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White But Illegal: Undocumented Madeiran

Immigration to South Africa, 1920s–1970s

Clive Glaser

To cite this article: Clive Glaser (2013) White But Illegal: Undocumented Madeiran
Immigration to South Africa, 1920s–1970s, Immigrants & Minorities, 31:1, 74-98, DOI:

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Published online: 23 May 2012.

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Immigrants & Minorities, 2013
Vol. 31, No. 1, 74–98,

White But Illegal: Undocumented

Madeiran Immigration to
South Africa, 1920s – 1970s
Clive Glaser*
School of Social Sciences, University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg,
South Africa

Illegal entry was a central feature of the Madeiran immigrant experience in

South Africa between the 1920s and 1970s. Unskilled Madeirans, who were
generally not welcomed by the South African state, tapped into human
smuggling networks to enter the country. It was a common practice to work
illegally on farms or in shops owned by legally resident Madeirans. A large
portion of these eventually secured work permits after having worked in the
country for long periods. Not only were illegal immigrants generally destitute
and illiterate, but they had to live under the radar to avoid arrest and
deportation. In spite of their official status as ‘white’ and the many advantages
this offered them, illegal Madeirans lived on, at best, the fringes of white
society for several decades.
Keywords: Madeiran migration; South African immigrants; apartheid
immigration policy; white identity; Mozambique/South African border

People claiming Portuguese ancestry make up between 8% and 12% of

white South Africans. According to most reasonable guesswork, their
population peaked in the early 1990s between 400,000 and half a million.
After those of Afrikaner and British ancestry, they constitute comfortably
the third largest white ethnic group in South Africa.1 The oldest section of
this community, by most estimates constituting about a half of the total,
come from the small island of Madeira.2 Using official immigration
figures, Pedro Machado has calculated that only about 14,000 of the


q 2013 Taylor & Francis

Immigrants & Minorities 75

roughly 108,000 registered Portuguese immigrants between 1940 and 1981

were from Madeira.3 These figures are very difficult to reconcile with
current estimates. South African Madeirans believe they outnumber the
roughly quarter of a million currently living on the island. A joke circulates
in the community that if all the South Africans Madeirans returned
the island would sink. There are several possible explanations for this
discrepancy. First, of course, the community almost certainly over-
estimates its own size. Second, Madeirans had been migrating in small
numbers to South Africa since the end of the nineteenth century and had
already established a fairly substantial community by the end of 1930s.
This was reinforced by high birth rates and very low levels of return
migration. Third, many of those listed as Portuguese may not have revealed
their Madeiran origin. But I would argue that at least part of the
explanation lies in the long history of illegal and undocumented entry
dating back to the early 1900s. For unskilled and largely illiterate
Madeirans, legal immigration was highly restrictive throughout the period
from the 1920s to the 1970s and illegal entry was an integral part of the
Madeiran experience in South Africa.
Throughout most of the segregationist and Apartheid period black
foreigners, especially from Lesotho, Mozambique and Malawi, were
attracted, and even largely encouraged, to work in South African mines
and industry. But, like black South Africans from the reserves/homelands,
they were never granted rights of citizenship and their access to permanent
residence was carefully circumscribed. It is not surprising, therefore, that
the story of ‘illegal’ residents during this period has generally been
perceived as racially differentiated, a story in which whites or ‘Europeans’
were by definition legal residents, whether based in town or country. The
case of the Madeiran immigrants adds a twist to this well-told tail. For
decades thousands of Madeirans lived and worked in South Africa in fear
of deportation. This experience has been neglected historically.4 Moreover,
it underscores the point, made forcefully by Sally Peberdy in her recent
book, that the South African state was not consistently or unambiguously
enthusiastic about European immigration.5 The state used immigration
policy to define the boundaries of the ‘nation’ and there was a great deal of
contestation over which Europeans should be regarded as desirable
citizens, or, it might be argued, as unambiguously white.

White Immigration Policy

The first major piece of immigration legislation after the formation of
Union was the Immigrants Regulation Act of 1913. The Act was primarily
76 C. Glaser
concerned with excluding Indians who claimed a right to immigration
through their membership of the British Empire. The Act excluded Indians
without using explicitly racial language by giving the Minister of the
Interior discretionary powers to exclude anyone ‘unsuited to the
requirements of the Union’.6 However, during the 1920s and 1930s it
became clear that not all white immigrants were necessarily desirable.
As Peberdy observes: ‘Having established that only white people could be
considered as potential new citizens, two questions then emerged: firstly,
who was white, and, secondly, what kind of whites should be allowed to
cross the borders of the Union?’7
While those politicians who wanted to encourage as much white
immigration as possible were periodically ascendant, three major factors,
I would argue, held back an open white immigration policy between the
1920s and the 1970s. First, arguments influenced by the eugenics movement
emphasised racial purity and the strength of the white racial ‘stock’. In other
words, in spite of white demographic fears, for eugenicists quality of
immigrants was regarded as more important than quantity. In particular,
they viewed Jews and Southern Europeans with suspicion.8 Although the
eugenics argument was mostly influential in the 1920s and 1930s, elements
of it resurfaced during National Party rule after 1948. Second, Afrikaner
nationalists feared the dilution of the Afrikaner majority within the white
democracy. This was, in effect, the revival of the old ‘uitlander’ question,
and nationalist fears were reinforced by the fact that by far the biggest group
of immigrants were British. Aside from questions of voting power, many
nationalists complained that their language and religious culture were
threatened by excessive immigration of the wrong type. They were only
comfortable with Dutch, Flemish and German immigrants, who, they
reckoned, were more likely to assimilate into Afrikaner society.9 Third, the
burgeoning white welfare state was potentially threatened by an influx of
unproductive whites. Pensions, disability grants and social services had to
be provided and there were fears that uncontrolled white entry would place
too much of a burden on the state. This argument became increasingly
persuasive as awareness of the ‘poor white problem’ grew. It became
important, therefore, to ensure that immigrants had the right kind of skills
to fit productively into the economy.
Given these fears, traditional immigration criteria such as literacy, health
and financial viability proved inadequate to regulate the flow of European
immigration during the 1910s and 1920s. Large-scale East European Jewish
immigration, in particular, irked the anti-immigration lobby.10 Under
mounting political pressure, two further pieces of anti-immigration
legislation were passed in the 1930s. The 1930 Immigration Quota Act
Immigrants & Minorities 77

