Contribution of NSI’s Alan Hirsch to Commission of Inquiry on Usindiso Building Fire


On March 19, 2024, Alan Hirsch, a researcher at the New South Institute (NSI), provided testimony to the Commission of Inquiry investigating the Usindiso Building fire in Johannesburg. This event, occurring on August 31, 2023, led to 77 fatalities and highlighted the plight of inhabitants in numerous unlawfully occupied buildings within Johannesburg’s CBD. The commission, under the chairmanship of retired judge Sisi Khampepe, seeks to examine witness and survivor testimonies to understand the incident’s causes and implications, particularly concerning migration and urban housing policies.

Alan Hirsch’s involvement in the commission is rooted in his extensive research on migration issues within South Africa, spearheaded through NSI’s Migration Governance Reform in Africa Program (MIGRA). His latest publication under this program, the “South Africa Country Study: Migration Trends, Policy, Implementation, and Outcomes,” provides an in-depth analysis of the country’s migration patterns, policies, and their effects. This work, among others, positions Hirsch as an authoritative figure in the discussion on migration governance.

During his testimony, Hirsch addressed several critical issues affecting migration and policy in South Africa:

  • African Union Protocol vs. Bilateral Agreements: Hirsch advocated for the pragmatic improvement of bilateral agreements between South Africa and its neighbors, offering a more effective approach to migration governance than broader continental protocols.
  • Migration Governance and Policy Reform: He emphasized the importance of understanding and improving migration policy through rigorous comparative analysis, highlighting the series of working papers produced under the MIGRA program.
  • Anti-Immigrant Sentiment: The discussion touched on the detrimental impact of anti-immigrant sentiment on policy implementation, using the Zimbabwe Exemption Permit and historical amnesty for Mozambicans as examples of potential policy approaches hindered by prevailing attitudes.
  • Economic Conditions: Hirsch pointed to economic stagnation and high unemployment as the primary drivers behind the hazardous living conditions for migrants and South African citizens alike, rather than the presence of migrants per se.
  • Department of Home Affairs: Criticism was directed at the Department of Home Affairs for issues of inefficiency, corruption, and mismanagement, undermining the migration management system.
  • Policy Recommendations: Hirsch provided recommendations for modernizing labor agreements, improving migration management, and integrating refugees into communities, advocating for a comprehensive approach involving government and civil society.

The New South Institute urges stakeholders and the public to view the video of Alan Hirsch’s testimony to gain insight into the complex dynamics of migration and urban policy challenges in South Africa. His contributions are pivotal in shaping a nuanced understanding of the interconnections between migration, economic conditions, and urban safety, thereby informing policy directions aimed at addressing these multifaceted issues.

Alan Hirsch’s work, particularly the “South Africa Country Study,” is available for download. This publication, along with his testimony, underscores the critical need for informed, evidence-based policy-making in migration governance to mitigate risks and enhance the well-being of both migrant and resident populations in South Africa’s urban centers.

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