Inside Illegality: Migration Policing in South Africa after Apartheid

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Africa Today, Volume 48, p.35–47 (2001)



South Africa's migration policing policy has not changed substantially since the demise of apartheid. Tactics used by the police in recent operations are dramatically similar to apartheid policing practices. While some amendments to the legislative regime have aimed to protect human rights, the structures introduced have failed to make any impact. The discretion allowed to police has contributed to the institutional and symbolic entrenchment of the lack of legal status for undocumented migrants. At the level of implementation, the police and the army have played major roles in migration policing with no more than administrative oversight from the Department of Home Affairs. The policing strategy pursued has been one of border control backed up with intrusive and extensive internal military-style policing. Corruption is an institutional feature of both the arrest and detention of undocumented migrants. Numerous human rights abuses occur in the arrest and detention of undocumented migrants as well as of refugees. Despite the embarrassing attention of domestic and foreign human rights organizations exposing certain instances of abuse, the principal features of this policing strategy have remained intact and human rights abuses have continued through to the present.

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