established a two-tier entry policy that allowed more or less free access,
within the boundaries of the 1913 legislation, to ‘scheduled’ countries,
including most of Western Europe, territories of the British Empire and
the USA, and introduced strict quotas on ‘unscheduled’ countries. Only 50
immigrants a year were allowed entry from each unscheduled country
and a further 1000 on a discretionary basis. Importantly, almost all the
immigrants from unscheduled countries such as Russia, Poland and the
Baltic states were Jewish.11 Once Jews started arriving in large numbers
from scheduled countries under the rising threat of Nazism, the legislation
was further tightened with the 1937 Aliens Act. This allowed the
immigration authorities greater discretion to allow people in on the basis
of ‘good character’, ‘desirability’ and, crucially, the potential to assimilate
into white society.12
During the war years trans-continental civilian mobility was severely
disrupted. However, as the war wound down in 1944 General Smuts began
to champion white immigration. It was actively encouraged and subsidised
between 1944 and 1948. Smuts and his post-war government argued that
in order to sustain the economic development of the war years, mass white
immigration was essential. Skills were in short supply and Smuts was also
eager to improve the racial demographic balance. Immigration figures
reveal a huge spike in European immigration between 1946 and 1948. The
British, eager to escape their war-ravaged economy and attracted to the
opportunities in South Africa, constituted by far the biggest contingent
of immigrants.13 Skills and literacy were still usually necessary for entry.
In 1948 the Nationalists, persuaded by all the arguments discussed earlier,
reversed the post-war policy. Between 1949 and 1960 the new government
used the 1937 legislation enthusiastically to restrict access. All active
encouragement and subsidy was removed, other than for the favoured
Dutch, Flemish and German immigrants. In spite of demographic fears
and a growing skilled labour shortage, white immigration declined
substantially during this period, especially since the government was never
able to attract as many of the favoured immigrants as it would have liked.14
Eventually the skilled labour shortage became so acute that the Nationalists
were forced to choose between lifting the skills colour bar and relaxing
white immigration. Not surprisingly, they chose the latter. The 1960s
became a decade of mass white immigration as the government set up new
recruitment stations throughout Europe. Even skilled immigrants from
previously undesirable southern European countries were actively
encouraged and subsidised.15 By the end of the decade, however, there
was another backlash in Afrikaner nationalist circles. Influential figures,
including Nationalist MPs and leaders of the Dutch Reformed Church,
78 C. Glaser
expressed concerns about the threat that Catholics and non-Afrikaans
speakers posed to the Afrikaner way of life. Portuguese, and Madeirans in
particular, were singled out as inappropriate immigrants. In August 1965
several branches of Transvaal National Party warned against Catholic
immigration. ‘We have enough fish-shop owners, café owners and
greengrocers’, said a delegate from Westdene. A delegate from Christiana
warned that ‘the Portuguese will soil our towns’.16 Some Afrikaner
nationalists questioned their whiteness. Dirk Richard, the prominent
editor of Dagbreek, for example, commented in January 1968:
The average South African would only have to glance at most
Portuguese immigrants to say with a shake of his head, ‘No’ they are not
our people. How on earth did they get into the country?

Why did immigration allow so many of this sort, the Madeira gardeners,
to slip through?
Another Afrikaner critic of immigration policy, Cor Du Preez, was more
blunt: ‘The Portuguese are a Coloured people.’ Deputy Minister of
Immigration, Piet Koornhof, responding to criticism, argued in June 1969
that it had been necessary, ‘as a result of economic pressure’, to accept
questionable immigrants but that it was not government policy to admit
people who could not be ‘easily assimilated with our White nation’.17
By 1968 white immigration had become substantially more restrictive.18
Certainly those without the requisite skills were not welcomed. It was only
after 1976, when South Africa experienced periods of net emigration for
the first time, that restrictions were relaxed again.

Madeiran Migration to South Africa

The small, isolated Portuguese possession of Madeira was a mass exporter
of human capital throughout the twentieth century. It is a mountainous
island with limited space for cultivation. Most of its population depended
on fishing or farming small plots on terraced slopes. There was little
infrastructure or industry and only very limited schooling was available.
Not surprisingly, this densely populated island developed a culture of
migration. In only the 30 years between 1940 and 1970 Madeira exported
316,000 people while its total resident population remained virtually
stagnant at about a quarter of a million until the end of the twentieth
century.19 While the USA, Canada, Brazil and Venezuela may have been
more important destinations, many chose South Africa from as early as the
late nineteenth century. As a destination South Africa had the advantage of
a well-developed shipping route between Funchal, the capital of Madeira,
Immigrants & Minorities 79

and the Cape. Perhaps more significantly, South Africa was easily accessible
from the Portuguese colonies of Portuguese East Africa (PEA)
(Mozambique) and, to a lesser extent, Angola.
From the late 1800s small numbers of impoverished Madeirans
disembarked in Cape Town and tried to make a life for themselves in the
Cape as market gardeners or fishermen. In 1904 there were officially just
under a thousand living in the Cape, mostly male.20 The Cape Madeiran
community gradually established itself during the 1910s and 1920s. Some of
the better off immigrants owned or rented farms, shops and coffee houses
by the 1920s. This made it easier for new Madeirans to enter because they
could find employment in these enterprises and, with local sponsorship,
stand a good chance of gaining legal entry. A small number of Madeiran
immigrants, usually coming in from PEA, were also allowed legally into the
Transvaal to work as farmers and miners during the early decades of the
twentieth century. After saving money for a while many Transvaal
Madeirans pooled resources and rented or bought their own farms.
Gradually they also bought shops specialising in fruit and vegetables.
The Union government, however, was extremely cautious about
Madeiran immigration. Not only were these prospective immigrants
Catholic and darker skinned than north Europeans, but they were generally
unskilled (in anything other than small-scale farming) and illiterate. They
were exactly the type that Afrikaner nationalists and eugenicists objected
to. Although most could be screened out through the literacy test,
local officials noticed a marked rise in Portuguese, mostly Madeiran,
immigration after the republican government was toppled in Portugal
in 1926. The highly restrictive legislation of the 1930s allowed the
government to be far more selective about whom it allowed in. At the same
time, the Estado Novo of Salazar developed a policy to actively discourage
emigration from 1929. Only 30– 200 Madeirans managed to get through
the entrance requirements every year and become legal residents in South
Africa during the 1920s and 1930s.21
It was in this context that the illegal immigration of Maderians became
increasingly significant. At the same time that the economic incentives
to go to South Africa grew, so both exit and entrance were becoming
more restrictive. Deborah Tozzo, in her pioneering dissertation, describes
how Union officials were becoming anxious about the illegal entry of
Portuguese during the mid-1920s. Almost all of these illegal entrants
came originally from Madeira. ‘The Union agent in Lorenço Marques
was recommended in April 1926 to warn illiterate Portuguese against
coming to South Africa.’ In addition, anyone offering information on illicit
immigration leading to conviction and deportation could be in line for
80 C. Glaser
a reward of £5.22 Although jumping ship in Cape Town harbour was not
uncommon, the key point of entry was PEA. Once in the country they
would get work on the farms or in the shops of legal Portuguese residents.
Although many of these illegal immigrants were caught, it is impossible to
quantify how many managed to slip in without documentation and settle
more or less permanently.
By the late 1930s the Department of Immigration had become alarmed by
the number of undocumented Madeirans entering the Union. Smuggling
rings operating out of Johannesburg and Lourenço Marques were assisting
people to cross the border on an almost daily basis. In cooperation with the
PEA authorities, who were also eager to stop illegal emigration, the
department launched an effort to smash the smuggling rings. This effort
between 1939 and 1942 is documented in the records of the Office of the
Commissioner for Immigration and Asiatic Affairs (CIAA).23 Dozens of
illegal residents were arrested between about June and August 1939. They
were compelled to provide affidavits that testified to their methods of transit
into South Africa. These testimonies offer valuable insight not only into the
smuggling networks, but into the lives of illegal migrants. Here is one
example, a translated transcript attributed to one Francisco Gonsalves
Da Costa of Trenchfort Farm, Craighall, Johannesburg:
I am a farm labourer at the above-mentioned farm and reside on the

I am of Portuguese Nationality and was born on the Island of Madeira

in the town Faja da Ovelha on 18 March 1911.

