Various economic and socio-political reasons are usually given to explain people’s decisions to
emigrate from South Africa, and violent crime is often cited as the most compelling factor. By contrast,
little attention has been paid to the psychological context within which the decision to emigrate is
made. In this article, the experiences of ten South Africans prior to their emigration from South Africa
are discussed. This qualitative study formed part of a larger research project exploring the impact of
emigration on South African family life. The results suggest that the socio-psychological context within
which the decision to emigrate is made is highly complex and involves a number of interlinked factors.
Although emigrants are aware of the impact of their departure on the people and systems surrounding
them, they need to cut themselves off psychologically from significant others in order to leave and
socially disengage from the home country. Consequently, it is argued that emigration affects not only
the people leaving, but also those left behind (and who, according to the findings of this study, do not
generally benefit from the move). Therefore adequate psychological and practical preparation is
recommended and the needs of elderly people left behind are highlighted.