South Africa / Culture Crunch: Brexit

11 July 2016 | By Sign Salad

South Africans have an odd relationship with the UK. Many have a positive view on most things British – including Britain’s economy, its high-performing education system, robust institutions and (formerly) strong currency. On the other hand, the reality for many South Africans is that they’ll never visit the UK – either because the cost is too great, or because they’d struggle to get a visa.

In a way, Brexit has shattered the veneer of order, sensibility and unity that South Africans associate with the UK. It has shown that Western democracy can still be an emotionally charged process, devoid of rational mental processing. Social media is full of Tweets, posts and vines that paint Britain as a nation divided, but also as having ‘fallen’ from a position of reasonable decision making. Britain will still be seen as great; but now the fault lines within its society have been irreversibly exposed for all to see.

South Africa’s economic ties with the UK reach back to colonial times, and have only strengthened in the recent (post-apartheid) past. Up to 60% of all EU investment in the country is from the UK, and up to 40% of SA exports to the EU go directly to the UK. More South Africans have migrated to the UK than to any other major economy in the world, making the country more exposed to Brexit upheavals than most.

The long-term implications of Brexit on South Africa are still being debated by pundits and analysts in the nation’s media. An immediate indicator of the upheaval that followed the referendum result was the drop in value of the local currency, the SA Rand. This was more the result of flagging global business and international investor confidence given the economic synergies between South Africa, Europe and the UK, as investments were moved from leading emerging economies.

South Africans – and those who invest here and in the rest of Africa – are fearful of change, and especially of big, unexpected change. If anything, Brexit has accentuated this wariness for business on the continent. However, it has also shown that change – even that which is unwanted – can be weathered, and the country and indeed the continent can acclimatize to the ‘new normal’.

Part of our Culture Crunch: Brexit edition – global perspectives on Brexit from our partners across the globe.

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