Maverick Citizen


No ActionSA, no evidence that 15 million undocumented immigrants live in South Africa

No ActionSA, no evidence that 15 million undocumented immigrants live in South Africa
ActionSA leader Herman Mashaba. (Photo: Gallo Images / Fani Mahuntsi)

Africa Check finds that there is still no evidence that there are 15 million undocumented immigrants living in South Africa despite ActionSA continuing to encourage this narrative.

Her post, dated 1 July 2023, repeats a claim that has done the rounds repeatedly on social media over the years. It first appeared in a November 2020 tweet by Herman Mashaba, leader of ActionSA and ex-mayor of the city of Johannesburg in Gauteng province.

After Mashaba made the claim, Africa Check debunked it, finding that it was a misinterpretation of data from the World Bank. Mashaba backtracked a few days later, acknowledging in a statement that the figure of 15 million undocumented immigrants in South Africa “was incorrect”.

However, he did not delete the original tweet. A few months later, in March 2021, the hashtag #15MillionIllegalMigrants surfaced on Twitter, with some users referring back to Mashaba’s original tweet.

Africa Check again found that the claim was incorrect. This 2023 tweet, from another member of ActionSA, has prompted a third review of the evidence.

What the data shows

In 2020, when asked about the source of his claim, Mashaba cited an article published by the Citizen newspaper the previous year. The headline reads: “‘15 million’ people in SA are unregistered, and many are ‘stateless children’.”

It referred to data from the World Bank, which estimated that in 2018 South Africa had over 15 million unregistered people.

But this refers to all people who do not have proof of legal identity, including those who are South African citizens. The data does not include any estimate of the number of people who do not have identity documents and are migrants, refugees or people who are stateless.

Estimating the number of foreign-born people living in South Africa is difficult. Census data provides some indication of migrant numbers, but does not include enough information to estimate their movement over time and immigrants who participate in surveys might be hesitant to say where they were born.

South Africa’s last census was conducted in 2022, but its data has not yet been released. Data from the 2011 census indicated that there were an estimated 2.2 million foreign-born people living in the country. By 2022, this figure had increased to 3.96 million, according to Diego Iturralde, chief director for demography and population statistics at Statistics South Africa. This is around 6.5% of the country’s population and includes all foreign-born people regardless of legal status.

Department of Home Affairs distances itself from ‘15 million’ figure

Barron gave the source of her claim as South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs (DHA). This idea may have originated from a 2021 article published by news site Independent Online (IOL). The article reported on a parliamentary meeting in which non-governmental organisation Lawyers for Human Rights (LHA) brought up the World Bank’s figure of 15 million people being without legal documents.

In the IOL article, minister of home affairs Aaron Motsoaledi’s photo was published below the headline. He was not present in the meeting, but the photo may have given the impression that the minister made the claim. The 15 million figure was also then misinterpreted as referring to undocumented immigrants, rather than all unregistered people.

DHA spokesperson Siyabulela Qoza confirmed to Africa Check that neither the minister nor the department had ever made the claim. This was also made clear in a June 2023 tweet by the department’s official Twitter account.

The DHA was not the source of this claim, and there is still no evidence that there are 15 million undocumented immigrants living in South Africa. DM

This report was written by Africa Check., a non-partisan fact-checking organisation. View the original piece on their website.

Kirsten Cosser is a researcher at Africa Check.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Duncan Cosser says:

    Surely we have enough for politicians to talk about without needing to rely on xenophobia? Complain about load shedding or something!

  • Diana Bidwell says:

    This kind of propaganda heralds the beginning of Fascism. All tyrants blame those who are different, it disguises their own corruption. So sad that our wonderful constitution is being trampled by hatred.

  • Jennifer Hughes says:

    Honestly, Mashaba, how would Home Affairs know how many undocumented foreigners there are? They have clearly not registered with Home Affairs. Another politician using bigotry to fuel fear and hate, and to increase their own popularity by promising to eradicate the supposed problem.

  • Oblivious Traveler says:

    Is there any evidence to the contrary? There are a hell of a lot undocumented foreigners in the RSA.
    Every one of us in South Africa knows of more than one. Our police force ( what a misnomer) only use them as a source of bribery income. So 15 mil sounds very plausible to me.

  • Abel Mngadi says:

    Who can actually tell us how many? We can’t rely on government as they don’t know as well

  • David Pennington says:

    Home affairs don’t even know how many registered South Africans there are, “EISH, THE REGISTER MACHINI SHE IS BROKEN AGAIN”

  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

    It wasn’t me who said it, it was my unauthorized biographer! :😀:D

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