I am a married man and my wife Maria Rodrigues and two sons Manuel
and Juvenal are living at the above-mentioned address in Madeira. My
father Francisco Gonsalves Da Costa and my mother Anna Rodrigues
also live at the above-mentioned address in Madeira.

At the beginning of 1939 . . . I heard a story in Madeira that one Baeta of

Lourenco Marques was assisting people to enter the Union of South
Africa. I know Baeta. I knew him before he went to Lourenco Marques.
I went to see Lucas the Father in law of Baeta and told him what I had
heard. Lucas informed me that if I paid him £100 he would send it to
his son and that he would fix me up. I accompanied Lucas to Funchal
and we wired £100 through the Bank . . .

At the beginning of April 1939, I received a message from the Shipping

Company at Funchal informing me that I would have to sail on the
‘Munzinhu’ on the 12 April 1939. I sailed on the date as arranged and
arrived at Lourenco Marques on 8 May 1939.
Immigrants & Minorities 81

Baeta met me at the docks and took me to his house at Moamba near
Lourenco Marques. I stayed with him for about eight days.

On the afternoon of the 8th day a strange Portuguese male came to

Baeta’s house and asked him in my presence if he had any people who
wanted to go to Johannesburg. Baeta said that he had some men who
wanted to go. This man then stated that he wanted £25 for each man.
I then told Baeta that he had arranged with me to take me to
Johannesburg for £100 that I had already paid him. He then told me
that he had too much expense to get me to Lourenco Marques and
I could please myself whether I went or not. I agreed to pay the money
and got into the man’s car together with five other Portuguese males
who were also staying with Baeta, but whose names I do not know . . .

We left Lourenco Marques at dusk and travelled for about five hours
when the car stopped and the driver told us to accompany a native male
who had also come with us. We walked for about half an hour with the
native and then came upon our car and its driver standing in the road.
There was a native Policeman standing next to the car when we came to
it. I know the native was a Policeman, because the driver told me so.
He was not a Portuguese Policeman. We then continued our journey
and arrived at the Johannesburg Market at 6 am the following morning.
I paid the driver £25, the other Portuguese also paid the driver £25 each.
He told us to go into the Market and that we would find many
Portuguese there.

In the market I met a man by the name of Rifino and he took me to his
house . . . Two days later my brother Antonio Gonsalves da Costa came
and took me to his farm at which I am now staying and with whom
I have remained ever since . . .24
Francisco da Costa’s story is typical of the testimonies in a number of
respects. First, he was in his late 20s with very young children who had a
strong contact already in Johannesburg. Although many left in their early
20s before marriage, most in this 1939 sample were Francisco’s age, or a
little older, and married with children. Clearly he had heard that it was
possible to earn good money in South Africa. His capacity to find the
necessary money for the trip suggests that, like most of these migrants, he
did not come from the very poorest section of Madeiran society, but rather
from a poor group who, nevertheless, could raise the necessary resources
and risk investing in an opportunity for upward mobility.25 Often,
however, money was borrowed for the transit against the expectation of
future earnings.
Second, he tapped into an established triangular smuggling network that
linked Madeira, Lourenço Marques and Johannesburg. The illicit route
82 C. Glaser
into South Africa was widely known in Madeira. He, like so many others,
‘had heard a story’. The LM fixer had a contact in Madeira who linked the
prospective migrant to his operation. In this case, as in most, the contact
was a family member. The fixer employed drivers and local guides. Almost
every border crossing involved a nighttime walk led by a local African
guide. These were clearly familiar routes. The fixer, or driver, could pay off
a South African policeman if necessary. Generally, there was a family
member or friend in the Witwatersrand area who was expecting the
migrant or who could be relied upon to take him in. Often there were
specific contacts in Johannesburg who received the smuggled individuals.
The smuggling operation was clearly a lucrative business. Arranging transit
to LM would cost between £80 and £100, transit into the Union would
cost a further £23 –£28. But there were a number of overheads and many
individuals took a slice of the profit. The migrants were extremely
vulnerable and, although promises were usually honoured in these
elaborate ‘trust networks’, they were not in a bargaining position to refuse
requests for further payment.26 Francisco was able to sign his name, which
was unusual. Most made an ‘X’ or gave a right thumb print in lieu of a
signature, highlighting the illiteracy of these unauthorised migrants and
their vulnerability and dependence on trust networks as they made their
way into the Union.
Third, the Newtown market was well known, sometimes even back in
Madeira, as a place where new migrants could find Portuguese contacts.
Interestingly, the affidavits revealed that by 1939 there was already a well-
established network of Madeiran owned or rented farms close to
Johannesburg, often in places later incorporated as suburbs of the city like
Bezuidenhout Valley, Bedforview, Craighall and Parkhurst, which quickly
absorbed the illegal migrants. These small farms were strategically placed
to supply vegetables to the growing Witwatersrand market and formed the
basis for later prosperity.
A flurry of correspondence between 1939 and 1942 involving various
branches of the South African Police, the PEA police, the Swaziland police,
the Ministry of the Interior, the South African consul in Lourenço Marques
and the Union immigration authorities bears testimony to the rising
concern over Portuguese illegal immigration. They were particularly
concerned to identify and break the smuggling rings that operated out
of Lourenço Marques and Johannesburg.27 But from 1939 the measures
were not all entirely punitive towards the illegal entrants themselves. An
Aliens Registration Act came into effect that gave illegal immigrants the
opportunity to register themselves and, in exchange for a substantial
deposit, acquire a temporary permit while awaiting a decision from the
Immigrants & Minorities 83

Immigration Board on their eligibility for permanent residence. Many took

advantage of this offer, especially if they felt they had a good chance of
gaining eligibility after long, useful employment and the acquisition
of some language competency. Importantly, it meant that an ‘alien’ could
continue living and working in the Union while awaiting the outcome of
his case. But, not surprisingly, compliance was uneven because it involved
risk of exposure and deportation. Those who knew that they would have
difficulty with the literacy test were particularly hesitant.28
From 1940 the government, though pursuing smuggling rings and
trying to keep out illegal Portuguese as much as possible, adopted a fairly
lenient approach to prosecution and deportation ‘owing to the existing
international situation’. This presumably had to do with war priorities, war
diplomacy, labour shortages and disrupted transport routes.29 This
leniency, some officials in the SAP argued, encouraged non-compliance
with the Alien Registration legislation. In March 1941, for example, the
Deputy Commissioner of the SAP wrote to the Commissioner for
Immigration expressing his frustration. He complained that numerous
aliens refused to notify the police on change of address, new illegal entrants
were failing to register, and employers of aliens failed to notify the
On various occasions Portuguese Nationals have shown a decided
reluctance to assist the Police in the tracing or supply of information
regarding the whereabouts of aliens in their employ or resident on their
property . . .

In the Johannesburg district there are about 20 farms owned by

Portuguese Nationals. Partnerships between the owners and other
Portuguese Nationals are constantly entered into while many of the
Portuguese farmhands are also continually changing their places of
employment; yet so far notification of partnerships were not voluntarily
made at the Aliens Registration Office in Johannesburg in a single
instance, while numerous cases have occurred where they have failed to
report the employment of an alien.

