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The Migration of Zimbabweans to South Africa and their Working and Living Conditions, 2000-2010 Open Access


Other title
The Migration of Zimbabweans to South Africa
South Africa
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Zhira, Maxwell
Supervisor and department
Thompson, Guy S D (History & Classics)
Smith, Malinda S (Political Science)
Examining committee member and department
Johnson, David C (History & Classics)
Campbell, Horace (African American Studies and Political Science, Syracuse University)
Okeke-Ihejirika, Philomina (Women & Gender Studies)
Department of History and Classics
Department of Political Science
Date accepted
Graduation date
2016-06:Fall 2016
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
In this dissertation, I focus on the migration of Zimbabweans to South Africa and on their living conditions after they settled there. I cover the years from 2000 to 2010. This migration is important to study for several reasons. The departure of Zimbabweans during those years was extraordinary. More than one million people left Zimbabwe for South Africa, although the number is likely to have been higher, because of undocumented migration. Another reason for studying the migration of Zimbabweans to South Africa is to have a better understanding of the causes of their departure. I use the testimonies of migrants to argue that people left due to the deep economic, political, and social turmoil that gripped Zimbabwe in the 2000s. I use interviews to compliment and extend the arguments in the academic literature and in public discourses, both in Zimbabwe and in South Africa. I also explore the working and living conditions of Zimbabweans after their arrival in South Africa, arguing that Zimbabweans grappled with numerous challenges of living as foreigners. Despite facing challenges, they tried to adapt to life in South Africa through endurance, hard work, and perseverance. I also highlight what they perceived as key improvements in their lives. My emphasis on the contradictions of adjustment extends the arguments in current studies on migration and displacement in southern Africa. The literature has shown the economic and social marginalization of migrants, and their grim living conditions. In particular, it has decried the exclusionary treatment of foreigners by the government of South Africa and by ordinary South Africans. I go beyond these arguments and argue for the need to document key positive changes in the lives of migrants, beyond the challenges they encountered. These positive changes included people’s attempts to master new physical and social spaces and their contribution to the South African economy as workers and consumers. Other important positive changes I capture include the redrawing of gender roles and values between men and women, which stemmed from the cross-border migration of more Zimbabwean women than in previous years, and from their employment in both the formal and informal sectors of the South African economy. As more women became family breadwinners, important changes in their everyday relationships with men arose. While migrant men from Zimbabwe welcomed the participation of women in the economy as a survival strategy, they disapproved of women’s power and social behavioral changes. By focusing on the experiences and perspectives of both men and women, I reveal how they grappled with and understood the changes.
This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for the purpose of private, scholarly or scientific research. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
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