Coming for Opportunities: African Immigration

A street in Johannesburg.

Despite its many poor people, on average, South Africa is one of the richest countries on the African continent. It is also a country where most people speak English and, at least on paper, a democracy. These facts make South Africa an attractive destination for people from other African nations fleeing persecution and poverty, and altogether, since 1994, millions of African migrants have arrived in the continents southernmost country. The migrants have come from countries like Zimbabwe, Malawi and Nigeria, and, somewhat paradoxically, have sought a job and a place to stay in a land where millions of South Africans are already struggling.

Growing frustrated

Some of the newcomers have manage to find a job and establish themselves in South Africa, but many, if not most of them, have continued to be jobless a long time into their stay in the new country. In spite of this, it is not uncommon for jobless migrants to remain in South Africa, squatting in derelict houses or any other provisional night cover they might find. Here, while living one day at a time and looking to make money, they wait for residential permits, which they may or may not be eligible for, and often grow increasingly frustrated when their economic situation remains unchanged. The frustration or a lack of moral scruples then see some migrants resort to theft, drug dealing or negative cliquish behavior, angering many locals who were already upset with the foreigners’ competition for low-cost housing and jobs.

Inspiring success stories

In trying to intimidate foreigners to not steal, undercut salaries or infringe on any other domain, some South Africans who see themselves in direct competition with the migrants have at times gone to physical attack against them. This behavior, quite naturally, has fomented tensions and made ethnic division even stronger, contributing to black on black animosity on the lowest rung of society’s social ladder. Still, large groups of migrants who are not legally allowed to be in South Africa defiantly stay here, hoping to drive a taxi, start a business or in some other way become an integrated part of society. Their potential journey to this type of success is usually long though, but at least they can look at, and sometimes learn from, immigrant countrymen who have achieved success.