Southern Africa has a long history of cross-border migration, particularly for employment purposes – both organised (particularly migrants from the region working in the mining and manufacturing sectors of South Africa) and informal labour migration (such as commercial farm workers, traders and domestic workers). Abundant labour in bordering countries such as Malawi, Mozambique, Lesotho and Swaziland have been a source of labour migration to South Africa for almost a century, based mainly on income disparities and the persistence of poverty.
Today, although the characteristics and mechanisms that typified labour migration in colonial Southern Africa still remain, there has also been a shift in the nature of migration as a result of the end of apartheid in South Africa, persistent economic disparities and humanitarian crises in the region.
With the end of apartheid, the volume of migration into South Africa has expanded dramatically, as new opportunities and reasons for migration across borders emerged, with migrants from neighbouring countries as well as from further north seeing South Africa as a new place to trade, shop, seek essential services, work and seek asylum. The number of people crossing South Africa’s borders in both directions has increased significantly since 1994.
However, dramatically increased cross-border movement is not confined to South Africa. Throughout the region, border posts are experiencing increased flows. One of the main reasons for increased commercial border traffic is the growth in cross-border formal and informal trade across southern Africa. Formal trade within the sub-continent has grown exponentially since 1994, with goods carried mainly by long-distance truckers. Informal cross-border trading has also expanded dramatically. Trading is highly gendered, with women playing a major role in the buying and selling of goods across international boundaries throughout the region.
In recent years, the Southern African region has seen a noticeable increase in irregular migration, with challenges such as xenophobia, human smuggling and human trafficking being of particular concern.