It is with a deep sense of gratitude and privilege that I welcome you all to this important Conference on International Migration this morning. 

I further humbly welcome in attendance my esteemed Colleagues, the Ministers of Home Affairs from the SADC region, our esteemed and cherished neighbours, with whom we share not only physical borders, but deep relations and a common future.

For, ultimately, international migration affects us in common as it involves our peoples who shared together the common trenches of the struggle, and who today are engaged in a common struggle for development.

No country can strike forth on a path of development alone, in isolation from other fellow African countries, and accordingly, the search for solutions to the challenges facing each country on our beautiful continent belongs to all of us in common.

We take deep pride in that during this, the 100th year of the birth of our icon and founding father of a free South Africa, the late ANC President, Oliver Tambo, we could have convened such an important gathering that should affirm his core principles as an African liberator and global humanist who sought that South Africa should live in peace and friendship with her neighbours.

Outlining the vision of the obligations of a liberated South Africa during his address to the First Congress of the ruling MPLA in Luanda, Angola, in 1977, he said:

“We seek to live in peace and friendship with our neighbours and the peoples of the world in conditions of equality, mutual respect and equal advantage.”


Ladies and Gentlemen, 

Mr. Peter Sutherland, the United Nations Secretary General’s Special Representative for International Migration, has described international migration, “as the moral, political and economic issue of our time.”

Migration is of course a moral issue. 

The majority of states in the world subscribe to the United Nation’s refugee convention, precisely because they – we – recognize the need to assist vulnerable people in danger, irrespective of their nationality.

Morally we are obliged to consider whether we, as the African and world community, are responding sufficiently to the human crisis of the millions of Africans fleeing conflict and deprivation as refugees and economic migrants. 

Thousands of these people who should be driving the development of their home countries have perished tragically in the implacable deserts of the Sahara and vicious waters of the Mediterranean over the past decade, and until sustainable solutions are found that either prevent the harsh causes for them to embark on these treacherous journeys or that regulate them to happen safely, they will continue to perish whilst trying to overcome the Sahara or cross the Mediterranean.

Politically, a country’s ability to determine who may enter and exit its territory, and on what terms, is a core aspect of national sovereignty which all of the 200 or so countries in the international state system retain. 

Individuals visiting, transiting and residing in the territory of a country are entitled to the protection of the host country. 

By virtue of their presence in a territory, they may also make various claims on the host state, and thus destination countries are entitled to know who a prospective visitor is, and what their needs, circumstances and intentions are before they enter a country’s territory. 

People also become citizens of other countries through naturalization. 

So when governments manage migration, they do so in the awareness that they are not merely considering entry of a temporary resident, but also a potential future citizen.

We have seen international migration play an increasingly prominent role in the politics of democracies in Europe and North America. 

The desire to control immigration was a strong motivator in the decision of British voters to leave the European Union, 56 years after first applying to join its predecessor, the European Economic Commission, in 1961. 

Anti-immigrant sentiment has, and is, continuing to play a significant and troubling role in the politics of countries which have hitherto been seen as exemplars of openness and regional integration.

International migration is a critical issue economically because fundamentally, it is people who work, trade, spend and invest.  

In a globalized world of dynamic, interconnected economies, the ability to manage the flow of people is critical to economic competitiveness. 

Increasingly, the ability of a country to attract and facilitate the easy entry of tourists, business people, conference attendees, skilled workers and investors is a key component of economic competitiveness.

International migration is not just about the affluent strata of the economy; it is a development issue. 

African migrants sent an estimated $35bn home in the form of remittances in 2015, an amount almost equalling the total amount of development aid Sub-Saharan Africa received from OECD countries the previous year ($36bn in 2014), and only 25% less than Africa received from all countries ($47bn in 2014). 

And these are only the officially reported remittances; the actual numbers may be significantly higher when taking into account informal and unrecorded remittances. 

In other words, Africans living and working outside of their home countries, send financial resources home which match or even exceed development aid.

As you can see from this brief exposition, international migration is an enormously important issue with far reaching implications for countries.

According to the World Bank, there are 250 million international migrants in the world, 3% of the world’s population, more than ever before.

This has lent to migration the prominence it currently has in every country and region.


