Panel 29

Migration and the dynamics and sustainance of transnational family ties in the southern African region

Panel organiser: Innocent Moyo, Department of Geography and Environmental Studies, University of Zululand, South Africa.


In the Southern African region, South Africa, Botswana and Namibia are the destinations of choice for many migrants from within the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region and beyond. Although the SADC region is currently pursuing the regional integration project, there is the corresponding tendency for countries to pursue territorialised nationalism, which militates against the ideal of regional integration on the aspect of human mobility. This is manifest in among others the stringent immigration restrictions. These restrictive immigration regimes have not stopped people from migrating especially to the more economically developed countries in the region such as Botswana and South Africa. The result of this, is undocumented migration, such that people work in either Botswana or South Africa without immigration documents, but their families and children are in their country of origin such as Zimbabwe or they give birth in host countries and send young or newly born (as young as six months old)  children (unaccompanied) to their country of origin. Against this background, and given that transnational households are an emerging component of the international migration spectrum with unique attendant processes, this panel interrogates among others, the phenomenon of unaccompanied child migration as a feature of the sustenance of family ties across nation states in the Southern African region. This work attempts to demonstrate that, although migration inevitably results in physical dislocation of households of varied sorts, households are adaptive to the new dispensation and devise coping mechanisms to maintain family ties. Therefore, this panel invites papers that will respond to, but are not limited to the following: What is nature and trajectories of circulation migration in the SADC? What are the gender dimensions of (im)mobility in the region? What are the characteristics and dynamics of undocumented child migration? Who are the actors involved in the undocumented migration of children? What are the consequences of these features of circulation migration? What are the research and policy implications of the undocumented cross border migration of unaccompanied children?

Approved abstracts panel 29

1. On the nature, dynamic and consequences of child migration in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region

Author: Innocent Moyo, Department of Geography and Environmental Studies, University of Zululand, South Africa.

This paper discusses the nature, dynamic and consequences of unaccompanied child migration in the SADC region. Based on a qualitative study, this study shows that unaccompanied child migrants undergo very traumatic experiences. For instance as they cross the Limpopo River from Zimbabwe to South Africa, some die from hunger and exhaustion, while others are either eaten by crocodiles or lost. Inside the human smuggling vehicles, some of the children are forced to hide under seats, among other degrading experiences. The question of why this is prevalent in the SADC region comes to the fore and is debated in this paper together with policy implications especially in a region where the goal is regional integration as enshrined in the SADC Declaration and Treaty of 1992.

Key words: Child migration, undocumented migration, SADC, South Africa, Zimbabwe

2. Ghost passports: the role of travel documents in undocumented movement across South Africa’s border with Zimbabwe

Author: Xolani Tshabalala, Institute for Research on Migration, Ethnicity and Society (REMESO), Linköpings universitet, Norrköping, Sweden.

Fake travel documents are often created, carried and furnished to otherwise validate undocumented cross-border movement the world over. In the case of migrants coming into South Africa from Zimbabwe and elsewhere, documents, fake or not, have played, from the onset of industrialisation in the region, an important role in placating an official migration regime that insists on documented travel without enforcing such documentation in the migrant labour market. By use of archival as well as ethnographic material, this paper explores the role of documents in the paradox of a stringent migration enforcement system that exists side-by-side with a labour market that seeks, employs and exploits migrant labour informally. If it could be argued that informality is a property of formality (Zoran, 2018), then this paper argues that the formal nature of documents can be used in formal and informal ways to preside over the reproduction and exploitation of precarious migrant labour in the Southern African case. The paper argues that while in the colonial times the use of fake documents in cross border movement was mostly geared towards covering up clandestine movement, in the present, real documents that move across the border without their owners seek to placate stringent migration, residence and migrant labour laws. In all cases, the separation of documents from their owners suggests that the demands of formality in cross-border movement and work are undone by the formal economy’s predilection to rely on cheap labour. The continued percolation of undocumented movement through the formal regional migrant labour system exposes this double standard. 

Key Words: Undocumented movement, migrant labour, informality, precarity, travel documents, South Africa, Zimbabwe

3. Internal mobility: the labour gradient between Western and Northern regions of Zimbabwe

Author: German Mafindo Moyo, Department of Migration Studies and Epidemiological Studies, Lupane State University, Zimbabwe.