It will be seen, therefore, that Portuguese Nationals have openly flouted

the authority of the Police and have abused the privileges extended to
The Deputy Commissioner urged tougher prosecution of non-compliers.
Official bodies representing legal Portuguese nationals in the Union,
most notably the Associação da Colónia Portuguêsia (Portuguese
Association) and the Casa da Madeira, were eager to cooperate with the
authorities. They wanted to demonstrate their loyalty as citizens and offer
84 C. Glaser
as much help as possible to registered aliens. Equally, though, they were
concerned about the exploitation and abuse of illegal immigrants by
smugglers. A letter from the Portuguese Association to the Department of
Immigration in November 1939 is illustrative:
It has been one of the principal aims of this organisation to stamp out
the illegal entry into the Union of Portuguese persons who have not the
requisite permission to enter, and we have done everything in our
power to assist and cooperate with you in the matter.

As you probably know many of these people are in the Union in total
ignorance of the fact that they had no right to do so. They paid large
sums to an established organisation that told the prospective
immigrants that for the money paid by them they would be
guaranteed legal entry into the Union and told them also fantastic
tales about the lucrative possibilities of employment and business in the
The Association had ‘attacked’ these organisations in a number of ways
and tried to expose them back in Madeira, warning prospective migrants
that they needed to apply legally.31 In other letters both the Association
and the Casa da Madeira assured the Commissioner of Immigration that
they would be willing to cooperate in the surrendering of illegal entrants
and getting them onto a ‘proper and correct footing’.32 Aside from being
fleeced by fixers, it is also clear that these vulnerable illegal workers were
harshly exploited by (mostly Portuguese) employers. Following an
anonymous tip-off in early 1940, police discovered four illegal
Madeirans working at the Portuguese Vegetable Garden in Bezuidenhout
Valley. ‘These persons’, commented the Deputy Commissioner of Police
for the Witwatersrand, ‘occupy a hut containing only four beds, and they
live like natives’.33 Father de Nobrega, who was born in 1921 and grew
up in a tight-knit Portuguese community in Krugersdorp, recalls the
exploitation of illegal Madeiran workers in the 1930s and 1940s: ‘What
would happen is that some of those who came in illegally would work for
some who were here legally . . . and they were really badly treated . . . just
because of the position they were in, they weren’t really paid a real
wage . . .’34
A large portion of those illegal Madeirans who registered as aliens under
the 1939 Act had lived and worked in the country for long periods before
exposure. For many it was not their first stay in the Union. Of the 31 cases
placed before the Commissioner for Immigration in August 1940, 11 had
entered the Union illegally between 1926 and 1934 after having been
refused entry under the 1913 Immigration Act. Some had been previously
Immigrants & Minorities 85

deported and returned. 22 were listed as gardeners or farm labourers and 6

as miners.35 Illegal Madeirans were not necessarily transitory, exploited
labourers. For example, one Antonio de Souza, who applied for leniency
after violating the 1939 Aliens Registration Act, had established a profitable
small business over five years. In April 1934 de Souza, while in his early 20s,
was given a temporary permit to cross the Transvaal in transit from Angola
to LM but, to use the common Madeiran term, he ‘jumped’. He worked
extremely hard as a farm labourer for two-and-a-half years until he was
able to save enough money to lease a farm in the Kempton Park area.
Shortly afterwards he established a shop from which he sold his produce.
He was able to invest in a lorry and modern farm equipment. By 1939 the
farm and shop together had a turnover of £300 per month and he
employed three Portuguese and eight black workers. His lawyer asked for
leniency on the grounds that he was a hard-working and useful member of
society and that a jail sentence or heavy fine might ruin his business. There
is no record of the outcome of his appeal.36
From about the middle of 1942 until late 1945, with war and
demobilisation issues at the forefront, little priority was given to illegal
residents unless they were seen as a potential security threat. The ‘conditions
of war’, it seems, gave temporary breathing space to undocumented
immigrants.37 From 1946, however, administrative concern re-emerged.
Although the Smuts government was energetically encouraging, skilled
white immigration, illiterate and unskilled Madeirans struggled to acquire
legal entry. They continued to find ways to cross the border and find work
on farms. In 1946 a new method of illegal entry was exposed: hiding
immigrants in banana crates. In July, the Deputy Commissioner of the SAP
for the Witwatersrand wrote to the CIAA:
It has been ascertained from the Railway Authorities that there have been
instances where banana goods trucks from Lourenco Marques to
Johannesburg have appeared to have been tampered with. It is suspected
that Portuguese illegal immigrants conceal themselves amongst the
banana crates and alight from the goods train after crossing the border at

During 1945, a number of Portuguese entered the Union in this

manner, but were arrested on arrival in Johannesburg. It is now
believed that the illegal entrants leave the train before they get to
Apparently the smugglers were working in collaboration with ‘two Indians
on President Street’, Johannesburg, who regularly ordered large quantities
of bananas for their business. Illegal immigrants were believed to be paying
86 C. Glaser
up to £200 to the smugglers.38 The Department of Immigration again
received tip-offs of a gang ‘operating in Madeira, Lourenco Marques and
Johannesburg’ that helped Madeirans over the border. But it was difficult
to prosecute any individuals because they operated by word of mouth and
‘illegal entrants from Madeira, when discovered in the Union, invariably
disclaim all knowledge of the existence of such an organisation’.39
In February 1948 an investigation was launched into the smuggling of
immigrants in instrument cubicles or toilets of cross-border trains. This
method needed insiders in the train service and was linked to a broader
network of fixers who arranged permits for Madeirans to travel initially to
PEA.40 In April 1948 police on the Rand raided several premises in search
of suspected illegal Portuguese immigrants, but only 2 of the 12 on their
suspect list were apprehended.41
Once the Nationalists came to power later that year administrative
attention to the issue appeared to intensify. A memorandum issued by the
CIAA in August 1948 discussed two illegal access routes into the Union: sea
and land. The sea route was much easier to control because ship passengers
were listed, controlled and checked when disembarking. But the land
borders were very difficult to control.
[It is] impossible to say how many illegal entrants there are in the
Union. This Office only becomes aware of the presence of such an illegal
entrant when the man reports voluntarily or is discovered. If an illegal
entrant reports voluntarily, he is dealt with as sympathetically as
possible. If he was not previously deported or refused entry and
evidence is produced that he has been in the Union for a number of
years he may be placed on Temporary Permit with an adequate deposit
to enable him to test his case before the Immigrant Selection Board. The
vast land borders of the Union are very vulnerable and it has proved
quite impossible to stop persons who are determined to make their way
surreptitiously into the country.
He went on to comment that there were ‘rumours’ that there were
between 200 and 500 illegal Portuguese in the Union. Several hundred
were registered under the Alien Registration Act awaiting a Selection
Board decision. The Commissioner for Immigration argued that it was
pointless prosecuting people because the penalties were not severe enough
to deter illegal entry and he called for a tougher and more consistent
In October 1948 the CIAA received a confidential letter from an
Inspector Otto, who worked on issues of Asiatic Land Tenure, discussing
the ‘alarming’ entry of illegal Indians, Chinese and Portuguese subjects.
There were some striking similarities in their methods of operation.
Immigrants & Minorities 87

