My heart bleeds when I look at professionals who shun SA for Britain, writes Abbey Makoe

Official figures are not available, but there are at least one million South Africans living in London.

Official figures are not available, but there are at least one million South Africans living in London.

In Birmingham, Britain's second largest city, an estimated half-a-million South Africans reside.

In Buckinghamshire County, where I have been living for the past three years, it is almost impossible to go shopping without stumbling into a South African.

Fact: most of them are skilled or semi-skilled professionals.

They range from doctors, to lawyers, teachers to businessmen. In my area of abode health workers are ubiquitous.

They mostly come from Kagiso, near Krugersdorp on the West Rand. I've not been able to figure out why, but whoever did recruitment there definitely have a roaring business.

I hang around a lot with this bunch. They are either at work doing overtime or elsewhere partying as hard as they work.

Many have been in the UK for more than five years and have been granted the coveted Indefinite Stay status so as to unlock access to British privileges, including housing and an avalanche of other benefits in Europe's leading welfare state.

Thus their resolve is largely unanimous: none intend to go back to South Africa any time soon. The British pound can trounce virtually any currency in the world.

At the last check you could get almost two US dollars for a pound. No wonder Britain refuses to join the Euro.

But something more serious bothers me. It is concerning the desperate measures that some of our fellow South Africans go to in their bid to remain in the UK.

Many enter the country on a popular two-year working-holiday visa and by the time they have to go back, they are working as illegal immigrants earning peanuts.

They seem to care less anyway. Five pounds an hour translates into an average R70 an hour - a far cry from what many earned back home before flying this side of the Atlantic.

What many do not realise is that the standard of living in the UK is equally high. As a result many of these people end up living in squalid conditions all in pursuit of the British pound.

Some, who think they are smart, apply for a study visa before the expiry of their initial working-holiday visa.

I have absolutely no qualms with that. My gripe is that many of them, however, do not pursue their purported line of study. They hide behind this form of visa in order to remain legal in the country for longer.

Two, three or four years later, when they have to renew their study visa, immigration authorities catch some of them by demanding academic progress reports, which are non-existent. At that point they go underground. Unscrupulous employers prey on them like hungry vultures surrounding a carcass.

I look at this situation and wonder why anyone in their right mind would leave sunny South Africa for the grey skies of Britain. Come so far only to struggle to make ends meet in wet, windy winters. Live as persona non grata when in fact theirs is a prospering, politically stable democracy where opportunities abound.

I look at all these professionals who shun their country and shudder to think about how South Africa's economic development would benefit if only they had just one more vein of patriotism in their system.

Granted, not everything in South Africa is a bed of roses, but at a time when we could do with everyone's skills, one would have thought that Uncle Tom's famous cry "Your Country Needs You" would have resonated among renegades in our midst.

My heart bleeds when I see the selflessness with which my compatriots give of themselves to Britain.

Their work ethic is amazing. I never knew that our people were so hard-working. In my book our obligation to nourish our democracy surpasses the selfish desires by some of our people to jump a ship sailing in steady waters.

l Abbey Makoe is a South African journalist studying in the UK.