South Africa has experienced a large influx of migrants from other African countries since the early 1990s, reflecting the lifting of apartheid-era boycotts against travel to South Africa; increasing political and social turmoil, for example in Rwanda, Sudan, Somalia and Nigeria; and a growing economic crisis. The city of Johannesburg has been particularly attractive to migrants because of its location, the availability of residential property, and potential business opportunities there. Furthermore, strategy documents by the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) aim to ease the flow of both goods and people across borders, implying that migration to cities like Johannesburg will continue to increase, with implications for city administrations and their capacity to manage population flows within their borders. This paper examines the situation of migrants in Johannesburg, drawing on the results of a survey of migrant families in 2003. Findings from the survey include that:
cross-border migration to cities is becoming an increasingly important strategy for many households in Africa
half of those interviewed said they had left their countries to escape war and conflict; 37 per cent had left for economic reasons, to find jobs and to improve their standard of living
86 per cent of migrants said that they were still in frequent contact with members of their households who remained in their country of origin
most migrants were single males between 18 and 35 years of age
most (54 per cent) had completed secondary schooling and about 18 per cent had completed tertiary education
about 80 per cent had lived in a city most of their lives before leaving their country of origin
migrants learned about their first residence in South Africa through friends (60 per cent) or through family and relatives (23 per cent); it was through these networks that migrants accessed housing, job opportunities, documentation and visas, loans, and security
over two-thirds were self-employed, running small businesses and income generation projects; as many migrants were illegally in the country, they were not able to secure formal sector employment despite being relatively well-qualified.
The paper concludes that traditional modes of governance cannot adequately respond to the needs of the majority of households in African cities, and argues that it remains to be seen whether initiatives such as those of NEPAD will provide an opportunity for current modes of governance to be questioned and for alternatives to be generated.