Although there was some limited interaction between the networks,

generally they worked independently of each other.
As regards the Portuguese subjects the information is that hundreds of
them worked their way into the Transvaal without the knowledge of the
Department and with the assistance of certain organisations in the
Portuguese territory and agents in the Transvaal and that these illegal
immigrants pay as much as £100 towards the assistance rendered to
them. Portuguese subjects in the Transvaal welcome these Immigrants
who are prepared to work for anything.
One alleged fixer owned a farm in PEA near Namahasha that was used as a
base for crossing into the Transvaal via an uncontrolled section of
mountainous Swaziland. Otto attached a map ‘showing the routes taken by
Agents and Immigrants’. Once over the border, they could move relatively
easily to Johannesburg and Pretoria. ‘It is certainly not difficult for
Portuguese, Chinese and Indian subjects to work their way into the
Transvaal without the knowledge of the Department.’43
Otto attached the affidavits of three recently detained illegal immigrants.
They bear similar patterns to the 1939 testimonies. All three had wives and
young children back in Madeira and were aware of people who could help
them get to LM. In exchange for a fee the fixers arranged a ‘call permit’ (in
other words, arranged a fake guarantee of employment) to PEA. The call
permits, which they could not even read themselves, allowed them to board
a ship in Funchal and disembark in LM. Once there they tapped into a
separate network that concentrated on border crossing. This was achieved
either by train or walking. One walked over with a local guide, one came by
train and the third used both methods. Jose Ribeiro ‘jumped’ in 1947 by
means of a long night walk led by a black guide. He was later caught, fined
and deported. He returned in 1948, crammed into a tiny, sweltering toilet,
by train. All three had contacts in the Witwatersrand area, and found work
on Portuguese vegetable farms before being detained.44
Between August 1948 and December 1949 the police in Johannesburg,
the East Rand, LM, Komatiepoort and Nelspruit made several arrests in an
attempt to break the post-war Madeiran smuggling network. The PEA
authorities, concerned to stop the unauthorised out-flow, were eager to
assist the SAP.45 Nevertheless, the CIAA was aware that dozens of
Madeirans continued to enter illegally. In one incident in October 1949, for
example, 21 Portuguese passengers on a ship bound for LM managed to
leave the vessel at Cape Town undetected.46 They were later all captured
and sent on to LM.47 In December nine illegal immigrants and a driver
were apprehended after crossing over the border on foot near the customs
gate of Mhlumeni. They had been spotted being picked up by a truck on
88 C. Glaser
the Union side of border.48 In July 1950 the PEA press highlighted the
ongoing flow of human smuggling. In one incident PEA police, after a
tip-off, searched a truck crossing the border and discovered a secret
compartment containing four very cramped Madeirans.49 A clear picture
emerges of immigration authorities and police arresting many illegal
immigrants, intercepting some illegal border crossings, but, on the whole,
unable to hold back the stream that dribbled relentlessly over a long,
uncontrollable land border.
From the 1950s the oral record becomes much richer. All of my South
African Portuguese interviewees experienced directly, or were well aware
of, illegal Madeiran immigration.50 The late 1940s and 1950s are generally
remembered as a period when the authorities were particularly strict about
allowing Portuguese immigrants into the country but this did not hold
back illegal entry. In the 1960s the government softened its stance but
Madeirans, particularly if they lacked literacy and the requisite skills,
continued to ‘jump’ throughout the decade, and well into the 1970s.51
What is perhaps most striking about the oral record from the 1950s
through to the mid-1970s is the sheer normality of Madeiran illegality.
Rudy Galego, who as a child came legally with his family from Lisbon in
the early 1960s, recalls the special treatment for Madeirans on the ship that
stopped in Cape Town on its way to LM. At Cape Town ‘all the Madeirans
were locked up in the dining room. As a small boy I found it very strange’.
He later realised that this was a routine measure taken in Cape Town and
Durban to prevent Madeirans from disembarking. While other passengers
were allowed to go on shore, it was understood that Madeirans were a
flight risk. Natalia Fiandeiro, who arrived from Madeira as a child in 1964,
took it as understood in the late 1960s and early 1970s that many fellow
Madeirans were illegal. ‘We all knew, and as children we knew we needed to
keep quiet about it.’
Portuguese run farms and shops experienced fairly routine raids and
inquiries, often instigated by anonymous tip-offs. Maria de Andrade
recalls: ‘They used to go to the shops and they used to ask for papers and if
you didn’t have papers they used to take you with them and send you back
to Mozambique or Madeira.’ In the words of Adelina Farinha, who was
born in South Africa to Madeiran parents and lived on a farm in the 1950s
and 1960s, ‘it was like our blacks with their passbooks.’52
Most South African Madeirans at one time or another had a relative or a
friend or an employee who they knew was illegally in the country. Personal
connections and obligations made it almost impossible to refuse to
harbour illegal aliens, even though they knew there were risks involved.
Victor Castro arrived in South Africa from Madeira in 1965 and ran a shop
Immigrants & Minorities 89

by the late 1960s. Even though police sometimes came to the shops and
took away illegal immigrants and gave shop owners official warnings, ‘if
you have family or friends from back home who need work, you employ
them’. Generally, in his experience, the police were lenient with employers
but once he had an argument with a policeman. ‘I said, if your brother
arrives at your place starving, are you going to help them? Or you’re not
going to help them?’ Natalia Fiandeiro makes a similar observation. ‘We
had a lot of illegal people in our home . . . just passing through. They arrive
at ten o’clock at night in the back seat of a car and you just put them up if
you’re just family or far off family . . . It’s your people. What are you going
to do? Throw them out there?’ She provides a poignant example:
I remember very clearly an uncle of mine we didn’t even know – I
didn’t know – had left Madeira . . . And I don’t know how old I was
[. . .] I know it was night time, and there was this car, a strange car that
stopped outside our garden and this man came in and asked are you so-
and-so, do you know so-and-so and we said yes [. . .] and we took him
in. He lived with us for a while [. . .] and he found work in a Madeiran
Most of the illegal Madeirans had the initial intention of working for a
while in South Africa, making some money for their families and returning.
However, if they had the intention of staying permanently and bringing
their families over to South Africa it was essential to acquire legal status.
There were two ways of doing this. After working for a few years, many tried
their luck registering as aliens, getting a temporary permit, and applying
through formal channels. If an alien could demonstrate that he had worked
in the country for several years his chances improved. If over this period he
had acquired some language skills, this strengthened the application. The
second route was to apply formally for immigration papers from PEA (later
Mozambique) while continuing to work illegally in South Africa. This had
the advantage of not exposing himself unnecessarily to the authorities. But
the process could take a long time and there was a strong possibility that the
application would fail. In the meantime he needed income from work in
South Africa. This led to the bizarre scenario of routine illegal crossings
back into Mozambique to attend to the immigration paperwork. It was
widely known in the Madeiran community that some people crossed
backwards and forwards several times. There were some who were caught
and deported, who lost hope of getting legal status, yet returned more than
once to find work. ‘I know some people who had to jump three or four
times,’ comments Victor Castro. He employed one young man for six
months in the late 1960s before he was arrested without documentation
and deported. ‘Three weeks later he was here again.’53
90 C. Glaser
During the 1960s the Nationalist government, eager for European
immigrants, became more sympathetic to white illegal immigrants seeking
legal status. Generally, those who had acquired some level of skill and
literacy found it fairly straightforward to ‘get papers’. The government even
announced amnesties in 1961 and 1968 to encourage illegal white
immigrants to register. Several Portuguese associations and agencies, such
as the Portuguese Tourist Office in Johannesburg, were kept busy
organising documentation for illegal Portuguese immigrants, a large
portion of them Madeiran, applying for permanent residence rights.54
During the European skills recruitment drive of the 1960s several thousand
Madeirans were subsidised by the state to come legally. But, after growing
pressure, the government started placing tougher restrictions on
Portuguese and other Catholic immigrants again from about 1968 or
1969.55 So the period between about 1960 and 1968 is seen in retrospect as
a window of opportunity for immigrants who were not from the
traditional ‘countries of origin’. Although it was never the intention of the
immigration authorities, the relatively relaxed approach of this period
created incentive for Portuguese immigrants to enter illegally in the hope
of later obtaining legal residence. In 1975 –1976 the South African
government faced another wave of Portuguese immigrants, this time
triggered by the collapse of colonial Mozambique and Angola. Thousands
arrived as refugees, a good proportion crossing into South Africa illegally.
A small number of these had Madeiran origins. But I will not deal with this
episode here.
In the 1960s the Salazar regime softened its own approach to emigration
as it began to realise that emigration both helped to absorb unemployed
Portuguese and brought in vital foreign currency through remittances.56 In
1961 the regime also lifted all restrictions on travel from Portugal to its
colonial possessions, which facilitated both legal and illegal immigration to
South Africa.57 Nevertheless, the Portuguese authorities probably placed
more obstacles in the way of emigrants in the 1960s than the South African
government. They wanted to strengthen the white presence in their
increasingly unstable African colonies, and excessive emigration to South
Africa concerned them.58 One major incentive for illegal Portuguese
emigration was conscription.59 At the age of 18 all Portuguese men,
whether living in Portugal or in the colonies, were liable for up to four
years of military duty. This was not merely bothersome: the Portuguese
army was embroiled in increasingly deadly colonial wars in Angola,
Mozambique and Guinea Bissau. For a small country the mortality rate of
these sapping wars was easily as great as that of the Vietnam War for the
USA. Victor Castro was one among the many teenagers eager to get to
Immigrants & Minorities 91

