Exploring the migration experiences of Muslim Yao women in KwaZulu-Natal, 1994-2015.
Mbalaka, Joseph Yusufu.
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There is very little to no research accessible on Muslim Yao women in South Africa; the available literature focuses primarily on Muslim Yao male migrants. This study critically examines the lived migration experiences of Malawian women in South Africa. This research is contextualized within the larger narrative of migration to South Africa in the post-apartheid period and experiences of many migrant communities in recent years. It will interrogate and explore the migration experiences of Muslim Yao women in KwaZulu-Natal between 1994 and 2015. The Yao form the largest proportion of the Muslims of Malawi and have a long tradition of emigrating from their original homeland to other regions, including South Africa. This study aims to historicise their experiences through a life history and narrative approach of the women who have migrated to Durban. These are Muslim Yao women who are engaged in the civic life of their communities and in public participation in various ways. Key themes examined in this dissertation include the reasons for their migration to South Africa, the challenges and constraints they face as immigrants, and how Yao Muslim women are negotiating their identity in multiple contexts – with fellow Malawians, other, predominantly Indian, Muslims, and black South Africans with whom they are in contact in various settings on a daily basis. The complex and complicated triangular relationship between Malawian women, local indigenous peoples (officially designated as “Black African” in the census), and Indians is explored in this study. Currently there is little work of the kind envisaged here, as most existing works on post-apartheid Muslim Yao migrants deal primarily with men. These studies focus on limited aspects of the lives of Muslim Yao women in South Africa. This study will contribute to our understanding of Malawian women migrants in South Africa. The working hypothesis of this study is that in the process of creating a new life in South Africa, Malawian women are contributing to the economy of Malawi through remittances in significant ways, engaging in the civic life of their communities in very public ways and changing perceptions of Islam as being predominantly an “Indian” religion in KwaZulu-Natal. In addition, this study will add to current debates on migration by focusing on issues of gender, identity, and agency in Africa.