exploring the concerns of the south african jewish community
In this article, Dan Brotman looks at why so many young Jewish professionals are leaving South Africa and how this might impact the future of the South African Jewish community.
IN 2010, I spent my last three months as a student at the University of Oregon conducting research in Cape Town. My project explored whether young Jews in the city saw their future in South Africa following the highly successful FIFA World Cup. Much of my research was a response to the 2005 nationwide survey, on the Jews of South Africa, conducted by the Kaplan Centre for Jewish Studies at UCT. The 2005 Kaplan Centre survey found that 92% of respondents characterised themselves as likely to stay in South Africa over the next five years, which was the highest recorded preponderance of Jews ever wanting to stay in the country. My 2010 thesis concluded that “as long as young Jews feel that there is political stability and promising economic opportunities in Cape Town...they will remain for the foreseeable future, living in cautious optimism...”.
When I arrived in South Africa ten years ago, I never would have imagined that I would not board my return flight home. Instead I have spent the last decade transforming into a member of the population group I originally interviewed. My transformation from an exclusively American Jew to a hybrid American/South African Jew began in May 2011, when I took up a position as Head of Media & Public Affairs at the Cape SA Jewish Board of Deputies. I then relocated to Johannesburg to take up the position of Executive Director of the South Africa-Israel Forum (SAIF), and eventually co-founded a business called En-novate with Investec in May 2016. I naturalized as a South African citizen in September 2018, and regularly contribute to publications on the state of the nation and the local Jewish community.
Between the 2005 survey and my arrival in South Africa in 2010, a number of noteworthy developments occurred in the country, some perceived as positive and others as negative by the mainstream Jewish community. Positive developments during this five-year period included strong GDP growth, which reached 5.6% in 2006, the Democratic Alliance taking control of Cape Town in 2006 and the Western Cape in 2009, and South Africa hosting the 2010 FIFA World Cup. However, a number of worrying developments also began to emerge, including nationwide load-shedding in 2007/08, the 2008 election of Julius Malema as President of the ANC Youth League, and the ascent in 2009 of Jacob Zuma to the Presidency.
"What distinguishes this latest wave of Jewish emigration from those of the past is that this one is primarily financially-driven, whereas previous waves were largely the result of political uncertainty and crime."