Johannesburg’s formal economy has been struggling, as Covid 19 and the remote work it has spawned, sees skilled professionals move to the Western Cape in search of a better work-life balance. FNB’s Property Broker Survey, published on January 12, placed Johannesburg at the bottom end of most indicators, especially in relation to the sale and rent of commercial, retail and industrial property, with the Western and Eastern Cape benefitting the most. Johannesburg and Tshwane have performed the worst out of the country’s 8 metros, with it being argued that the professional’s views of governance and service delivery, especially in the Western Cape, has greatly informed these semigration decisions.
Speaking to Radio Islam International, Luke Daniel, a journalist at Business Insider, argued that this phenomenon has been occurring historically, over the past 2 decades, but that the Coronavirus and remote work has exacerbated this. “Well, it’s not a new trend, semigration, which is when people move around within the country. In the south African context, this has been happening for the last two decades or so… but what’s happened over the last two years or so is that the pandemic has allowed people to work remotely.” This has been helped by technologies such as Zoom, which allow people to remain occupationally based in Johannesburg, but reside in other provinces. Areas such as Sandton and the Johannesburg CBD’s commercial office blocks have been most impacted, with property managers not being able to rent, nor sell, as demand is increasingly falling. Mr Daniel alluded to the fact that the Western and Eastern Cape has benefited most from this, especially so called “zoom towns”, which are around 2 hours from Cape Town city; people see better governance and quicker municipal response times as informing their decisions, even more than the scenery and ocean access that that part of the country offers.
Significantly, this trend, according to Mr Daniel, was seen in both the Western Cape and KwaZulu Natal in 2021, but has shifted toward the Cape following the July 2021 unrest. It is also noteworthy that the trend may not alleviate the pressure placed on Johannesburg’s and Gauteng’s service provision capacity, mainly since the province continues to see large scale migration from the rest of the continent, and because those semigrating are moving away from the more up-market areas, which are likely to be unaffordable to the province’s large informal sector.