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Trekking across SA in search of a 'better life'

04 Aug 2016

For a number of decades, South African citizens have been leaving the country in search of a perceived better life in other parts of the world. During the late 1990s, emigration reached a peak, with over 58 000 people leaving South Africa in the year 1999 alone. 

This Bantry Bay apartment offers three bedrooms, two-and-a-half bathrooms, direct elevator access, private garden and courtyard, communal swimming pool and braai area and parking for R8.2 million- click here to view.

Popular relocation destinations include Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United Kingdom, and it just takes a visit to some of the popular areas in these countries to hear the familiar South African twang.

Over the past few years, a new trend has arisen, where South Africans searching for a better life aren’t leaving our shores in droves, but rather moving to other parts of the country to make a new life for themselves. This trend has been dubbed ‘semigration’, and has seen a number of middle-class or high-net-worth individuals pack up their homes and move their families to a new province or city.

Migration across South Africa is not a new concept. In search of work opportunities and money, migrant workers have moved to urban areas throughout the country’s tumultuous history. The semigration trend, however, has seen a range of South Africans from different economic backgrounds moving around the country.

There are a number of reasons why semigrants have chosen to leave their old lives behind and forge a new world for themselves elsewhere. Like the reasons behind emigrating to a foreign country, these generally have to do with career opportunities, lifestyle and safety and security. 

Situated in Camps Bay, this house has five bedrooms, five bathrooms, open-plan living spaces, sitting area with fireplace, fitted kitchen, mature garden and a double garage. It is priced at R23.99 million- click here to view.

As the gateway into the country and the economic hub, Johannesburg has always attracted residents from all over the country. University graduates and school leavers are attracted to larger centres (including Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban) after finishing their education as smaller towns are often unable to offer them the same competitive work environment and climb up the corporate ladder. 

The fast paced lifestyle and vibey culture of the urban landscape that makes up Johannesburg appeals to South Africans who enjoy the hum of the city. Besides attracting world-class music and cultural acts, along with bustling markets and some of the best shopping in Africa, the city has a rich culture and history that is celebrated throughout a variety of museums and memorials. 

The relatively good weather and friendly people are also major drawcards.

With the advance in technology and an ability to connect to colleagues and clients regardless of geographical location through high speed wireless internet, those businessmen and women who prefer not to be Johannesburg-based are now able to operate their businesses from else where. 

Some of these breadwinners choose to settle their families in a town that’s perceived to be safer and offers a better pace of life. They commute to where they need to be for business meetings or operational needs too. Cheaper flights have added to this movement as well as the emergence of the Gautrain and cheaper, more convenient taxi services.

Offering three bedrooms and two bathrooms, this Sea Point house has an all-white fitted kitchen, dining room, sitting room and courtyard. It is currently on the market for R4.899 million - click here.

Another breed of semigrant, and possibly the original semigration trendsetters, are those that have retired. The coast and countryside are popular with older buyers looking to downscale or relax in their final years. The trend for retirees to move to coastal areas or a new home after their retirement may not be as new, but with the wave of the younger, working individuals who have moved further from home, a lot of their retired parents who previously wouldn’t have necessarily left their home town have decided to follow tow to be closer to their grandchildren or to be accessible to their adult children.

Over the past 20 years, the rate of urbanisation has grown drastically. The city that leads the semigration race is Cape Town, with many new inhabitants flooding in from all over the country and the world. Since the last census, the Western Cape has seen its population grow by approximately 30%.

According to Jacques van Embden, Managing Director of urban property developers, Blok, the Atlantic Seaboard in Cape Town is a popular choice for semigrants from other provinces. He says the Cape is a great place to live and work, and more and more people are realising this and embracing this beautiful city. 

Van Embden says they currently have five apartment buildings under development in Cape Town and along the Atlantic Seaboard, with a growing number of apartments having been sold to people from Johannesburg and other parts of South Africa who are looking to live in central Cape Town.

Situated in Fresnaye, this house offers three bedrooms, three bathrooms, open-plan living spaces, backyard with swimming pool and garaging for three cars. It is selling for R12.95 million - click here to view.

