Colloquially in South Africa, the mass emigration of its professional classes - predominantly white citizens - has been coined as the 'chicken run'.

The brain drain started in the early 1980s as a response by its more progressive citizens to the repressive apartheid regime and the chance to find opportunities outside a country hindered by the effects of economic boycotts and sanctions. The fear that civil war was around the corner (or at least would spread from the townships to the gated communites) led many to start PFP ('Packing for Perth', also the acronym of a liberal-learning political party whose supporters were regarded as more likely to take flight).

The end of white minority rule and the election of Nelson Mandela as President of a new South Africa came more peacefully than expected. However rising crime rates, positive discrimination employment policies and concerns about what was happening over the border in Zimbabwe did not lead to an easing of skilled emigration. There were also pull factors in play - many developed countries could offer far better rates of remuneration for professionals than what South Africa could provide, particularly in the human services fields.

From 1987 to 2001, South Africa lost an estimated 310,000 of its citizens through emigration. In the 2001 census, South Africa had a population of 4,293,640 whites and 1,115,467 Asians, representing 9.5% and 2.5% of the entire population South Africa. Only five years earlier, 11% of the population was white and 3% was Asian. Included in this number are about 350 highly qualified medical personnel a year. Favourite destinations of South Africans are Britain, Australia, Ireland, Germany, the United States, Israel and the Netherlands. Increasingly Asians and Coloureds (if Thabo Mbeki's own statistics bureau uses this antiquated term I guess it is not offensive) are also joining other South Africans abroad, along with an emerging new generation of affluent black South Africans.

The costs are staggering for the country. Estimating income tax at 30% of an annual income of R200,000, South Africa loses R60,000 per annum per taxpayer. Add to that the VAT at 14% on goods no longer purchased costs around R20,000 per year. This comes to around R80,000 every year that is lost in taxes for every person who leaves. The implications of this financial loss are immense - to put this in terms in Greenback, the lost of half a million skilled emigrants over several years is a staggering loss to the economy of R40 billion per year, or USD6 billion. Even worse is the human toll caused by the flight of trained medical professionals and teachers. Only Russia is believed to have suffered a thining out of its human resources through emigration more significantly than South Africa.

There is however something positive to this story. Aside from the West, South Africans are also making tracks into the rest of the African continent, investing their skills and savings in Cameroon, Ghana, Angola and other countries.