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Education and Economic Life

From: The Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples/South Africans/Clifford J. Jansen

The mother tongue of more than 90 percent of White South Africans in Canada is English, and 98 percent speak it at home. The mother tongue is English for only 60 percent of visible-minority South Africans, but 85 percent speak it at home. A sizable number of South Africans also speak Chinese, Portuguese, Gujarati, or Hindi in addition to English. Less than 1 percent of South Africans are unable to converse in one of Canada’s official languages. In this respect, South Africans have fewer language problems than many other immigrant groups on arriving in Canada.

Because Canadian immigration policy selected individuals with high levels of education and job skills, South Africans were generally well educated and had professional training. According to the 1991 Canadian census, 31 percent of White South African immigrants had university degrees and a further 16 percent had some university education, while these proportions were also quite high (25 percent and 17 percent) among non-White South Africans. For the total Canadian population, in comparison, the proportions were only 11 percent and 9 percent. The fact that such a high percentage of non-White immigrants had advanced levels of education is all the more remarkable because educational opportunities were very unequal for the different races in South Africa. Non-Whites who achieved any level of education did so despite the barriers created by the apartheid regime, and as a result of individual and family sacrifices.

South African immigrants to Canada were also highly qualified for the job market. South African men had professional training in engineering, applied science and technology, commerce, management, business administration, and the health professions, while women had training principally in commerce, the health professions, and education. Most South African men found jobs in management, sales, and medicine/health, while women were concentrated in clerical jobs, management, and medicine/health.

In 1991 the unemployment rate for males was 11 percent for all Canadians, compared with 7 percent for White South Africans and 10 percent for non-Whites. For females these rates were 11 percent for all Canadians and 10 percent, respectively, for both White and non-White South Africans. While the full-time employment incomes of males and females in Canada as a whole were $29,254 and $20,293, the corresponding figures for White South Africans were $58,516 and $32,085, and for visible non-Whites $41,699 and $26,478.