Ladies and Gentlemen,


South Africa last articulated policy on international migration 17 years ago with the 1999 White Paper, with resulting legislation including, notably, the Immigration Act of 2002 and subsequent amendments. 

During this time, there have been legislative and regulatory changes, but no comprehensive review of policy.

In the intervening period, the landscape has changed significantly. 

Key developments include:

  • South Africa has become a major destination, transit and entry point to the continent and the world;
  • Related to the above, the country experiences large mixed-migration flows; 
  • The country has become a preferred destination for investors. This has led to major conglomerates in the manufacturing and service industries establishing their regional offices and/or assembly plants in South Africa; 
  • South African companies are increasingly expanding their businesses into other countries in Africa. Similarly, foreign companies seeking to invest in Africa are also increasingly using South Africa as a base to explore business opportunities in other African countries; 
  • Migrants from the African continent, as far as the Horn of Africa, are transiting through South Africa to their destination countries in Europe and North America. This has been exacerbated by the tightening of borders in the latter regions and political instability in North Africa; 
  • South Africa continues to receive a high number of asylum seekers from all regions of Africa, South Asia and elsewhere; 
  • The country attracts tourists from all regions of the world and has become a major venue for conferences and international events; 
  • African countries continue to liberalise their immigration regimes in line with the continental regional integration strategies and the African Union’s Agenda 2063 vision. For instance, EAC and ECOWAS member states have implemented visa free travel for citizens of the respective regions. Given that virtually throughout the entire continent we are all still managing colonial borders drawn at the 1884-5 Berlin Conference, and yet most of our people are related across the borders, there is increasing pressure to free human movement; 
  • Meanwhile, there is pressure everywhere the better to manage and minimise the risks associated with the process as this world in which we live grown increasingly insecure and nation-states face national and even regional and global pressures manage the risks emanating from trans-national criminal syndicates and even terrorist groupings, 
  • Many South Africans have taken advantage of globalization and have migrated to various developing and developed countries. Properly harnessed, the South African diaspora abroad can contribute to the achievement of national goals moreso than is presently the case.


Ladies and Gentlemen,

Accordingly, and given the above issues and the growing attraction of South Africa in terms of migrants, both regular and irregular, there is an urgent need to develop a new and enduring policy framework and programme for the management of international migration in order the more competently and better to harness and harvest its positive benefits whilst minimising the risks.

The new framework must meet both the current and our future challenges.

From the outset, this draft vision which should soon serve before our Cabinet is a demonstration of both vision and leadership on our part, in that even in the midst of the tensions we have often faced between local and foreign national communities, we are crafting a more sustainable, long-term response to the matter rather than resorting toshort-sighted and populist policies.

The draft policy balances the primary imperatives of economic development, national security, international and constitutional obligations as well as the vision articulated in the Freedom Charter’s injunctions that we should as a country seek to live in peace and friendship with our neighbours.

All of these are interlinked and mutually reinforcing.

Our economic competitiveness, and status as a leading destination in Africa for trade, tourism and investment, is enhanced by the security and stability that domestic and international actors rely on.

Similarly, contributing to the economic development of our region and continent as a whole, in line with our long standing, Africa-oriented foreign policy, is in our enlightened self-interest. 

Regional growth and cooperation, will contribute to stronger neighbours, who will be more effective partners in addressing transnational risks such as organized crime, terrorism and human trafficking, which threaten our national security.

The vision that we are proposing is one which holds that South Africa should embrace international migration for development. 

The White Paper contends that it is neither desirable nor possible to stop international migration. 

International migration is a natural, largely positive phenomenon, which if well managed,can, does and will make a crucial contribution to growing our economy and transforming Africa as envisioned in Agenda 2063. 

Accordingly, some core principles which should inform our nation’s management of international migration are outlined in the White Paper.

Firstly, South Africa has a sovereign right to manage international migration in her national interests.

The national interests of South Africa should be defined in accordance with constitutional principles, socioeconomic development objectives and national security. 

We must manage international migration in a way which promotes human rights, advances the National Development Plan, takes into consideration our circumstances and resource constraints, and ensures that all persons residing in South Africa – citizens and foreign nationals alike – are and feel safe.

At the same time, South Africa accepts in regard to migration as well the leadership role and responsibility thrust on her to act in way that is not parochial and chauvinistic.

