The impact of illness and death on migration back to the Eastern Cape.

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Centre for Social Science Research

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University of Cape Town

This paper examines the impact of HIV/AIDS related morbidity and mortality on return migration to the rural Eastern Cape. The paper begins by discussing the interrelation between population mobility and HIV and grounds these dynamics within the structural context of underdevelopment in a former homeland region of South Africa. The changing migratory regimes of the post-apartheid era, which have seen formal male labour migration supplanted by increasingly informal and feminized migratory trajectories, between both rural-urban and intra-rural locales, are described. Five case studies are presented, and the multiplicity of factors associated with rural return migration in the face of HIV/AIDS related illness delineated. The empirical material suggests illness-induced back migration is driven not only by the search for health and succour, but also by complex amalgams of shifting entitlement and obligation. Understanding the dynamics of rural return requires attention not only to the highly variegated position that urban returnees potentially assume within receiving households, but also the effects of their return on these households. Even within the relatively limited number of case studies presented, rural returnees are variously subjects or dispensers of care, either relatively peripheral or crucially central members of receiving households. The evidence simply belies any notion of unidirectional rural return, driven by a universal set of imperatives in response to illness.