Reconciling Traditional Family Life and Individual Autonomy: The Case of Zimbabwean Male Migrants in South Africa

Friday, 20 July 2018: 08:45
Oral Presentation
Ria SMIT, University of Johannesburg, South Africa, Lone Star College, USA
During the past two decades economic and political turmoil in Zimbabwe has led to a rise in the influx of Zimbabwean migrants to neighbouring South Africa. In this paper an attempt is made at shedding some light on transnational family life as seen through the eyes of Zimbabwean men involved in long-term skilled labor migration. The discussion is based on qualitative data collected among Zimbabwean men in their 30s and 40s who live as migrants in the inner-city area of Johannesburg, South Africa. The focus fell on how the research participants sustain generational ties and family life across transnational spaces and what impact their transnational migrant experiences have on their relationship with their wives/partners and children. Moreover, particular attention is paid to the way the participants structure their everyday lives in terms of ‘here’ (the country of destination, i.e., South Africa) and ‘back home’ (the country of origin, i.e., Zimbabwe). This ‘bifocality’ contributes not only to a sense of being anchored in two different geographical spaces but also embracing two different world views. On the one hand the male migrants emphasise maintaining a sense of self within the ambit of the family – particularly in an African context where families are traditionally embedded in the broader kinship network and where familial belonging and cohesion are essential. Here, repeated mention was made of the importance of traditional family values, meeting multiple family commitments and the significance of remittances. On the other hand transnational migration has created an environment - markedly in the host society - where these male migrants exercise autonomy. The participants’ narratives provide a window into their lived realities as migrants with family ties across borders and paint a picture of the way in which they reconcile elements of the collectivist-individualist binary.