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Zimbabweans queue in the rain outside immigration offices in Johannesburg as they wait to apply to become legal immigrants, Dec. 15, 2010 (AP photo by Denis Farrell).

Closing the Door: South Africa’s Draconian Immigration Reforms

Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2014

Critics of democratic South Africa have long argued that the country maintains a Janus face toward the rest of the African continent. On one level it sees its future as inextricably bound up with that of the continent and it considers the promotion of stability, prosperity and conflict resolution in Africa as central pillars of its foreign policy. Yet on another level South Africa is viewed by its critics in Africa as a state that draws upon the language of interdependence and cooperation while ruthlessly pursuing its own narrow interests, often with scant regard for African sensitivities.

This ongoing debate about South Africa’s role in Africa—and indeed the country’s “African-ness”—has been captured in microcosm by the changes introduced in May 2014 to South Africa’s immigration regime that threaten to disadvantage Africans seeking to enter or remain in South Africa. These changes flow from the privileging of a narrow South African nationalism at the expense of the more idealistic pan-Africanist ideology supposedly informing South Africa’s public policy. They also risk reinforcing negative characterizations and stereotypes of Africans to the north as “aliens,” and threaten not only to keep new migrants out, but also potentially to endanger those already in. ...

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