WORLD

DESTINATION CANADA

Even before the election, thousands of white South Africans had voted with their feet

D’ARCY JENISH May 9 1994
WORLD

DESTINATION CANADA

Even before the election, thousands of white South Africans had voted with their feet

D’ARCY JENISH May 9 1994

DESTINATION CANADA

WORLD

Even before the election, thousands of white South Africans had voted with their feet

D’ARCY JENISH

It was raining hard in Cape Town last July 25, and Vivienne Vanieris’s three daughters, now aged eight to 14, were too tired to attend the Sunday evening service at St. James Church. So Vanieris, a 36-year-old sales manager for a health-care company, her sales manager husband, Costas, 35, and their children stayed home—a decision that likely saved their lives. Four gunmen burst into the church that night, opened fire and lobbed hand grenades at the worshippers. Eleven people were killed, including a woman who usually sat in the same pew as the Vanieris family, and 50 were injured. Already alarmed by the escalating violence in their troubled homeland, Vanieris and her husband decided they had had enough. They immigrated to Canada in January and now live in Ottawa. “I really believe that South Africa could become as wealthy as America if the transition is managed correctly,” said Vanieris. “Unfortunately, it’s going to take at least five to 10 years.”

Last week, millions of voters expressed their faith in South Africa by casting ballots in the country’s first all-race elections. But thousands of other South Africans, like the Vanierises, had already voted with their feet. Government officials have not released emigration figures for the first quarter of 1994, although they contend that there has been no substantial exodus of frightened whites. Indeed, the country’s largest moving company, Johannesburg-based Stuttaford Van Lines, has helped about 1,900 families relocate elsewhere over the past year—about average for a 12-month period, company officials say. But South African newspapers carry

daily advertisements from companies offering seminars, workshops and other services for those who want to leave.

The most popular destination for emigrating South Africans, Stuttaford spokesman Peter Snellink says, is New Zealand. Canada is next, followed by Britain and the United States. Andre Killian, South Africa’s ambassador to Canada, said that approximately 120,000 South Africans now reside in this country, and that more are arriving at the rate of about 1,000 a year. (A spokesman for the South African Embassy in Washington

said that an estimated 100,000 South Africans now live in the United States.) Israel, despite its problems with politically inspired violence, attracted about 13,000 Jewish emigrants from South Africa between 1971 and 1991. And Israeli officials expect that as many as 1,200 South African Jews will arrive in the country this year, more than double the number who settled there in 1993.

Although most of those leaving South Africa are white, a few blacks have fled the political violence that has erupted as the country emerges from the rubble of apartheid. Vusi Sibisi, a 39-year-old refugee from Soweto, the black township that was a hotbed of the anti-apartheid movement, left last June and eventually settled in Toronto. He said that the Inkatha Freedom Party had branded him and three fellow Zulus as traitors for associating with the rival African National Congress. Sibisi added that one of his friends was killed by an Inkatha hit squad, and that the killers were looking for him, too. “I would love to go back but not right now,” he said. “I’m too scared.”

While many recent white emigrants say they were disturbed by rising crime and violence or felt threatened by black-majority rule, most add that career opportunities for them in South Africa appeared dim. Brian Leiventhal, a 28-year-old student in Los Angeles, predicted that South Africa will soon be plagued by poverty, political corruption and civil disorder—common problems in most of sub-Saharan Africa. “There can be no future for white people in South Africa,” said Barbara Foster, a 29-year-old chemist who left Cape Town six weeks ago and is now looking for work in Washington, D.C. “I have no doubt that the blacks will take revenge. Very soon there will be no jobs for white people and it will not be safe.”

For Bentley Ephron, even Israel seems peaceful compared with parts of South Africa. A 37-year-old used car dealer from Johannesburg, Ephron said that he, his wife Stephanie, 34, and their five children, aged one to 14, left because they feared for their safety. They are now staying temporarily at a resettlement centre near Tel Aviv. Although Ephron says he has been surprised by the ferocity of Arab and Jewish extremism in Israel, “the violence here is not on the same scale as in South Africa. It’s not on your doorstep.”

For many white South Africans, the only solution to rising violence and diminishing opportunity is emigration. And for many of those looking for a new home, Canada rates highly as a stable, prosperous country. “Everybody speaks about Canada being such a peaceful place,” said Vanieris. “This country offers marvelous opportunities for our children. And the snow is beautiful.” But even in the comfort and security of their new homes, most immigrants cannot forget the troubles in their homeland, or the friends they have lost in acts of senseless violence.