Samuel Seeff, Chairman of Seeff Properties, says the property market in Cape Town and surrounding areas has seen a boost. He says Cape Town in particular is attracting up to 20% of its current buyer pool from inland provinces, the Johannesburg and Pretoria areas in particular, but since the start of 2014, they are now even seeing buyers migrate from KwaZulu-Natal to the metro. 

“The various suburbs and small towns in the Cape offer different lifestyles, and depending on what the new owners are looking for, they can find a home that suits them within 50km of Cape Town International Airport, perfect for the Monday to Friday commute.”

Brent Herbert, Managing Director of Range Holdings, made the move from Johannesburg to Cape Town with his family eight years ago. He says they wanted to live in a better place without leaving the country. Herbert says their businesses operate in South Africa and if they wanted to emigrate, they would need to sell their assets and make new contacts in a foreign country. 

“At the time, our sons were young and my wife and I were looking for a new start with a better quality of life. Our boys are in one of the best schools in the country and our standard of living is great. Living close to the sea and mountains means a lot of time spent being active outdoors.”

Situated in Zimbali Coastal Resort & Estate, Ballito, this home has four bedrooms, four bathrooms, open-plan living spaces, undercover balcony and double garage. It is on the market for R4.85 million - click here to view.

One of the challenges of the move was adapting to the pace of Cape Town and the later start to business hours as well as the need to be in Johannesburg for some aspects of his business. According to Herbert, sometimes the weekly commute to Gauteng is tough and takes its toll physically, but he could not wish for a better life for himself and his family. Another initial challenge was making a new circle of friends. “Over the years we have met some great people and a number of our friends have also moved to Cape Town. I probably have more of my friends here than in Johannesburg,” he says.

Properties in the Cape are also perceived to be an investment as the demand keeps pushing the prices up. According to the FNB Property Barometer, in 2014 property prices in the Western Cape rose on average by 13.8% compared with the average growth rate of 6.6% in the rest of the country.

Some of the most expensive properties sold over the last two years have been to buyers from Johannesburg. Seeff, for example, sold a luxury villa in sought-after Nettleton Road for a record price of R111 million to a Johannesburg buyer in 2015. 

Laurie Wener, MD of Pam Golding in the Western Cape, says apart from the big sales to ‘big’ people, there are many smaller sales to ‘big’ people from all over South Africa as investors buy properties to rent for long and short term. As the rand devalues, she says South Africans believe that the historically good capital growth in residential property, particularly in the Cape, will hedge them from the inevitable inflation while also providing reasonably good returns as rentals, like sales, are increasing driven by the demand outstripping supply. 

This Umhlanga property offers three bedrooms, two bathrooms, open-plan living, a fitted kitchen, undercover patio and double garage. It is selling for R3.6 million - click here to view.

Ian Badenhorst, Managing Director for Seeff’s country and Karoo operations, says the trend is similar in his areas, where up to 30% of buyers over the last two years have been newcomers, moving from other provinces to the Western Cape countryside and Karoo areas.

With the perception that the crime rate in Gauteng is rising, as well as the fast pace and stressful lifestyle that accompany living there, smaller, safer, scenic places that were previously considered holiday destinations are becoming more popular as a permanent home. This has an impact on the economy of these towns and many are becoming entrepreneurial hubs.

Badenhorst says this trend also has had a massive boost for demand and has kept the property market active.

Besides Cape Town and Johannesburg, other attractive options include the Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal. According to Pam Golding Properties, Durban suburbs including Umhlanga and Ballito, and areas further north, have seen a 7.2% rise in property prices to date this year as the demand continues to grow.

The reasons behind the shift from mass emigration to semigration can be afforded to various factors and varies from person to person. Although South Africa has its unique challenges, many people have made a conscious choice to stay in the country and continue to build a life for themselves and their children. 

Others feel that due to the devaluing rand, to maintain the lifestyle that they have become accustomed to, the better option is to stay in the country and invest in local property. 

Whatever the motivation behind the trend and regardless of the individual’s background or what appeals to them, the underlying factors continue to demonstrate what is important to South Africans: a good lifestyle in a well-run town or city that feels safe.
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