South Africa before he was recruited. Even though he was educated and
better off than most Madeirans, he feared in 1965 that if he waited for his
legal papers to come through he would be conscripted. When he arrived in
LM, therefore, he knew that he was going to have to ‘jump’. His first
attempt was a disaster. He and a group of Portuguese were caught on their
way in Swaziland and he spent two months in ‘The Pit’, a notorious jail
in LM. His brother-in-law managed to secure his release and almost
immediately he crossed illegally again, this time successfully. Once in South
Africa he was able to secure his papers.60 ‘Mariazinha’ Gonçalves was aware
of many Portuguese teenagers who emigrated in the 1960s to avoid
conscription. She knew ‘a lady in Madeira’ who lost three sons to war.61
A common theme in Madeiran migration narratives of the 1960s and
early 1970s is the exploitation of vulnerable illegal workers by fellow legal
Portuguese. Illegal immigrants were aware that the longer they worked
quietly in the country without being detected the greater were their
chances of eventually securing legal status. They would melt into the
community and find work on farms or in shops. They could speak none of
the local languages so they were completely dependant on local patrons.62
As Rudy Galego comments:
This is where the seven days a week, 15, 16, 17 hours a day came in. You
really had no choice [. . .] because you were illegal. And a lot of people,
Portuguese members in the community, used to take advantage of that.
[. . .] You had to do the work or they would lock you up [. . .] You heard
about this on a daily basis. And they used to deport them to
Mozambique and within a week or two they would be back in South
Africa again. But really working for nothing, working for peanuts.
They were too vulnerable to complain or even to seek work outside of a
Portuguese-speaking network. Those who did not have family connec-
tions were particularly vulnerable.63 As in the earlier 1940 example, a
senior white police officer in 1962 was shocked by the similarity in
working conditions between black and illegal Portuguese workers. They
often worked for wages, he commented, below those of ‘the average
When police raided shops and farms to arrest illegal Madeirans, they
were usually responding to anonymous tip-offs. A good portion of these
tip-offs, some of my interviewees note, came from within the community
itself. It could have been prompted by ‘jealousy’ (over the success of a
neighbouring farmer) or greed (an employer trying to avoid paying wages)
or something personal, such as a father worried about a relationship
between his daughter and an illegal immigrant.65 So they lived in South
Africa at the whim and mercy of legal patrons.
92 C. Glaser
What became of the illegal Madeirans? For those who did manage to stay
permanently, their investment generally paid off handsomely. By the mid-
1970s the Madeiran community had stabilised and attained a certain level
of prosperity. The South African government, even while it faced attacks
from an extremist Afrikaner Nationalist flank, was increasingly concerned
to forge an inclusive white alliance. Most of the illegal immigrants who had
arrived between the 1930s and early 1970s had either left or become legal
and settled down. Once legal, they brought their families to join them,
married locals (usually, but not necessarily, from Madeiran families) or
returned temporarily to Madeira to find wives. A substantial second
generation was establishing itself. In spite of the hostility and suspicion that
they often faced, and in spite of their racial marginality, they were eventually
able to reap the benefits of whiteness. Being white allowed for access
to schooling, health services and racially restricted jobs. Perhaps most
importantly, they were able to buy property (some of which later became
very valuable) and trade freely. Although they were in some respects more
comfortable with racial mixing than most white South Africans, it was
certainly in their interests to assert their white identity and maintain a low
political profile.66 Today many comfortably-off South African Madeirans
can trace their ancestry, or at least part of it, to illegal immigrants.
I am unable to tell the story of those who did not settle in South Africa.
This is an extremely difficult story to tell. How many of these illegal
workers eventually gave up trying to get legal papers, or were too homesick
to stay away, or left South Africa, perhaps after deportation, to try their
luck in Brazil or Venezuela or France? Without substantial international
research, it is impossible to answer these questions effectively.67 From the
South African perspective, they simply melted away; for a long period
active participants in a complex South African landscape, but leaving little
historical trace.

I would like to thank the University of the Witwatersrand’s Anderson Capelli Fund
as well as the Oppenheimer Fund at Oxford University. This support gave me the
opportunity to work on this paper during sabbatical leave.

