South Africa as an Immigration State

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18 Scopus citations


A dramatic outburst of xenophobic violence in May 2008 spotlighted South Africa's place among countries of immigration. While a plethora of policy studies have examined many micro-level dynamics in these attacks, surprisingly little attention has been paid to underlying political causes. By applying the comparative 'immigration state' literature, I offer a counter-intuitive, two-part explanation for the complex and often contradictory mix of South African migration policies. First, the historical absence of a 'rights-markets' coalition allows for the persistence of exclusionary and protectionist legislation. Second, post-apartheid international commitments to 'rights-markets' norms have contributed to significant reforms, especially regarding refugees, but these pressures have not fully counter-balanced the predominant exclusionary and protectionist coalition. Democratization in the absence of a liberal 'rights-markets' coalition, I conclude, has reinforced xenophobia and will continue to produce only incremental policy reforms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)189-208
Number of pages20
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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