Zimbabweans in South Africa

Zimbabweans in South Africa

Zimbabweans in South Africa

How many Zimbabweans live in South Africa?


How many Zimbabwean nationals live in South Africa? Estimates range from one to three million. However, as Africa Check found, the amounts cannot be substantiated and also the data is not reliable.


A recent report published on the website of SW Radio Africa said that “it’s believed' there are 'between two and three million Zimbabweans living and working” in South Africa. Citing interviews conducted by the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency, the report also said the numbers of Zimbabwean nationals crossing the boundary have nearly doubled since July this year when the state held elections.

A reader asked us to look into the claims.

The SW Radio Africa report, which has been reproduced on numerous sites, including Zimbabwe Scenario and All Free Africa & Fair Zimbabwe Elections, doesn’t provide a source for its amounts. Nevertheless, similar approximations, ranging from 1.5-million to 1.9-million, 2-million and even 3-million have been extensively published in recent years.

Citing an unnamed “South African border official” interviewed by IPS, the SW Radio Africa report states that the quantities of Zimbabwean nationals crossing into South Africa have nearly doubled — from 400 to more than 700 daily — since the disputed 2013 presidential and parliamentary elections.


Zimbabweans in South Africa
Zimbabweans in South Africa

Unanswered questions

A South African soldier checks the passports of Zimbabwean citizens who walk across the Beit Bridge border post between the two nations also confirm that data is not confirmed for border crossing. Africa Check requested South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs and the Zimbabwe Consulate in Pretoria for data on the numbers of people crossing the border from Zimbabwe to South Africa before and after the elections; along with the amount of documented and undocumented Zimbabweans living in South Africa.

Our queries were referred by the Consulate to the Department of Home Affairs. The department’s spokesman, Ronnie Mamoepa, declined to comment in the numbers referred to in the SW Radio Africa article, saying that they weren’t based on Home Affairs reports. Added questions about the accessible data that were emailed to Mamoepa went unanswered.

Lunga Ngqengelele, the official spokesman for Home Affairs minister Naledi Pandor was subsequently approached by us. He referred us to Jack Monedi, the chief manager of the department for letting. Emailed questions were responded to by Monedi eight days later by forwarding them to a different official, Phindiwe Mbhele.

In an e-mail sent on 1 November to Monedi, Mbhele, Mamoepa, Immigration Service deputy director-general Jackie McKay and Home Affairs deputy director Ben Makhalemele, Ngqengelele expressed frustration at the lack of improvement: “It has been over a couple of weeks, and I am as yet to get an answer to this easy query. Let alone evidence that someone is working on it.”

To date, Africa Check has not received a response to our questions. In the event, the department supplies us with the information we have requested. This report will be updated by us.

How dependable is the data that is available?

A Zimbabwean farm worker crops pumpkins on March 17, 2008 on a South African farm in Waterpoort. Other organizations and individuals interviewed for this report said the detailed amounts on border crossings, and immigrations were kept by the department. However, as we’ve reported before, there are questions about the truth of the department’s data.

Professor Loren Landau, the manager of the African Centre for Migration and Society at Wits University, said the department’s data is “frequently ill disaggregated with little discussion of the means by which the information was collected or its possible shortcomings, to say nothing of their delays in issuing reports or their unwillingness to share information."

“What is perhaps most concerning is they frequently look forward to basing policy decisions on impressionistic or badly analyzed info,” Landau said.

Landau said there were a number of possible explanations for the reported upsurge in folks crossing the boundary.

“First, folks may have gone home to vote and then returned to South Africa shortly afterward. This would have accounted for an up to tick. Second, some individuals may have been waiting to see [election] results [in Zimbabwe] and then made. Third, we may just be seeing the resumption of normal commerce, which was informally suspended for the election.”

The NGO Medicines Sans Frontiers, which provides extensive medical and humanitarian aid in the South African town of Musina near the Zimbabwean border, told Africa Check that “the number of arrivals in refugee centers in Musina has been steady” since the July elections.