[1] Estimates by the early 1990s varied from 300,000 to 700,000. An article in the
Sunday Times (10 August 1980) estimated ‘at least 400,000’. There was significant
growth through both birth and slow but continuous net immigration throughout
the 1990s. Writing in 1990 Da Rosa and Trigo, weighing up their various pieces of
Immigrants & Minorities 93

evidence, suggested a figure of half a million. See Da Rosa and Trigo, ‘Islands in a
Segregated Land’, 185– 6. 400,000 – 500,000 is certainly not unrealistic. In 1995,
the Portuguese language weekly, O Século, claimed a nationwide readership of
200,000, while TV Portuguesa claimed 80,000 subscribers. See McDuling,
‘Language Shift and Maintenance’, 223, 229 –30. The estimates of my interviewees
ranged from 300,000 to a million. They were judging the current size, rather than
the peak, which, almost all agree, was in the early 1990s. For a more general
discussion on Portuguese immigrant history in South Africa, see Glaser,
‘Portuguese Immigrant History in Twentieth Century South Africa’.
[2] SA Panorama, April 1985, quoted in Da Rosa and Trigo, ‘Islands in a Segregated
Land’, 184. Most of my interviewees, whether of Madeiran origin or not,
supported this view.
[3] Machado, ‘Little Madeira’, 5.
[4] Note, though, that the subject of Portuguese illegal immigration in other settings
is well developed. See, for example, Brettell, Anthropolgy and Migration, which
deals with Portuguese immigrants in France. See, in particular, 43 – 7.
[5] Peberdy, Selecting Immigrants.
[6] Ibid., 46– 8, 54.
[7] Ibid., 57.
[8] Ibid., especially 63– 76.
[9] Donsky, ‘Aspects of the Immigration of Europeans’, 1 – 2, 21– 6; Peberdy, Selecting
Migrants, 85 – 107.
[10] Peberdy, Selecting Migrants, 58– 61.
[11] Ibid., 63 – 4.
[12] Ibid., 65 – 71.
[13] Donsky, ‘Aspects of the Immigration of Europeans’, 8 – 11; Peberdy, Selecting
Migrants, 87– 92.
[14] Ibid., 24 – 6; Ibid., 99 –103.
[15] Ibid., 27 – 8; Ibid., 109– 25.
[16] Star, 17 August 1965.
[17] Richards, Du Preez, and Koornhof are quoted in Sunday Times, 29 June 1969. For
more of a taste of the backlash, see Sunday Times, 6 July 1969; Vaderland, 2 May
1968 and 25 July 1969; Star, 17 August 1965, 8 August 1969 and 16 October 1969.
[18] Peberdy, Selecting Immigrants, 127– 8. For more general detail on South Africa’s
immigration policies from 1946 to 1970, see Donsky, ‘Aspects of the Immigration
of Europeans’; Peberdy, Selecting Immigrants, 85– 136.
[19] Machado, ‘Little Madeira’, 8.
[20] Da Rosa and Trigo, ‘Islands in a Segregated Land’, 183.
[21] For an overview of this early phase, see Tozzo, ‘People in Transition’, 23 – 6.
[22] Tozzo, ‘People in Transition’, 24. Tozzo’s dissertation was the first piece of writing
I came across which dealt with the experiences of illegal Madeiran migrants in
South Africa.
[23] Central Archive Depot, Pretoria, Commissioner for Immigration and Asiatic
Affairs (CAD CIA) 65 M716: confidential letter from J. N. O. Spence, the Deputy
Commissioner of South African Police (SAP), Witwatersrand Division, to the
Commissioner of Police, SAP, 22 July 1939 (31 affidavits attached); confidential
letter from the Commissioner (CIAA), Goodwin, to The Secretary for the Interior,
4 August 1939 (11 affidavits attached); confidential letter from J. N. O. Spence, the
94 C. Glaser
Deputy Commissioner of SAP, Witwatersand Division, to Commissioner of
Police, SAP, 25 August 1939 (20 affidavits attached).
[24] This affidavit appears as an attachment in the first of the aforementioned letters.
(I have left the grammar and capitalisation intact.)
[25] This dovetails with Brettell’s observations in Northern Portugal: Anthropology and
Migration, 43.
[26] For a comparative discussion on trust networks in chain migration, see Tilly,
‘Trust Networks in Transnational Migration’.
[27] CAD CIA 65 M716: See, for example, a letter from the Intelligence Record Bureau
to Mr Kincaid, the CIAA, 9 October 1941 over-stamped ‘Secret’, including a
translated letter, 26 September 1941, intercepted by police between members of a
smuggling ring who bring people over on the liner, Joao Bello. The smugglers are
clearly squabbling among themselves over the reliability of members and the
dividing up of money. See also the exchange of letters between Dr J. B. F. Da
Fonseca, the Portuguese Envoy in Pretoria, and P. F. Kincaid, the CIAA, October
1941 to May 1942, regarding concerns over ongoing illegal entry from PEA to SA.
CAD SAP 338 18/36/40: Letter (and enclosed affidavit) from Chief of Police of
Swaziland (E. D. Fenn), to the CIAA, 29 April 1942.
[28] CAD CIA 65 M716: This is a composite picture dawn from numerous items in the
file. See alsoTozzo, ‘People in Transition’, 26– 7.
[29] See CAD CIA 65 M716: A memorandum, 12 August 1940 (signature illegible),
summarises a discussion between the CIAA and the Secretary of the Interior. See
also a memorandum from the CIAA with handwritten comments, 16 August
1941, which discusses the decision to grant illegal Portuguese whose applications
have been turned down under Aliens Registration Act of 1939 Temporary Permits
to remain ‘until a clearer policy has been developed on whole question of illegal
Portuguese entrants’.
[30] CAD CIA 65 M716: Letter from the Deputy Commissioner of SAP (signature
illegible) to the CIAA, 24 March 1941.
[31] CAD CIA 65 M716: Letter from the Portuguese Association to the Department of
Immigration, 23 November 1939.
[32] CAD CIA 65 M716: See, for example, a letter from the Portuguese Association
to the CIAA, 21 November 1939, signed by the Secretary [name unclear, possibly
Carvalho]; letter from A. G. Gladwin (Solicitor) to the Commissioner for
Immigration, Pretoria, 30 March 1940; letter from the Secretary of the Portuguese
Association [name illegible] to the CIAA, 1 February 1940; letter from the
president of Casa da Madeira [signature illegible, possibly ‘Pestana’] to the CIAA,
4 August 1941.
[33] CAD CIA 65 M716: Letter from the Deputy Commisioner, SAP, Witwatersand
Division (J. N. O. Spence) to the Commissioner of SAP, 2 March 1940.
[34] Interview with the author, Father De Nobrega, Johannesburg, 9 December 2009.
[35] CAD CIA 65 M716: Handwritten list of ‘Portuguese illegal entrants placed before
the commissioner’, 7 August 1940 and 12 August 1940. Note a similar pattern
with the four illegal Madeirans in Bezuidenhout Valley: Letter from the Deputy
Commissioner, SAP, Witwatersrand (J. N. O. Spence), to the Commissioner of
SAP, 2 March 1940.
[36] CAD CIA 65 M716: Letter from Mr A. G. Gladwin, a solicitor representing the
Portuguese Association, to the Minister of the Interior, 20 April 1940.
Immigrants & Minorities 95

