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Migrant entrepreneurs as job creators in South Africa

May 20, 2016

With high rates of formal unemployment in much of Africa, the informal economy has emerged as a major source of income for poor urban households. Migrants in and from cities in Southern Africa play a critical role in the informal economy, yet the importance of that role is often underestimated and even invisible to researchers and policy-makers.

The “Growing Informal Cities: Mobile Entrepreneurs and Inclusive Growth in South Africa, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe” project examined and profiled the “hidden” role of informal migrant entrepreneurship in a number of Southern African cities. The project was implemented by a new Canadian-African partnership involving the Southern African Migration Programme and the African Centre for Cities at the University of Cape Town.

Research findings have advanced understanding of the reciprocal links between mobility and informal entrepreneurship in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Maputo, and Harare. The findings have also built research and networking capacity, met the economic growth and poverty reduction goals of Southern African governments, and impacted ongoing policy implementation processes around migration, development, and urban management.

Allowing migrant entrepreneurs to expand and reach their full potential free of harassment and exclusion, such as the recent xenophobia experienced in South Africa, is a major step in facilitating inclusive growth. The findings from the project will feed directly into ongoing policy processes at regional, national, and municipal levels.

The study showed that shops established by immigrants provide employment for their family members, South Africans, and non-South Africans. South Africans comprise at least 50% of total non-family employment in these enterprises.

The project was able to make major strides in drawing attention to the importance of migrant entrepreneurs in South Africa as well as highlighting the role played by cross border traders in the economies of Zimbabwe and Mozambique. The findings have important implications not only for the countries concerned but also for other countries that have high levels of migrant entrepreneurship.

Learn more

Growing Informal Cities: Mobile Entrepreneurs and Inclusive Growth in South Africa, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe


SAMP Migration Policy Series No. 70 (PDF, 726KB)

SAMP Migration Policy Series No. 71 (PDF, 2.50MB)

Mean Streets (PDF, 2.72 MB)