By Forbes Africa
With the coronavirus checking in and work cultures shifting, a new type of migration has emerged – semigration. The argument: if you can work from anywhere, why live in the city?
THE INTERNET HAS TRANSFORMED our societies, economies and way of life. While industrialization saw people moving across towns, cities and provinces to be closer to the workplace, the coronavirus pandemic has shifted everything. Around the world, city dwellers are moving to suburbia, choosing more living space over gridlock and a sea view for Zoom meetings.
“The reality of the Covid-19 pandemic and the limits and restrictions it has brought with it, many companies have had to change the way they do business. The interest rate on buying a home is at its lowest in 50 years,” says Marcél du Toit, CEO of Leadhome in South Africa.
“As a result of this change, a new type of ‘migration’ has emerged: semigration.”
According to Du Toit, semigration is when professionals, individuals or families move to different, more affordable parts of the country or back to their native homes. He adds that semigrating reaps untold benefits for the local economies.
“Due to the increase in supply and demand, small businesses have the opportunity to serve a growing local community.”
The World Economic Forum undertook a survey with Statista which showed how large numbers of people are leaving big American cities like Manhattan, San Francisco, and Houston. Europe last year experienced a unique phenomenon many are calling a reverse migration.
According to a recent report, over one million Romanians returned to Romania and Lithuania saw more citizens arriving than leaving for the first time in years.
“Estate agents are reporting better than expected interest in popular coastal areas such as northern KwaZulu-Natal and the southern Cape coast [in South Africa] which mirrors a trend in other countries,” says Yael Geffen, CEO of Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty.
But it’s not only the pandemic reshaping our work landscape and as a result, changing where many are choosing to live. An essential component of pandemic migration and suburbanization is connectivity.
A DEMAND-DRIVEN NETWORK
“Connectivity has been growing over the last couple of years, specifically in the second metros of South Africa. With the advent of greater national fiber infrastructure, the connectivity from those secondary towns into the primary metros has become more reliable and at a much higher speed,” says Prenesh Padayachee, SEACOM’s Group Chief Digital Officer.
According to Padayachee, South Africa is a bandwidth-hungry country so while SEACOM is historically an undersea cable company, they’re now looking at ways of getting landlocked countries into the data hubs of the world.
“Africa at some stage will also become a data hub but not everything that everyone requires in Africa will sit in Africa. If you’re looking at bringing content closer to Africa, the undersea cables become important and then how do you connect those cable landing spots to the inland countries?” asks Padayachee.
“What happens to a country like Lesotho or Botswana? How do they get access to the cables? If you look at the African market in totality there are many other socioeconomic factors that come into play rather than whether someone has a 100MB link at home or not.”
Padayachee brings up Uganda as an example, a country where demand for data is high, yet little is connected. When people get access to more robust wireless technologies, their devices can move with them and SEACOM has seen similar relocation patterns throughout East Africa.
In Kenya, people are relocating back to their hometowns (or different, smaller metros) from the four major economic hubs: Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu and Eldoret.
“With physical infrastructure it’s easy – you know how many endpoints you have and you cater for those endpoints. With Covid-19, people aren’t office-bound but they also aren’t bound to the large metros. We’re starting to work much more remotely and we need to be able to cater for that nomadic capability,” he explains.
LOXTON OR BUST
Peter van der Merwe is an associate director at a Johannesburg-based PR agency. He moved from Vanderbijlpark to Loxton, a village of around 1,100 people in the Bo-Karoo region of South Africa’s Northern Cape province at the end of December 2020.
“We started dreaming before the pandemic, but the pandemic was the catalyst. The ability to work remotely was the game-changer: if we were already working from home, why not the Karoo?” says Van der Merwe.
“The drawcard of Loxton was the uniqueness and tranquility. Houses are cheap compared to the city, there’s zero traffic noise, we walk everywhere, and there’s less stress and almost no crime, apart from the occasional petty theft. It’s a simple, peaceful way of life.” Van der Merwe adds that his move to Loxton depended on having reliable internet access.
They currently use wireless WiFi from a supplier in Beaufort West but the speeds are incomparable to fiber in the main metros. It’s also more expensive.
“We don’t have fiber yet, but a fiber line is being installed between the towns of Carnarvon and Victoria West, which will run directly past our town. Until then, we make do with wireless WiFi and a strong mobile network,” he says. “Power outages happen over and above the normal load-shedding – and when that happens our mobile tower batteries die quickly too which leaves you literally uncontactable. The first thing we did was to install a UPS system, which keeps our WiFi router up and running, and keeps us connected to the outside world.”
While the Karoo is becoming increasingly popular, Geffen adds that many small rural towns, especially in the Western Cape province in South Africa, have seen the number of permanent residents increase.
“The Winelands has become increasingly popular in recent years, especially with those who seek a more sedate country lifestyle but still need easy access to the Central Business District and airport as well as families who are attracted by a better choice of good schools than many small towns,” says Geffen.
“The Cape’s West Coast is also attracting a lot of attention at the moment because villages like Langebaan and Yzerfontein offer the ‘quintessential seaside lifestyle’ whilst still being a fairly short commuter distance from Cape Town. For Gauteng buyers, wildlife estates in the bushveld areas of Hoedspruit and Modimolle in Limpopo [province] are becoming increasingly popular.”
Those who no longer need to be city-based for work (and if you follow what technology giants like Twitter and Spotify are doing, the option of remote is now permanent) are opting for safer, more relaxing lifestyles in smaller towns or villages.
“It’s a gloriously peaceful and simple way of life, while still being able to stay connected to our jobs in the Big Smoke. Funnily enough, we talk more often to our friends and family than we did when we lived around the corner from them, and when we visit, we spend more quality time. People also love coming to visit.”
By Tiana Cline