News of Britain’s historic vote to exit the European Union (EU) on Friday sent shock waves around the world, with its effects felt almost immediately in its former colony, South Africa, with the rand taking its biggest knock since 2008.
But it was not only the markets that were left reeling in the wake of the landmark decision. South Africans in the UK expressed apprehension about what the future now holds.
“Today is a sad day for the United Kingdom,” said 26-year-old Tana Nolethu Forrest, who emigrated to London in 2014.
“I moved to London because I knew that I could meet people here from all over the world, and have access to the rest of Europe. Now that the UK has voted to leave the European Union, and thus stand alone, I am less certain about my future here and about the future of what I once thought of as a diverse and welcoming place for people from all over the world.”
Forrest, a graduate from the University of Cape Town, said she believed voters had been fed propaganda by the Leave campaign regarding the impact a so-called Brexit would have on their future.
“A lot of people genuinely believe that this will improve their lives, but they are mistaken,” she said.
Most notable, said Forrest, was how those in the Leave campaign played on anti-immigration sentiment in convincing Britons to vote for an exit.
One of the main points of discussion and supposed benefits of Brexit has been curbing immigration, which has been portrayed as the cause of the decline of jobs, quality free healthcare and housing in the UK.
Forrest said she had encountered a multitude of hatred and ignorance towards immigrants, both on social media and in person. Among the motivating factors for animosity towards the “other” is the belief that immigrants impact negatively on public services, while Forrest repudiates this, saying this is in fact due to cuts by the conservative government.
“Ultimately, I believe Brexit was fuelled by ignorance and fear – people are frustrated about their circumstances and they are taking those frustrations out on people who are different,” said Forrest.
This reaction, she said, was of course not specific to the UK, “but can be seen in instances around the world, and even in South Africa with the xenophobic attacks of last year and in 2008”.
Fellow immigrants, sisters Tyler and Kylie Hattingh, shared Forrest’s sentiments.
Twenty-two-year-old Tyler, a second-year student majoring in sociology and living in Crewe, said she had come to the conclusion that a significant number of Britons were in fact xenophobic.
“With being a South African living in the UK for [eight] years, I have constantly struggled with the portion of British society that claim ‘immigrants are taking our jobs and accessing the welfare system when they are not entitled to it’,” said Tyler.
“These are the same people who voted ‘out’.”
Tyler said these voters had taken the advice of a man – Nigel Farage – who had failed to garner support in the House of Lords as well as on the ground with the electorate when he campaigned for prime minister.
“But now he is an all-knowing being when it comes to immigration laws,” Tyler remarked.
She added that while she believed her fate in Britain had been decided by the vote – her British residency would cease to exist after the completion of her studies – she hoped that her peers would be able to “pull together and try lessen the blow for ourselves and the generations to come”.
Tyler’s sister Kylie said she was disappointed by the vote as it was partly Britain’s close ties with the rest of the continent that had enticed her to immigrate. She added that many Britons were left with very little information and time to have made such an important decision.
It was not only young immigrants who expressed disappointment and shock at the outcome but also their British national peers.
Twenty-three-year-old Thomas Rowley, who lives in Manchester – one of the cities that voted to stay along with Liverpool – expressed concern over the future of his nation which, in addition to exiting the EU, would soon be without Prime Minister David Cameron who resigned shortly after the vote announcement.
Rowley echoed Tyler Hattingh and Forrest’s opinions on Brexit motivating factors: “The frustrating thing for me personally is that a large amount of the Leave campaign was, and still is, focused around immigration.”
Rowley said that while he believed many of the immigrants who entered the UK were driven to do so by insecurity in their home nations, many other British nationals believed foreigners were stealing their jobs.
“In reality, a high proportion of immigrants take labour intensive or lower pay-grade jobs, which British people are reluctant to do,” he said.
Rowley added that Britain’s future was now a “guessing game”, which left the nation feeling unsettled.
Feeling similarly apprehensive were two other British nationals who voted to remain, Ryan Muir and Gemma Snell.
Snell, 27, said she was left disappointed by the six-month campaign which had left many uninformed about the true issue at hand. Instead, said Snell, voters were made to believe their vote was about immigration by “scaremongering” and propaganda from the Leave campaign, turning a vote that should have been about the economy into one about foreign nationals.
“I don’t think people were educated properly, I don’t think they had the facts,” said Snell.
Muir said that while he was left disappointed, he understood that some people had indeed voted out of fear, fuelled by recent terrorist attacks, and that this fear was understandable and did not always translate into racism or xenophobia.
Two other young Britons, Joshua Watkinson and Liam Postlethwaite, had a different take on the vote, both expressing optimism about panic subsiding and positive change following.
“I understand that there is a lot of panic and worry at the moment due to leaving the EU, but in the long term I think this is going to be a good thing,” said Watkinson.
“But we never said this was going to be an easy thing; we never said it was going to be simple.”
Watkinson said that while there was fear, he believed the vote had sparked an uprising against the “super state”.
“I don’t think the world is going to be the same after this,” he said.
Postlethwaite said he hoped “the initial chaotic meltdown” would be short-lived.
He suggested seeing the new dawn in terms of an analogy, “looking at the country initially as a start-up in red economically … but, through the correct management, will return to the black and prosper through independence”.
– African News Agency (ANA)