’s what I did a couple of months after that.”

Crime is down, but remains a problem. Expats return home nonetheless

South Africa is a much less violent country than it used to be. Between 1994 and 2009 the murder rate reduced by 50% but, at 34 murders per 100 000 people, it’s still a huge and on-going concern.

“I returned home to a high walled security estate in Gauteng and I’m very happy to be back!” says a caller named Glen.

“I returned home from Australia against frantically panicked advice. I am completely overjoyed and have never looked back,” says another happy caller.

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