Governing the city? South Africa’s struggle to deal with urban immigrants after apartheid

The purpose of this article is to understand how the nature and character of cross?border migration impacts on local government’s ability to administer immigrant areas in the city of Johannesburg. Drawing on migrant interviews and survey data in inner city Johannesburg, as well as secondary data, this article argues that local governments’ capacity to govern urban spaces that are densely populated with immigrant communities is limited by two things: a) the way in which the local state is structured which results in its inability to see and understand highly mobile populations, and b) migrant populations’ ability to ‘exit’ out of the state system. With increasing globalization and regional integration, this has significant consequences for cities in Africa, like Johannesburg, that are becoming important migration centres. This article asserts that if local governments are to effectively govern cities, they need to rethink how they define populations, the assumptions they make about the nature of populations in cities and, subsequently, change the way they make decisions and engage with city residents.

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