David A. McDonald, Lephophotho Mashike, and Celia Golden

Southern African Migration Project

Migration Policy Series No. 13

PLEASE NOTE: Readers are welcome to reproduce and reference
this article as long as appropriate acknowledgments are given.


Since 1996, the Southern African Migration Project (SAMP) has conducted a series of cross-national surveys of attitudes towards migration and immigration in the region. The aim of the surveys is to provide policy-makers, NGOs and researchers with up-to-date, comprehensive and rigorous information on people's experiences with, and attitudes towards, cross-border migration in the Southern African region.

The first major survey, the Five Nation Survey, focused on the attitudes towards migration of residents of countries bordering South Africa (Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe). The second examined South African attitudes towards immigrants and immigration. The third complementary survey studies the attitudes and experiences of African migrants living in South Africa at the time of the survey. This publication reports the results of the third survey and, for a fuller picture, should be read in conjunction with the SAMP reports on the first two surveys.

The survey of 501 migrants from other African countries living in South Africa was conducted in mid-1998. The research was undertaken in three provinces -- Gauteng, Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. The difficulties of identifying and interviewing migrants in South Africa are well-known to researchers. As a result, this survey certainly does not claim to be statistically representative of the entire migrant population in the country.

Indeed, this would be impossible given the unknown numbers of undocumented migrants and their relative importance compared to legal migrants. However, this is still the largest survey undertaken by anyone to date of migrants from other African countries.

The survey permits the construction of the following general profile of the African migrant population within South Africa:

These results correspond with the findings of the survey conducted in Lesotho, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Namibia in 1997, and reinforce the central argument of this paper. Cross-border migration from other parts of Africa into South Africa is predominantly legal, short-term, and highly formalized. Popular perceptions of poor, uneducated criminals doing whatever it takes to sneak into South Africa and stay in the country forever are simply not born out in the research. These popular perceptions may in fact contribute to a hardening of immigration sentiment and growing xenophobia in South Africa. The ironic result is that an eminently manageable process becomes increasingly clandestine and difficult to control.

The policy implications of the research are as follows: