On-line version ISSN 2309-9585
Print version ISSN 0259-0190
MACDONALD, Andrew. Forging the frontiers: Travellers and documents on the South Africa-Mozambique border, 1890s-1940s. Kronos [online]. 2014, vol.40, n.1, pp.154-177. ISSN 2309-9585.
It is well known that the Union of South Africa started to build an onerous border regime at the turn of the twentieth century in order to secure a White Man's Country in southern Africa. Newly formed, ambitious Immigration Departments consequently targeted 'Asiatics', poor whites and finally 'surplus' Africans from the 1920s onwards. An infrastructure of exclusion (detention and deportation compounds, police patrols, fingerprint offices and so on) soon emerged at the region's maritime gateways as the colonial states sought to undermine decentralised indigenous societies characterised by long-term mobility. This article shows that the Union remained vulnerable on its eastern frontier with Mozambique and Swaziland, where 'undesirables' continued to arrive in numbers. Long-distance movement had a long precedent in these borderlands, and it proved difficult for colonial states to forge effective border controls until deep into the twentieth century. Based on extensive and critical engagement with multiple border control archives, the article traces the gradual 'paperisation of the border, and follows a thriving market in identity permits in southern Mozambique and Swaziland, which became important backdoor entry points to the Union. The main people to exploit corrupt local officials and entrepreneurial headmen on either side of the border were those associated with the merchant houses of coastal west India, syndicates from the Portuguese Atlantic island of Madeira, and long-distance, so-called 'tropical', African migrants. Together they forged sophisticated networks that moved permits, people and money across the region and gave south-east Africa's border builders hard and often thankless paperwork.