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Ties that bind : a network analysis of relationships between Nigerian migrants and South Africans in Umhlathuze.

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Xenophobia targeted at African immigrants is a recurring problem that has made post-apartheid South Africa notorious around the world. The dramatic and violent nature of this xenophobia which peaked in May 2008 and April 2015 tends to encourage a focus on xenophobia rather than on other aspects of the relationship between African migrants and South Africans which include a broad array of interactions, such as assimilation, cosmopolitanism, hybridity and conviviality. In light of the above, this study aimed to examine and explain the nature of interactions between Nigerian migrants and South Africans in Umhlathuze Municipality by analysing the social network ties that connect them. The key research questions posed included, how do Nigerian migrants living in Umhlathuze characterise their interactions and relationships with South Africans? What relationships do the migrants in the sample identify as their most important relationship with a South African, if any? How did these ‘important’ relationships come about and evolve over time? What does each person in an important relationship between a migrant and a South African gain from the relationship? What kinds of support are offered within these relationships? In what ways do these relationships enable the integration of Nigerian migrants in Umhlathuze? What do migrants who have an important relationship with a South African and the South Africans themselves think about the impact of their particular ethnic identities on their association with one another? And finally, how are these relationships affected by class and gender? To answer these questions, the study adopted a qualitative approach which was appropriate as it accommodates an interpretivist interest in the subjective understandings of ordinary people. This approach also informed the selection of the secondary and primary methods used for data collection and analysis. The primary data was collected through qualitative (semi-structured) interviews with 68 respondents (36 Nigerian migrants and 32 South Africans) selected using stratified random sampling. The Nigerian respondents were randomly drawn from a list provided by the Association of Nigerian Residents in Umhlathuze (ANRU) through a lottery process after they were segmented equally for gender and class using Ndletyana’s (2014) class stratification. These sub-groups were males, females, middle class and working class. The 36 Nigerian respondents (also referred to as egos) were then interviewed and asked to identify one South African each (also referred to as alters) from their networks of friends. Overall, 32 South Africans were identified and interviewed, making a total of 68 respondents as four of the Nigerian immigrants did not have a South African tie. Using social network theory as an analytical framework, the study investigated the everyday realities of migrants in ordinary places who interact with a variety of people through their livelihood activities, marriages and social relationships, in their residential areas, in faith-based organizations and other elements of everyday life. It examined the networks, friendships and communities of practice which draw people into collaborations with one another across the South African-foreigner divide. The main conclusion arising from the findings is that while evidence of hostility abounds in the relations between South Africans and African immigrants, xenophobia is only one dimension, and other dimensions of these relationships include tolerance, acceptance and friendship that are mutually beneficial. The study revealed that the relationships between African migrants and South Africans residing in Umhlathuze range from one extreme of hostility and prejudice to the other of hospitality and conviviality. Between these two extremes lie other modes of interactions which include self-exclusion, exclusion, cultural exchanges and entanglements, cosmopolitanism, and hospitality/conviviality on both sides. In terms of most important relationship with a South African, the majority of the Nigerian respondents had such ties. These include ties with spouses/partners, friends, work colleagues, and clergy, most of which were symmetrical, meaning that they were characterized by reciprocity and mutual recognition of the importance of the relationship. However, the study argues that irrespective of whether or not relationships were symmetrical, migrants gained support which enabled their integration in Umhlathuze. For example, the Nigerian migrants gained tangible and intangible support which was both two-directional and one-directional. In terms of the role of national and cultural identities, some respondents acknowledged that they had social prejudices. These included prejudices held by South Africans against Nigerians, and vice versa. Many said that their prejudices had softened as a result of getting to know people against whom they were once prejudiced. Others said that their relationships were, in many ways, enhanced rather than hindered by cultural diversity. Various kinds of cosmopolitan appreciation of cultural differences helped to foster the integration of migrants and the formation of positive relationships. The study also found that these relationships are influenced in varying degrees by class and gender. Although all the migrants experienced hostility and non-hostility, middle class participants reported less hostility and more interaction with South Africans than the working class group. With respect to gender, the findings show that female migrants experienced less hostility in their various spaces of interaction compared to males. These findings have important implications for broader relationships between migrants and host communities in South Africa. The South African context presents a unique challenge in that apartheid tended to disconnect black South Africans from the rest of Africa and thus created a people who have no sense of historical connectedness with the rest of the continent. However, as a result of sustained interactions brought about by post-apartheid African migration to South Africa, different groups are interacting in various ways which can be used to foster the integration of African immigrants. These interactions go beyond ethnic/national differences as can be seen in cases of black South Africans that choose to protect African immigrants from xenophobic attacks and march against xenophobia. They are a function of network ties developed through sustained interaction with one another and a set of processes which are the core interest of this dissertation.


Doctor of Philosophy in Development Studies.


Immigrants -- South Africa -- KwaZulu-Natal., Social networks -- South Africa -- KwaZulu-Natal., Love-hate relationships -- South Africa -- KwaZulu-Natal., Multiculturalism -- South Africa -- KwaZulu-Natal., Theses -- Development studies.