Springbok fan on Irish life: ‘Ireland is at the centre of the western world’

Number moving to State rising amid infrastructural and economic issues in South Africa

With Ireland and South Africa set to square off in a crucial Rugby World Cup fixture, Department of Justice figures show the number of South Africans living in the State has more than doubled in the past five years.

In 2018, the department granted just over 2,300 immigration permissions to South Africans. Last year, that figure was 5,239. South Africans emigrating for economic and social reasons is not a new phenomenon, but Ireland’s increased popularity as a destination is a more recent development.

Amanda Prinsloo moved from Pretoria to Dublin along with her husband in 2017. The couple originally planned to settle in the UK, but the introduction of more restrictive visa laws prompted a change of heart.

Prinsloo’s husband, who has a British passport, had to live for six to eight months on his own in Britain, showing evidence of work so she could apply for a spousal visa.


“We were newly-weds, we didn’t want to live too far from each other for such a long time,” she explains. “Brexit pushed us to move a bit earlier than planned. We investigated coming to Ireland because it was so much easier. We just needed enough funds to support ourselves for a few months.”

David Sexton was born in Ireland but moved to South Africa when he was six months old. In 2007, he and his wife moved to Dublin. Sexton runs a Facebook groups for South Africans living in Ireland and says he has noticed a “sharp uptick” in membership in recent years.

David Sexton flew to Cardiff and London last month to watch South Africa play Rugby World Cup warm-up games. ‘It still blows my mind that I’m able to do that, it is a definite quality-of-life plus,’ he says

He says that Ireland’s geography was an appealing factor when deciding to return. “Ireland is at the centre of the western world; the EU to the east, US to the west, Africa to the south and Scandinavia to the north. My wife and I wanted to travel more and that’s quite difficult from South Africa.”

Sexton flew to Cardiff and London last month to watch South Africa play Rugby World Cup warm-up games. “It still blows my mind that I’m able to do that, it is a definite quality-of-life plus,” he says. “It’s impossible to travel like that from South Africa unless you’re mega-wealthy.”

Economic issues

Tom Lodge, an emeritus professor at University of Limerick, has published several research papers on South African politics. Recent infrastructural and economic issues have compounded post-apartheid tensions, he says, causing plenty of South Africans, particularly younger people, to emigrate.

Since last year, the country has seen the increase in a practice known as load-shedding. To protect the struggling energy national grid, South Africans see their electricity rationed at certain times, day and night.

“I think that certainly has prompted quite a lot of recent departures,” says Prof Lodge. “Other push factors, though, have been going on much longer. There was a widespread belief, particularly from young white South Africans, that from about 2000 onwards the cards were being stacked against them in terms of getting good jobs.

“That perception wasn’t always accurate but the government was using pretty assertive language about affirmative action. For a while the civil service stopped recruiting white South Africans. But it’s still the case that the proportion of white South Africans that don’t have a job is absolutely tiny.”

High crime rates, and the lifestyle decisions they force, are frequently cited as another push factor by those who emigrate.

“My son is very sheltered,” says Charlene Ferreira, who moved from Pretoria to Dublin. “We don’t let our kids take Ubers. My son is 16 and he took is first Uber in Ireland. He was raised in a gated community. Here, I would go to work and give him a bus pass, tell him to explore Dublin. He panicked because he’s never been given money and a bus pass with no one knowing where he’s going.”

We mark the anniversary of our move to Ireland on the calendar every year. Moving to Ireland has been a fantastically positive experience

—  David Sexton, who moved to Ireland in 2007

In addition to the number of visas issued increasing, international protection applicants arriving in Ireland from South Africa are also up, rising from 195 in 2018 to 450 last year.

“That reflects perception about crime,” says Prof Lodge.


In part due to the recent uptick in arrivals, hundreds of South Africans are expected to congregate in Dublin on Saturday and sing Gwijo songs, popularised by South African captain Siya Kolisi, while watching the Springboks take on Ireland in the World Cup.

“That’s when we celebrate the strength of our diversity,” says Sexton.

Sunday is South African heritage day and Sexton hopes the rugby will make it a long weekend of celebration. Irrespective of the scoreline in Paris, he says he has cause to rejoice in his new home.

“We mark the anniversary of our move to Ireland on the calendar every year,” he adds. “Moving to Ireland has been a fantastically positive experience.”

Nathan Johns

Nathan Johns

Nathan Johns is an Irish Times journalist