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Registration and RecognitionDocumenting the Person in World History$
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Keith Breckenridge and Simon Szreter

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780197265314

Published to British Academy Scholarship Online: January 2014

DOI: 10.5871/bacad/9780197265314.001.0001

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The Identity Thieves of the Indian Ocean: Forgery, Fraud and the Origins of South African Immigration Control, 1890s–1920s

The Identity Thieves of the Indian Ocean: Forgery, Fraud and the Origins of South African Immigration Control, 1890s–1920s

Chapter:
(p.253) 9 The Identity Thieves of the Indian Ocean: Forgery, Fraud and the Origins of South African Immigration Control, 1890s–1920s
Source:
Registration and Recognition
Author(s):

Andrew MacDonald

Publisher:
British Academy
DOI:10.5871/bacad/9780197265314.003.0010

This chapter is about the fate of a registration system designed for the exclusion of ‘undesirable’ Indian migrants to South Africa in the first decades of the twentieth century. It traces the bureaucracy's deployment of residence permits, but shows how these were transacted along the networks established by long-established Indian Ocean merchant houses. This illicit economy provoked important reforms in record-keeping. Yet South Africa's immigration offices remained in disarray for another 15–20 years. The gaps were filled by shrewd criminal touting syndicates within the bureaucracy. More stringent record-keeping was finally in place by the mid-1920s due to help from migrant associations, although this hardly meant that insider subversion had been completely smothered. The chapter argues that South African border controls were not successfully coercive, and suggests that performative histories are important in the study of repressive registration regimes.

Keywords:   Indian Ocean, South Africa, Indian immigrants, permits, criminal networks, bureaucracy, subversion, touts

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