Seeking solidarity : categorisation and the politics of alienism in the migration of Zimbabweans to South Africa

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

This ethnographic study is concerned with the process of movement of Zimbabwean nationals to Cape Town, South Africa, that results in their categorisation by the South African state as "illegal immigrants." Based on fieldwork carried out in Harare and Cape Town in 2006 and 2007, it explores the effects of state-based categorisation of people within Zimbabwe on migration. The study argues that migrants had often been multiply displaced in Zimbabwe as a result of the political situation before crossing the border to South Africa. It explores the factors, both political and economic, that affected migrants’ decisions to move over great distances, and to move multiple times. Drawing on informants’ experiences both in Zimbabwe and South Africa, the study is further concerned with informants’ expectations of South Africa and the differing realities they encountered upon arrival. It considers informants’ experiences of crossing the border, exploring the anthropology of the borderlands to investigate the political economy of movement from Zimbabwe to South Africa. The study further argues that Zimbabwean migrants to South Africa draw upon localised discourses of human rights, based upon ideas of morality, in their expectations of welcome by the South African state. These expectations are found to be erroneous in that undocumented migrants’ notions of violation differ to those employed by the South African state. Whilst migrants assert that conditions of structural violence in Zimbabwe are serious enough to warrant asylum, the South African state considers these reasons to be less valid than those of physical political violence. Within the South African discourses around the Zimbabwean crisis, there are thus forms of suffering that are considered more valid than others.

Includes bibliographical references (leaves 125-137).