West Africans in Cape Town: Immigration and struggles over documentation, 1994-2016
International migration has been a growing phenomenon in the West African community from the late 1960s as the colonial period came to an end and most West African countries gained their independence. During this period this migration trend was essentially from West Africa to Europe facilitated by the relationship that existed between West African states and their former colonial master. In the 1990s Western countries started restricting immigration by applying stricter immigration laws. West Africans who could not make it to the West sought alternative destinations like South Africa where the apartheid regime had just come to an end and the first elected democratic government had been installed in 1994. West Africans in South Africa are mostly economic immigrants and as South Africa's immigration policies changed this group of people faced challenges to acquire the documents required to legalize their stay in the country. This study seeks to analyze why West Africans chose to immigrate to South Africa and specifically Cape Town, their struggle for documentation and the extent to which the possession or non-possession of the correct documents affected their lives in Cape Town. It drew on interviews with Nine West Africans to try and understand this.The study found out that the main reason for West African immigration to South Africa after 1994 was because of the fall of the apartheid regime and the coming to power of the ANC government which re-established diplomatic and economic relations with most West African states. Countries in the West African region were faced with crisis in the 1980s as a result of policies that were implemented in the pursuit to address the ills of colonialism. As the economies of most of these countries declined, most West Africans were faced poverty and became desperate. In their quest for a better live West Africans embarked on immigrating to more developed and affluent countries. Initially they were immigrating to the countries of their colonial masters but with time as more people were immigrating, other destinations in Europe and North America became sought after. Restrictive immigration policies in these countries forced West African to look for new destinations to go to. They found that in South Africa after 1994. Apart from the economic crisis in the West African region, poor governance, corruption, political suppression and tribalism served as push factors in contributing to the immigration of West Africans to South Africa. As pull factors, the reliance on kinship played an important part in most West Africans who immigrated to South Africa. Many of them relied on the friends and family who were resided in South Africa for information, directions and support to make the journey and eventually join them were they are based. The picture and information that the mass media projected about South Africa also had a huge impact on the perception people had about the country. These perceptions contributed to the decision of West Africans to immigrate to South Africa. This study explored the range of visas West Africans sought to enter the country. It found that the visa they chose to apply for was not necessarily the real purpose of their visit but was the most convenient. This allowed them entry into the country and once in they sought other visas and permits to legalise their stay. This study found that it was a long hard journey to convert asylum permits to refugee permits Further the struggle over documentation was mainly because of the logistical short comings of the Department of Home Affairs. This study argues that it is the Department of Home Affairs that renders many of them illegal due to delays in processing the permits. .While they waited for documents, the lives of applicants were full of insecurity and there were difficulties in making a living. The informal sector provided one avenue for some. This thesis argues that applicants were desperate for the correct documents but even though they eventually acquired them these did not necessarily open up opportunities.