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Beyond homeland crisis: identity negotiation of Black Zimbabwean women migrants in the South African metropolis of Johannesburg.

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The thesis interrogates the identity creations/recreation and negotiations/renegotiations of Zimbabwean women migrants living in the metropolis of Johannesburg. The study combines the self-descriptions of women migrants with media narratives about Zimbabwean women migrants to unearth an area of research that has received little attention from the scholarly community. The research employs ethnographic, in-depth interviews with Zimbabwean women immigrants living in Johannesburg to gather narrative data about their lived experiences. Together with a qualitative content analysis of articles published in Johannesburg-based news websites on Zimbabwean women migrants, details of the immigrants’ experiences are extracted to determine the types of identities they construct. The media narratives provide the basis for identifying emerging themes using the Grounded Theory Method (GTM), and a theoretical framework for understanding how the migrant women’s experiences are constructed through the othering process. The underlying ideologies in the media narratives on Zimbabwean women migrants are further explored using a combination of Gee’s framework and a Foucauldian discourse analysis (FDA). The second stream of data, the migrant women’s narratives, shed light on the growing phenomenon of the feminisation of migration. The interviewees described a transnational place of space, located in a realm somewhere in between, where their identities are negotiated. While home, as perceived by the women migrants interviewed in this study, remains their country of origin, belonging becomes a concept that requires redefinition. Using the metaphor of transnationalism and transmigration, their identities remain tied to what they become when they enter South Africa. To the people back home, the women migrants attain a saviour identity through remittances. Notwithstanding the challenges the metropolis poses to non-nationals, the women migrants interviewed in this study professed resilience, even self-sacrifice, for the sake of their children, parents, relatives and siblings. The analysis of the women’s narratives also reveals their agency in the migration matrix that goes beyond economic gains. While monetary gains remain an important factor in the feminisation of migration, the women’s narratives revealed other benefits that are in line with their caregiving and nurturing inclinations. Bringing together the findings from the two data streams through a triangulation, points of divergence and convergence between the women’s self-description and the media narratives are apparent. In terms of identities, the media has constructed demeaning discourses upon which the Zimbabwean women migrants’ collective identities can be deduced. The discourses of xenophobia, identity crisis, victimhood and vulnerability provide a fertile ground for the cultivation, culturing and subsequent harvest of identities such as prostitutes, criminals and vagabonds that the media presents to the public domain. In contrast, however, the women’s self-descriptions bring to the fore valorised identities of great benefactors, opportunists and agents who are the architects to their own personal growth and development in their land of exile.


Doctor of Philosophy in Media and Cultural Studies. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg 2017.