Living and Organizing While Undocumented in South Africa




In Southern Africa, the structures of settler colonialism and apartheid still shape the way people living on land are racialized today, with an important distinction between citizens and foreigners, in particular undocumented laborers. We talk with Kudakwashe Vanyoro about the way the border regime materializes in present South Africa, and how undocumented people navigate through these violent structures.

Vanyoro Funambulist 1
Female laborers laying pipes for a drip irrigation system in northern South Africa. / Photo by Graeme Williams.

LÉOPOLD LAMBERT: The current political reality of South Africa is built on both the settler colonial legacy of the apartheid, and the various measures taken since 1994. Could you talk about the way immigration policy has changed since the explicitly racist one of the apartheid regime?

KUDAKWASHE VANYORO: Yes, it’s a very good question and I think one aspect of the response has to do with governance. And the other one has to do with issues of identity and belonging. And I suppose that the center of the immigration policies in South Africa is a drive to try to manage economic resources and access to them, which then entails regulation of space, that is who gets to access what kind of space. So apartheid was a system that was fundamentally built on trying to regulate who has access to the city, who has access to the land, or the beach, to swimming pools, etc.. It regulated individuals in a racialized way, because in order to achieve that result, you obviously need a system that determines privilege on the grounds of racial characteristics. And that required a mode of governance that was very spatially discriminatory, which meant that it had to come up with a way of keeping African Black people in townships and keeping white people in the more affluent areas and neighborhoods. But at the same time, it also needed to ensure that the system could maintain wage labor which meant that at the same time, it still needed to have Black people coming into those spaces reserved for white people in order to do the work. Your “pool boys,” your so called “garden boys,” your so called “housemaids,” were required in these affluent houses and they were also laborers that were required in the mines and the agricultural sector.