- Looking for a better future
By Kotie Geldenhuys
It is hot where Chuma has been hiding for hours behind a bush, observing the sandy riverbed and the bushes on the other side. He knows that once he makes it unnoticed through the dry riverbed, he will be in South Africa illegally and might be confronted by the police and even deported back to Zimbabwe. But to escape poverty and political instability in his home country, it is worth the risk. Maybe he will make it and find a good job and a better future.
There are many foreigners who enter South Africa illegally by crossing through porous borderlines, while many others enter by bribing border officials at ports of entry. Then there are those who are so desperate that they are willing to hide on boats and even planes to seek greener pastures in another country (see related article published from pp 40-47). Their illegal entrance into the country comes at a high cost and it is not always easy to police these illegal immigrants - who are referred to as undocumented foreign nationals.
How big is this problem?
The United Nations's Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA) estimates that in 2015, there were more than 3.14 million international migrants living in South Africa. According to Statistics SA (Stats SA), 55 653 654 people were living in South Africa in 2016. Of these, 1.6 million were foreign-born migrants. This number equals 2.8% of South Africa's population (Chiumia, 2016). The majority of these migrants live in Gauteng, followed by the Western Cape (Meny-Gibert and Chiumia, 2017).
One of the reasons why it is difficult to find statistics on international migration is that undocumented foreign nationals (those without legal permission to be in the country) are likely not to be willing to participate in official surveys. Dr Sally Peberdy from the Southern African Migration Project (SAMP) network argues that the true number of undocumented foreign nationals in South Africa could be anything between one and two million people (Meny-Gibert and Chiumia, 2017). According to Stats SA, the figure for the number of foreign nationals living in this country was obtained with reference to the number of undocumented foreign nationals arrested and/or deported by the Department of Home Affairs and the SARS in 2011. However, these numbers exclude undocumented foreign nationals who could not be counted because they were not detected by the police, thus creating a challenge regarding accurate statistics of undocumented foreign nationals living in South Africa (Mabudusha, 2014). Bigger cities such as Johannesburg, Cape Town, Pretoria and Durban are often the preferred destination of undocumented foreign nationals. In August 2017, Johannesburg's mayor, Herman Mashaba, claimed that as many as 80% of inner city residents are undocumented foreigners (https://businesstech.co.za/news/business/192276/80-of-the-joburg-inner-city-residents-are-undocumented-foreigners-mayor).
The migration process
Mabudusha (2014) notes that some migration processes are influenced by the existing link between foreign nationals in the destination countries to which they are headed and those left behind in their countries of origin. Massey and Fussel (2004) argue that once the migration process begins, it increases in size by accumulating more new undocumented foreign nationals who were left behind and in turn, this forms a self-sustaining crew of undocumented foreign nationals known as "migrant networks" or "chains". The role of these networks is to facilitate the movement and survival of new undocumented foreign nationals in the destination country through the exchange of information with those left behind, as well as by providing accommodation, food and assistance to the new undocumented foreign nationals to establish themselves in the new living environment. Mabudusha (2014) explains that these undocumented foreign nationals’ networks are self-sustaining because the early arrivals pave the way for the oncoming groups and each new group is also expected to facilitate the movement of other newcomers. In this way, those who have been around longer establish themselves first and collect resources or social capital in order to support the migration process of the newcomers. As a result, the strength of the networks is dependent on the number of its members and the financial status of these members. Since cross-border movements are difficult for undocumented foreign nationals, these networks reduce potential risks and the costs that might be endured during travelling (De Haas, 2010).