Is South Africa Really 'Bombarded By Foreigners'?


There is a perception that has never been successfully debunked that South Africa accounts for the biggest influx of migrants in the world outside of the EU.

This perception started when Chief Mongosuthu Buthelezi was still home affairs minister back in 1998 when he claimed there were around five million illegal immigrants in South Africa.

The Human Sciences Research Council at that time also reinforced the perception when they claimed they were between four to eight million undocumented migrants. When asked to produce proof the Council couldn’t and was forced to withdraw it’s unfounded statement.

Other more credible organizations have different figures for the number of immigrants in South Africa. The Forced Migration Studies Programme at Wits University for example says they are about 1.6 million to two million immigrants, both legal and illegal.

Stats SA’s estimate says there are between 500,000 to one million undocumented migrants.

Pew Research Centre’s figure in 2013 said they were 2.4 million people in South Africa who were from other countries. The Pew Research Centre’s research showed that 300,000 of those immigrants were from the UK (the UK is the fourth largest country of origin after Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Lesotho).

96% of the country’s working population are South Africans. The National Institute for Crime Prevention and the Reintegration of Offenders says just 4% of South Africa’s total sentenced population in prisons are foreign nationals.

Figures from South Africa’s 2011 Census suggest that about 1.7-million of the country’s 51.7-million population are “non-South African” citizens.

Data collated by the World Bank and the United Nations also suggests a migrant population of about 1.86-million people.

In 2013 data gathered by the Migration Policy Institute, showed that SA is the 23rd most popular destination for migrants globally with Cote d’Ivoire being the most popular African destination for migrants.

People for often say the single largest group of immigrants are Zimbabweans but in a recent report the Department of Home Affairs says it processed a total of 1,283 permanent residency applications in 2012, with only 251 being for Zimbabwean nationals. A total of 141,550 temporary residency permits were issued in 2012 with only 24,370 permits being issued to Zimbabwean nationals.

South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs seems unwilling or unable to provide access to its data on how many migrants are in SA. StatsSA has noted, there is an “urgent need to identify a national data source that can be relied upon for objective and sustainable data”. Claims that there are between three and five million immigrants living in South Africa cannot be substantiated but looking at the data collated by the different organizations above this figure cannot be true.

So is South Africa really “bombarded by foreigners”? This author doesn’t think so as it looks like only 4 percent of the South African population is made up of migrants. In the USA the figure is 22 percent while the UAE has probably the largest migrants population with 80 percent of the people in the AUE being migrants.