'Emigr'es in Australia Ponder Returning Home to S. Africa

TEDDY and his wife Ann moved to Australia from South Africa because they could not abide apartheid. Now they are going home because they want to be part of South Africa's move to a multiracial democratic society. ``We're hoping for the future more than the short term, says Teddy, a professional in Sydney.

Teddy and Ann (not their real names) are not alone. An increasing number of South Africans are agonizing over whether to return to their homeland, families, and friends. Although South Africans continue to leave their country, South African government figures indicate there is now a small net inflow of returning 'emigr'es.

Some of those returning are coming from Australia, which has one of the largest South African 'emigr'e populations. The climates are similar and South Africans seem to excel in the laid-back Australian business climate. In fact, Neville Mills, a South African and managing director of Maxim Management Consultants, a Sydney company, says, ``There are still far more professionals coming here than going back.''

According to the Australian Department of Immigration, however, the number of new immigrants from South Africa has been steadily declining. Australia had a net gain last year of 2,243 South Africans compared to a peak of 5,156 in 1986-87.

Arriving South Africans keep up with the politics back home. Teddy and his wife vacationed in South Africa in September. ``We followed closely what [South African President] Frederik de Klerk was doing and watched Nelson Mandela's journeys around the world. It seemed to us he was very generous about trying to do something positive,'' says Teddy.

Mr. Mandela, deputy president of the African National Congress, came to Sydney at the end of October. Neil Cochrane, a South African, was among thousands who went to see Mandela at a rally outside the Sydney Opera House.

``Here was this man of incredible virtue and forgiveness, and suddenly it was wonderful to be a South African,'' he says.

Mr. Cochrane says it is difficult to remain in Australia when so much good is happening in South Africa. ``This is the time when the country [South Africa] needs people of good will.''

The Mandela visit also inspired Peter, another South African who is moving back early next year after five years in Australia. However, Peter (not his real name) calls his move ``a sabbatical.'' He would stay there, he says, ``if I felt there was a good chance of a peaceful settlement.'' His wife visited relatives in June and returned surprised by changes taking place. ``Some of the changes were quite positive,'' he says, but adds, ``we need a healing between the races.''

Some South Africans are returning but keeping their foreign passports. This gives them a ``parachute'' if the changes in South Africa become violent. Alec (not his real name) and his wife immigrated to Australia two and a half years ago, in large measure to get the Australian passport. ``We always intended to go back,'' he says. ``We came here with $1,500 and four suitcases.'' They are returning next year.

Many South Africans, like financial analyst Vincent Parrott, would like to see how the transition goes before moving back. Mr. Parrott says he expects to stay in Australia. ``I'd love to go back.... I'd like to be convinced it would work out for me and my family,'' he says.

Some South Africans, in fact, have returned and been disappointed. This was the case with Peter Schneider who returned to South Africa from Spain about six months ago. ``In January, most South Africans were euphoric about De Klerk's initiative. But, now the economy has deteriorated,'' he says.

Mr. Schneider says the deteriorating economy has contributed to a crime wave. He and his wife only leave and enter their car from within their garage. Every room in their house has ``panic buttons'' connected to a security company. ``There has been a real erosion in the quality of life,'' he says.

Teddy and his wife Ann, who is also a professional, have heard these stories before. However, Ann's family, which lives close to Soweto, speaks a black dialect and does not have security concerns. The couple admit they are leaving behind a comfortable lifestyle. But, Ann says, ``You have to come to terms with the materialism. You have to be willing to leave that. We are.''

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