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‘Black brain drain’: Western Cape vows to do more to retain talent and be welcoming

It is unfortunate when young and talented people make the decision to leave the Western Cape, according to Western Cape Minister of Economic Opportunities Alan Winde.

He responded to a request by Fin24 for views on the experience of Tinyiko Ngwenya, an investment professional who made headlines after sharing her views on why she left Cape Town for Johannesburg.

Ngwenya said no matter how hard she worked, she never really felt good enough. She felt inferior as a result of being “a minority”.

“In my workplace where I spent most of my time, I would only hear Afrikaans and English. Granted, there were a few Xhosa-speaking colleagues, but not one person to whom I could speak my home language, Tsonga,” she said in her opinion piece which was originally posted on LinkedIn.

“The beauty of Johannesburg is that when you walk in a mall, you’re guaranteed to hear at least four South African languages being spoken, if not more.”

Winde told Fin24 that the Western Cape has a lot to offer and currently has the lowest unemployment rate in the country. He pointed out that the financial services sector – the sector in which Ngwenya works – showed year-on-year growth of 15% in the Western Cape in job creation, compared with a 7% decline in Johannesburg.

“Ms Ngwenya’s alma mater, the University of Cape Town (UCT) has also just overtaken Wits university as the top university in the country in the world university rankings,” said Winde.

“However, she cites her personal experiences in Cape Town and the corporate environment as one of the major factors which influenced her decision. For the Western Cape to continue to grow and develop, we need to be able to retain skills, and employers across the board need to be reflective of the demographics and diversity of the country.”

Attracting skills

He said the Western Cape government wants the province to be viewed as a choice region to work in order to be able to attract skills and entrepreneurs and to build the economy and create new jobs.

“We encourage the discussion around these issues that are prevalent in places of work and play. The entire South African financial [services] sector has come under the microscope in recent years for its slow pace of transformation,” said Winde.

“We know that other sectors have also been slow to transform. We hope that people like Ms Ngwenya who have left the province, will one day feel comfortable enough to return to where their skills and their ability to mentor young entrants into the job market, to ensure that all sectors are able to transform, will be put to good use.”

Tim Harris, CEO of Wesgro (Cape Town and the Western Cape’s official tourism, trade and investment promotion agency), said Ngwenya’s opinion piece points to a long-standing perception that Cape Town is not welcoming to “outsiders”.

“This is out of step with a Cape Town, that is in my view, one of the most cosmopolitan cities in Africa, where the best and the brightest from across the continent come to study,” said Harris.

“The perception, however, is a risk to our investment goals as a destination: to grow, we must be welcoming to difference – diverse, talented individuals from around the world must be able to call Cape Town their home.”

He has, therefore, tasked Wesgro’s chief business officer Yaw Peprah with further investigating this matter. Peprah will be speaking to young business professionals about their experiences and highlight success stories in individual firms and communities, for others to learn from.

“This dialogue is important to build a positive investment brand for our city and province,” said Harris.

True reflection

Ngwenya’s opinion piece gives a true reflection of what is really happening in the corporate world in Cape Town, according to Arifa Parkar, CEO of the Western Cape Business Opportunities Forum (Wecbof).

She empathises with Ngwenya and regards her opinion piece as powerful and written with care and without remorse from the heart.

“I have been in Cape Town the last 27 years and I know for a fact that I have had to fight all the way to reach my goals. The time I spent at [a business chamber] as the first black woman in a management position in the 197 years of its history speaks for itself,” she told Fin24.

Parkar said it was not an easy journey and she had to fight her way ahead to eventually earn the respect of the “old toppies”.

In her view, Capetonians should seriously think about what can be done about the issue.

“At the rate of the ‘brain drain’ taking place from Cape Town, we will be known as ‘little Europe’ in Africa,” said Parkar.

“I believe we need to start dialogues and not just talk shop, but really talk about what it is that is creating the ‘clicky’ Cape Town attitude and what are the insecurities that are preventing people from just talking and being just human beings first before everything else.”

Parkar said sometimes she feels more at home in Europe than in Cape Town when she talks to a “typical Cape Town crowd of business corporates”.

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