Criminal Tendencies: Immigrants and Illegality in South Africa

The purpose of this brief has been to draw attention to the complex new forms of migration and immigration that are transforming traditional migration dynamics to South Africa. Our intention, in doing so, is to contest the view that there is any necessary relationship between South Africa’s crime problem and the presence of increasing numbers of non-citizens in the country. Our research suggests that except for the small minority who are part of organized crime networks, most migrants are here to work, to trade, to shop or to visit. Even those who are in the country without proper documentation are not “criminals”. Whether or not their undocumented status is a “crime” is open to debate. Even the state seems unsure, since it does not afford them the right of due process which it accords to suspected perpetrators of other “crimes.” We do not deny that some migrants are involved in petty and serious crime; but then so are many South Africans. We remain to be convinced that there is, in fact, any systematic connection between foreignness and criminality. Such a connection, if it even exists, needs to be proven, before rushing to try to “explain” something that may be just a convenient (xenophobic?) form of scapegoating.