Migration, Mobility and Urban Vulnerabilities: Implications for Urban Governance in South Africa

This research report explores the challenges and opportunities associated with migration and mobility into and within South African cities and associated implications for urban governance. The research team consolidated existing research produced by the African Centre for Migration & Society (ACMS), University of the Witwatersrand and a review of relevant literature.


While the primary factor for the increase of urban populations may be natural growth and mobility – both internal and cross-border migration also contribute. South Africa has experienced a faster rate of urbanisation compared to neighbouring countries, with almost 60% of the population estimated to live in urban areas (Kok and Collinson, 2006). As a result, cities in South Africa are growing at different rates with the fastest growth now associated with smaller urban centres. Urban growth and associated migration patterns present a range of developmental challenges to local government structures who – in the South African context – are responsible for the social, economic and physical well-being of their residents. These challenges contribute to a range of urban vulnerabilities, an urban (health) penalty, which is experienced by poor urban groups, including migrants (Freudenberg, Galea et al., 2005). This urban penalty results from challenges in accessing the benefits of city living.


Apart from the physical expansion of urban places, South African cities are home to new, emerging spaces that require appropriate governance responses, such as in the case of peripheral informal settlements where challenges such as lack of essential services and inequality manifest. To this end, understanding trends and patterns of mobility allows to understand the implications and outline appropriate responses.