Households are composed of members who variously contribute towards their sustenance. Some of the contributions are based on gender and age among other varied members’ demographic and social characteristics. Emigration withdraws members from the household and their contributions compromising the sustenance of the household. In essence, migration invariably generates a vacuum within households, a vacuum that has somehow to be filled in order to maintain the household. Based on mobility between rural south-western and northern Zimbabwe, this paper examines coping mechanisms that households experiencing emigration by some of their members adopt to fulfil household roles. The work demonstrates that the south-western part of Zimbabwe experiences labour migration to neighbouring Botswana and South Africa and the region experiences a compensatory flow of migrants from the northern parts of the country. This compensatory flow consists of immigrants who fill the vacuum in households result in the development of unique household structures that consist of members from different social and cultural backgrounds. The study adopted a qualitative approach that involved interviewing key informants from selected households. The thematic approach was used to analyse data collected from the field. Key findings include the fact most households have workers who originate from the norther parts of the country and a high proportion of households  are entirely composed of ‘worker-families’ where the owner of the homestead and their family have emigrated and the home is looked after by a family that emigrated from the northern parts of the country. The worker-family typically consists of husband, wife and children although in some cases it is the single mother and her children. The worker family carries out all the traditional household duties and is remunerated for that.

Key words: Household, worker-family, labour gradient, labour migration, compensatory flow, household sustenance

4. Child Migrants from Mozambique to South Africa: Dynamics and Experiences

Author: Mandisa Makhathini, Department of Geography and Environmental Studies, University of Zululand, South Africa.

The movement by children to live without parents or adult guardians is a major issue in developing countries (Yaqub, 2009). The study aims to look into the experiences of children migrating to South Africa and will focus on the cases of unaccompanied child migrants from Mozambique. The objectives of the study are as follows: a) to investigate demographics of these child migrants; b) to investigate how child migrants get to South Africa; c) to assess the motives of migrating to South Africa; d) to explore the experiences faced by child migrants. The research will adopt an inductive approach which will include the use of qualitative methods. Using qualitative techniques, data will be collected using in-depth interviews and documentation. The study will use a purposive sampling and a snowball sampling approach as part of choosing the study sample.

Key words: Child Migration, Unaccompanied Child Migrants, Cross-Border Migration

5. Leaving no stone unturned and no turn ‘unstoned’: Women changing the Face and Tone of Migration in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Region

Author: Edmore Mutsaa, University of KwaZulu Natal, Discipline of Planning, Durban, South Africa.

It is commonplace, in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region, to find women migrating with their husbands or under the surveillance and protection of men. As far as gender differences in individual migration are concerned, it is probably true to say that independent movement is more likely among men than women in the region, particularly where there is strong traditional pressure for women to remain at home or under the protection of men. It is also important to note that while women might migrate as individuals, decisions on their movement may be strongly defined by other members of the family unit or kin group. However, against this background, emerging evidence suggests a significant increase of independent female migrants in SADC region over the past two decades, and little is known about this development and the impact of women involvement in migration, nor about the changing patterns of male and female migration over the past decades. Given dichotomy of women’s centrality in keeping most African households when men migrate and the current increased migration of women, it is apparent that there is more in the balance than what meet a human eye. Crass assumptions and misconceptions about migration of women abound. Many of those in decision making or policy making positions have limited or no direct experience of ever having worked at the coalface. Few have had the opportunity of interacting directly with migrant women or of battling to match essentially mechanistic and inflexible policies with actual issues and needs on the ground. There is thus generally limited understanding of the actual dynamics within this emerging segment of migration, the complex social and survival networks that characterise them, and of their significant socio-economic challenges in effecting pragmatic and progressive developmental policies that deal with or include the very ignored migrant women. Using data collected from interview with migrant women and the existing body of documented information, this paper seeks to scrutinise migration through gendered lens in pursuit of a deeper understanding of female migrants’ situation and the complex dynamic at work. This is a field that has been relatively silent yet salient in the migration research field for so long, particularly in SADC region. 

Key Words: Female migrants, Southern African Development Community, Migration, Socio-economic Challenges

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