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Temporary housing that has become permanent in Cape Town


As the land of opportunity in southern Africa, South Africa draw migrants towards it in great numbers. Still recovering from the structural inequalities of apartheid, South Africa struggles to meet the needs of its own citizens. Cape Town is one city that continues to battle with its own inequalities while accommodating thousands of migrants.

Cape Town, South Africa copy: Features


South Africa is one of the most stable countries, with one of the most thriving economies, in the African continent. Yet, it has gone through a complex period of instability in the previous decades. 

Before 1994, the apartheid regime in South Africa had in place restrictive immigration policies based on the 1913 Immigration Act, which was later amended in 1930 and 1937 and on which the 1991 Alien Control Act was structured. These policies were designed to encourage and accommodate white immigration while restricting that of other races into the country. Though the policies were to restrict the immigration of people, especially from other African countries, the labor-intensive farms and mines needed cheap labor from neighboring countries like Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique, and Malawi. To achieve this objective the government encouraged and adopted a system known as the ‘two-gate policy.’ The front gate welcomed people who corresponded to the criteria of attractiveness defined by the governing minority. The back gate served a double function: preventing unwanted migrants from entering and allowing cheap labor in for temporary periods. 

Although the immigration laws after 1994 did not differ much from the 1991 Alien Acts, diplomatic and economic relations between South Africa and the rest of the world improved tremendously, easing the way for the movement of goods and people. Despite the turbulent political and economic situation, South Africa still stands as an appealing destination for people who want to study, work, invest, or retire. 

Cape Town, with an estimated population of 4.2 million people, is the oldest city in South Africa and bears the nickname ‘mother city.’ The city is an attraction to not only immigrant and tourist but also South African citizens from all over the country. It is a very conservative city as reflected in its natural and infrastructural topography as well as its socio-cultural and political structures and activities. All these have accounted for a massive hospitality industry and job creation in the city. African immigrants tend to live in urban and cosmopolitan areas where it is easy and possible to pick up jobs in the entertainment and hospitality industries and also where small businesses are thriving and easy to start up. 

Immigrants and refugees in Cape Town have come into the country through other ports of entry other than Cape Town itself. Most of them came in through Johannesburg but with time move to Cape Town where they believed life will be more conducive to their wellbeing. Johannesburg was not only the economic heartbeat of South Africa, but was strategically the major port of entry and a transit zone for people who were coming into the country after 1994. The city attracted not only immigrants from the African continent but saw more previously disadvantaged South Africans moving into the city in pursuit of a better life. It was a similar scenario in other cities like Durban. However, Johannesburg became increasingly populated, making it difficult for many new comers into the city to survive. This situation was more difficult for immigrants because of the manner in which immigration and police officers targeted them by unconventionally rendering them illegal and undocumented. 

Cape Town was more receptive to these immigrants and refugees. Immigration and police harassments when it came to issues of documentation were not rampant. It was rare to see immigrants rounded up and repatriated. These factors, coupled with the fact that the bylaws of the city made it easy for immigrants to easily gain access to informal trading, made it an attractive place for most immigrant and refugees. 

Cape Town has a dense population. The areas in Cape Town we have identified for the study are those which have a concentration of immigrants and refugees as well as South African citizens. These areas do not just serve as residential areas but are filled with commercial and socio-cultural activities, which have throughout the years been transforming these societies and communities with visible signs of cosmopolitanism. One area is Bellville. Bellville is home to mostly refugees and immigrants from Somalia (to an extent that there is an area called Mogadishu). It also harbors a significant population of Ethiopians who alongside the Somali population account for most of the small and medium size enterprises and businesses in the area. You still find pockets of Chinese businesspersons who were there before many were put out of business, allegedly, by the Somali. Visible are refugees and immigrants from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Cameroon, Uganda, Tanzania, as well as Pakistan. For South African citizens, one would mostly find more coloureds, a few Africans and whites (colored/coloured, is a term used in South Africa, including on the national census, for persons of mixed race ancestry). 

In terms of environmental stressors, Cape Town just lived through a drought scare when it almost ran out of drinking water. The drought, and corresponding water crisis, brought about food scarcity and price hikes. There was an increase in the cost of living as people had to buy water. Water was rationed to 20 liters per household irrespective of the number of people. Those who could not afford it risked drinking contaminated tap water. In some instances, people had to walk or hire transport to collect water from delivery points. 

People were also vulnerable to untreated bottled water from unlicensed suppliers. Indirectly, people had to recycle water for domestic use and could only flush the toilet once a day, while others resorted to communal mobile toilets, open deification in townships, and people were forced to use commercial laundry which also came with a cost. 

The analysis and the state of the art on absorptive capacity, its characterization, and case studies provide the basis for the research project. We build upon a mixed-method approach supported by systems science and modeling and simulation to develop the computational framework. The following section provides details on this research approach. 

Cape Town, South Africa copy: Text
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