[37] See, for example, CAD 65 CIA M716, letter from the CIAA, van der Merwe, to the
Principal Immigration Officer, Durban, 1 November 1945, which discusses a
strategy for dealing with illegal immigrants who were unable to leave the Union
for the duration of the war.
[38] CAD CIA 65 M 716: Two letters from the Deputy Commissioner, SAP
Witwatersrand Division, to the Immigration Officer, Johannesburg, 12 June 1946;
5 July 1946. The extract is from the second letter. The banana crate method
was still being used in 1959. See a letter from Senior Immigration Officer,
Komatiepoort, to the CIAA, 26 August 1959.
[39] CAD CIA 65 M 716: Letter, marked ‘secret’, from J. H. Basson, the CIAA, to the
Secretary for the Interior, 11 December 1947.
[40] CAD CIA 65 M 716: Letter, with enclosed affidavit from F. F. Gouveia, from the
Principal Immigration Officer, Johannesburg, to the CIAA, 17 February 1948.
[41] CAD SAP 338 18/36/40: Confidential memorandum, and attached
affidavits, from J. C. Kriek, the Deputy Commissioner of the SAP, Witwatersrand
Division, to The Commissioner of the South African Police, Pretoria, 27 April
[42] CAD CIA 65 M 716: Memorandum: ‘Illegal Alien Entrants’ [presumably written
by the CIAA], with hand-written date 30 August 1948.
[43] The letter deals separately with the three different nationalities and includes some
fascinating material about Indian businessmen encouraging and facilitating
illegal entry in order to exploit vulnerable illegal Indian labour in their businesses.
Immigration officials were allegedly being paid off to cooperate. CAD CIA 65 M
716: Letter, marked confidential, from an Inspector working in Asiatic Land
Tenure (P. J. L. Otto) to the CIAA, 18 October 1948. Much of Otto’s information
on Portuguese immigrants is revealed earlier in a communiqué from C. L.
Stander, the District Commandant, Nelspruit, to the Deputy Commissioner of
SAP, 12 July 1948. Stander was particularly worried that ‘Indians and other
prohibited immigrants will also eventually use the route taken by them’. See CAD
SAP 338 18/36/40.
[44] CAD CIA 65 M716: Letter from Inspector Otto to the CIAA (detailed above),
18 October 1948.
[45] CAD SAP 338 18/36/40: Letter from the Office of the Deputy Commissioner of
the SAP, Transvaal Division, to the Commissioner of the SAP, 10 August 1948;
letter from C. A. M. Da Silva, Commandant, LM, to the Consul General of the
Union of SA, 6 October 1948; letter from the Principal Immigration Officer,
Johannesburg, to the CIAA, 30 June 1949; letter, marked ‘secret’, from the Deputy
Commissioner of the SAP, Witwatersrand Division, to the Commissioner, SAP,
1 October 1949; letter from the Senior Immigration Officer, Komatiepoort, to the
CIAA, 12 October 1949; letter from the Deputy Commissioner of the SAP,
Witwatersrand Division, to the Commissioner of the SAP, 7 November 1949;
notes on interrogation of Frank Vieira, signed on 2 December 1949, LM. See also
CAD CIA 65 M 716: Letter from P. H. Philips, the Vice-Consul, LM, to the CIAA,
10 December 1949, in which he informs the CIAA that local authorities have
instituted an ‘all-out drive against clandestine emigration’. Note that the
Portuguese authorities were simultaneously concerned that illegal Portuguese
aliens were treated fairly and not singled out for harsh treatment in the Union. See
CAD Department of Foreign Affairs (BLB) 3 11/5: Exchange of letters between the
96 C. Glaser
South African Legation in Lisbon, the South African Minister of External Affairs
and the Portuguese Ministry of Foreign Affairs in May and June 1950.
[46] CAD SAP 338 18/36/40: Letter from the CIAA to the Secretary for the Interior,
October 1949.
[47] CAD CIA 65 M 716: Letter from the Consul-General, F. Du Plessis, to the CIAA,
26 April 1950.
[48] CAD CIA 65 M 716: Letter from the Acting Commissioner of Police, Swaziland,
to the CIAA, 20 December 1949.
[49] CAD SAP 338 18/36/40: Letter from the Consul-General, LM, to the Secretary for
the Interior with enclosed translated press reports, 13 July 1950.
[50] The same can be said for most of Tozzo’s Durban-based interviewees in ‘People in
[51] Although the documentary record is somewhat thinner after the early 1950s, the
oral evidence is supported by several newspaper articles and documents. See, for
example, Star, 26 September 1961; Dagbreek en Sondagnuus, 2 September 1962;
Argus, 6 June 1971; Star, 14 April 1975; Star, 14 April 1975; CAD SAP 338
18/36/40: Letter from the Senior Immigration Officer, Komatiepoort, to the
CIAA, 26 August 1959; CAD BLB 3 1/5: Letter from the Ambassador, A. H. H.
Mertsch, and the Immigration Attache, W.S Hugo, to the Secretary of Foreign
Affairs, Lisbon, 14 November 1962, with enclosed notes on meeting with Col.
Baptista, ‘Hoof van die Emigrasie Junta’.
[52] Interviews: Carlos Farinha, Farinha family, De Melim, De Andrade, Castro,
Gonçalves, Fiandeiro.
[53] Interviews, Farinha family, Castro.
[54] Star, 26 July 1961, ‘Portuguese will flock here, says official’; interviews: Galego,
Pestana, Farinha family.
[55] See Sunday Times, 29 June and 6 July 1969.
[56] For an overview and chronology of the Estado Novo’s emigration policy, see
Baganha, ‘From Closed to Open Doors’.
[57] CAD BLB 3 1/5, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Memorandum, November 1961:
Translation of Portuguese Decree-Law 44 of 8 November 1961 that allows for free
movement of Portuguese within its national territory, including colonies.
[58] CAD BLB 3 1/5: Letter from the Ambassador, A. H. H. Mertsch, and the
Immigration Attache, W.S Hugo, to the Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Lisbon,
14 November 1962, with enclosed notes on meeting with Col. Baptista, ‘Hoof van
die Emigrasie Junta’.
[59] Conscription as an incentive to migrate has a long history in Portugal. See
Brettell, Anthropology and Migration, 12 – 13.
[60] Interview, Castro.
[61] Interview, ‘Marazinha’ Gonçalves.
[62] Brettell, Anthroplogy and Migration, 107, makes the interesting observation that
patrons and ethnic brokers often deliberately exaggerated the vulnerability of
their clients in order to strengthen their own position.
[63] Interviews: Galego, Castro, Fiandeiro.
[64] Dagbreek en Sondagnuus, 2 September 1962.
[65] Interviews: Galego, Fiandeiro, Farinha.
[66] See Glaser, ‘Portuguese Immigrant History’ for an attempt to draw parallels
between the experience of Portuguese immigrants in South Africa and
Immigrants & Minorities 97

nineteenth-century Irish immigrants in the USA. The American ‘whiteness’

literature suggests interesting ways of thinking about race and immigration. See,
for example, Ignatiev, How the Irish Became White; Roediger, ‘Whiteness and
Ethnicity’; Spickard, Almost All Aliens.
[67] Caroline Brettell’s work on Portuguese migration to France is exemplary in this
respect. She has researched both ends of the migrant chain, an undertaking that
demands enormous effort and skill. It may eventually be possible to do something
similar with the Madeira-South Africa migrant chain, but it is beyond the scope
of this paper. See Brettell, Anthropology and Migration.

Primary Sources
Central Archive Depot, Pretoria (CAD)
South African Police (SAP). Volume 338, File 18/36/40
Commissioner for Immigration and Asiatic Affairs (CIAA). Volume 65, File M 716
Department of Foreign Affairs (BLB). Volume 3, File 11/5

Interviews with the author:

Castro, Victor (Johannesburg, 3 December 2009).
De Andrade, Maria Goretti (Johannesburg, 17 March 2010).
De Melim, Maria Ferreira (Johannesburg, 17 March 2010).
De Nobrega, Father (Johannesburg, 9 December 2009).
Farinha, Carlos (East Rand, 10 December 2009).
Farinha family (East Rand, 10 December 2009).
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