Responding to political developments in Europe during the 1990s, the Copenhagen School drew on speech act theory to argue that state leaders represent certain issues, including immigration, as existential threats to society. Two decades of friendly amendments and vociferous critiques have raised questions about how well the Copenhagen School's core concept of 'societal security' travels outside Europe. To assess the scope of this 'securitization' framework more systematically, we examine South Africa, a democracy that recently liberalized its immigration policies despite ethno-nationalist and racist traditions. Specifically, we test four claims: (1) that official discourses will target certain foreigners as an existential threat to collective identity; (2) that bureaucracies will consistently institutionalize these discourses; (3) that identity-oriented groups will be crucial to any societal contestation over these discourses; and (4) that successful securitization produces regionalization. These securitization claims hold up well, even though the nature of threats to societal security shift over time. Keeping in mind that no theory is without weaknesses, we recommend wider integration of the societal security concept into comparative studies of immigration policy, especially in democracies outside Europe.