Secondly, South Africa’s international migration policy must be responsive to the African development agenda.

International migration policy must speak to and be aligned with our foreign policy, which throughout the democratic period, has recognised South Africa as an integral part of the African continent, and our national interest as being inextricably linked to Africa’s stability, unity and prosperity. 

South Africa is committed to regional economic integration and is an enthusiastic supporter of Agenda 2063.

Our future lies, together with others, in being part of the African continent that has a knowledge-driven industrial base, thriving trade and a free flow of people, goods, information and capital.

In this regard it is important to note that along with Agenda 2063’s call for a continent-wide visa free regime by 2018, negotiations for the establishment of the Tri-Partite Free Trade Area (TFTA) and Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) have highlighted the importance of freeing movement on the continent.

Our policy must equip us to work with regional partners, to progressively liberalize movement, in line with the aspirations of the people of our continent, for Africans to be able to move freely in Africa.

A 2014 Eurobarometer public opinion study found that the free movement of people, goods and services within the EU was perceived by Europeans as the most positive result of the EU. 

Africans feel similarly, as they experience real difficulties and costs, to travel internationally, and even on the African continent. 

Africans’ low mobility in Africa is borne out by recent research by the African Development Bank (ADB). 

According to the ADB’s inaugural Africa Visa Openness Index launched in early 2016,

“On average Africans need visas to travel to 55% of other African countries, can get visas on arrival in only 25% of other countries and don’t need a visa to travel to just 20% of other countries on the continent.”

To truly give meaning to Pan-Africanism, regional integration and Agenda 2063, we must make it easier for Africans to move in Africa.

Towards this effect, we must,

  • work together to build maturity of civil registration and immigration management systems,
  • clarify policy with respect to common market arrangements, and
  • reconsider visa requirements and use innovative ways to ease movement where visas are required. 

Thirdly, South Africa’s international migration policy must contribute to nation building and social cohesion.

As mentioned earlier, the migration policy shapes the future composition of the South African population. 

We must expand our narrow conceptions of who is a South African, previously defined in apartheid-colonial terms, to include new South Africans originating from all over Africa and the world. 

We must expand our discourse on nation building and social cohesion to recognize the enormous social and economic contributions of immigrants in our country, and welcome and integrate them into our communities. 

That is why the integration of immigrants in our society can no longer be treated in a laissez-faire manner, but must be treated as an important aspect of our work.

After all, nation-building is a task that is ever on-going and can never be completed.

Fourth, South Africa’s international migration policy must enable South Africans living abroad to contribute to national development priorities.

 Like many other developing countries, South Africa loses a significant proportion of its skilled workforce every year.

This has both negative and positive consequences that must be managed so that South Africans who have migrated to other countries can be a source of development in terms of skills, capital and connections. 

Countries that are confronted with a similar challenge have established various institutional mechanisms for engaging with their respective Diasporas.

Consequently, we too must think of ways to leverage our Diaspora.

Fifth, within a nation-state, the efficient and secure management of international migration is the responsibility of all of government and society at large.

In view of the above, and further informed by recent developments, the President has established an Inter-Ministerial Committee on Migration consisting of all departments impacting on and impacted by migration, including all the provinces.

Furthermore, there is ongoing engagement with community stakeholders in order together to manage migration and mitigate the risks.

The policy attempts to set out the responsibilities of the state, civil society partners, individual citizens and foreign nationals living in South Africa with regard to migration.

The important question to answer for public policy makers is, how can we ensure that ordinary South Africans view migration positively and realise, practically, its positive impact on them!

Finally, the efficient and secure management of international migration is the responsibility of individual countries, all countries collectively as well as regional structures.

International migration is a phenomenon with profound implications for all areas of government and society.

We seek to engage our neighbours bilaterally and multilaterally to share the responsibility of the management of migration.


Ladies and Gentlemen,

In conclusion, this long overdue policy review will not culminate in a static set of instructions which will guide us for the next two decades. 

This is a complex, constantly evolving policy area with wide ranging implications.

Therefore, we must frequently update the policy in line with new developments, opportunities and challenges emerge.

This is an important milestone for us, and we certainly look forward to your deliberations and suggestions as we chart the course for the future.


I thank you.