South Africa has always been a destination for immigrants, whether Bantu tribes from Central Africa in the 1st century or European colonizers in the 17th century. Since the end of the apartheid regime and the coming to power of the ANC, this country has experienced an unprecedented influx of African foreigners.
Fleeing difficult economic, social or political situations in their countries of origin, young men and women from all over the continent are converging on South Africa, a real “Eldorado” in the collective imagination, in an attempt to build a better life there.
South Africa, with its very progressive constitution, granting many rights to refugees and asylum seekers to facilitate their integration, is an extremely attractive country. But in recent years, following a global trend, this is changing.
Musina, the northernmost city in the country, is the starting point for most of these newcomers. Here, they have to regularize their situations before they can continue on the road south. Every day, several hundred foreigners wait outside the Home Affairs Department in an effort to obtain refugee status or simply to renew their residence permits.
Due to too many requests, the delays are extremely long and well often a newcomer has to wait a month before being able to file his or her application. One month, during which asylum seekers must support themselves without no external assistance. Left to their own devices, blocked in this airlock, they are waiting for the green light to start their new lives. The better off manage to find accommodation in makeshift inns, small houses run by foreigners in which mattresses cover the living area so that each square meter is profitable.
“ the delays are extremely long and well often a newcomer has to wait a month before being able to file his or her application. One month, during which asylum seekers must support themselves without no external assistance.”
For those who no longer have any money, there are only two options: sleeping on the street or trying out your own chance in one of the improvised refugee camps in Nancefield, Musina Township. In Musina, boredom reigns. The days are all the same, punctuated by long days
conversations around the “Home Affairs” while waiting for one’s appointment. A mixture of Congolese rumba and French rap in background music, short weight training sessions can be improvised in a garden. In the evening, football matches broadcast in the “dormitories” make you forget the daily routine.
Once the process is complete, the majority are denied their application and must initiate an appeal process that can take many years. In the meantime, a provisional residence permit is issued. This one, although official, is not recognized by all institutions and must be renewed regularly, making integration in South Africa more challenging. Despite the precariousness of this situation, many people continue to come and try their luck in the “Rainbow Nation”.
Text and photos Oliver Petrie