The organization’s media liaison officer, Kate Ribet, said she was not able to confirm a doubling of numbers, adding that there could be “seasonal factors” leading to an increase in border crossings, like farms hiring staff for the harvest.

Approximations of Zimbabweans living in South Africa vary broadly.

A Zimbabwean shopper returns to his home-town Beitbridge after Christmas shopping in South African border town of Musina said they are facing lack of medicine. Alexander Joe Figures from South Africa’s 2011 Census suggest that 3.3%or about 1.7-millionof the country’s 51.7-million population are “non-South African” citizens. Data collated by the World Bank and the United Nations also implied a migrant population of about 1.86-million folks.

“While Zimbabweans are the largest single group of foreigners in South Africa, they’re by no means the only one. Indeed, there are substantial quantities of Mozambicans and Basotho, to say nothing of other groups,” said Landau.

A 2011 study by Jonathan Crush, a director of the Southern African Migration Programme found that figures for South Africa’s migrants, including Zimbabwean nationals, vary widely. The study, Complex Moves, Disconnected Responses: Labor Migration in South Africa looked at three sources: the 2001 South African Census the Sussex University Global Migrant Source Database and the World Bank.

“Exact information on migrant stocks in South Africa is hard to get, to a certain extent, because of the phenomenon of irregular migration and up to a point because of insufficient data collection systems,” Crush reasoned.

Landau agrees that there are no precise figures, and the data is not reliable. He claims that both authorities and non-governmental organizations have a vested interest in exaggerating immigrant numbers. By doing so, governments can “warrant more restrictions" and NGOs can secure donor funds.

Migration data 'patchy and skewed'

Zimbabwean refugees at the Central Methodist Church in Johannesburg on January 13, 2010 after fleeing their country, where they took up residence. For the last two years, Statistics South Africa (StatsSA) has published a yearly report on immigration figures drawn from Home Affairs data on permanent and provisional residency permits issued in the preceding year. StatsSA says that the sections "managerial procedures have generated valuable databases of governmental records on issuance of interim and permanent residence permits."

Nevertheless, StatsSA's 2011 report warned that state and international data on migration tend "to be normally scanty, patchy and skewed" and stated that there clearly was an "urgent need to recognize a national information source that can be relied upon for objective and sustainable data."

"Such shortcomings often negatively influence policies, debates, dialogues, etc. in addition to distort communication about migration. This leads to anti-migrant sentiments that could bring about harmful stereotyping, discrimination and xenophobia, particularly seeing the volume and labour force characteristics of immigrants. Therefore, the availability of reliable data will contribute considerably to maximize the advantages and minimize the expenses of international migration and encourage 'a more extensive and powerful understanding that migration is both a reality and also a requirement.'"

While StatsSA's reports on immigration amounts since 2012 are useful snapshots of specific years, they don't provide data in the overall numbers of folks of particular nationalities who "dwell and work" in South Africa. Nor do they include accurate approximations of the quantities of undocumented or illegal migrants to South Africa.

The most-recent report, for instance, shows the Department of Home Affairs processed a total of 1,283 permanent residency applications in 2012. Of these, just 251 were from Zimbabwean nationals. A total of 141,550 temporary residency permits were issued in 2012 permits being with 24,370 issued to Zimbabwean nationals.

Judgment: The amounts are unable to be substantiated

claims that there are between two and three million Zimbabweans living in South Africa cannot be substantiated. The 2011 Census implies that there are about 1.7 million "non-South African citizens" living in South Africa. This amount includes not Zimbabwe alone and figures from other nations.

The StatsSA reports on immigration amounts are restricted to specific years and do not contain data on the overall quantities of foreign residents in South Africa.

There are also no accurate estimates of the quantities of illegal or undocumented migrants currently living in South Africa.

It claims that Zimbabwean nationals crossing over boundaries into South Africa have doubled since the elections in July can besides not be confirmed and there may be a range of reasons for increases.

Worryingly, South Africa's Department of Home Affairs appears reluctant or unable to supply accessibility to its data. This is actually the second report that Africa checks have published where the department has failed to supply essential information to us despite numerous e-mails and calls.

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