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The lived experiences of Zimbabwean migrants raising children under conditions of irregularity in South Africa.

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This study explored the lived experiences of Zimbabwean migrants parenting under conditions of irregularity in South Africa and the role of social work in the lives of irregular migrant parents. The concerns that prompted this research were a gap in South African literature on social work with migrants and general gap in literature on the parenting experiences of irregular migrants worldwide. This was considered to be a problem because of social work's concern with the well-being of children, and because of its responsibility towards migrants. Thus, the study aimed to contribute to filling the knowledge gaps that currently exist in the field. The theoretical framework of the study was constructed using a number of concepts from anti-oppressive social work theory and practice, including misframing, social group identity, oppression and internalised oppression. Purposive sampling was used to select participants for this study, and snowball sampling to access them. Ten Zimbabwean citizens agreed to participate. All ten had lived in South Africa as irregular migrants for a period of between one and six years, having raised children with ages ranging from birth to sixteen years. Six participants from the sample were Ndebele speakers and four Shona speakers; three male and seven female; three were employed as domestic workers, four general hands; one a waitress and one unemployed. Data was collected using semi-structured individual interviews for six individual participants and semi-structured couple interviews for the two couples and thereafter analsyed using thematic content analysis. The study observed the University of KwaZulu Natal ethical requirements. Trustworthiness for the study was ensured through credibility; transferability; dependability and confirmability. The study revealed that irregular Zimbabwean migrant parents had been pushed to migrate from their country because of the negative economic, social and political conditions in Zimbabwe. They migrated and opted to live under conditions of irregularity with their children in the hope that the children would have a better life in South Africa. Contrary to their expectations, they faced multiple challenges in parenting. Participants lived an ‘invisible life’ hiding from detection. When it came to parental responsibilities and tasks, they tended to prioritise basic needs, education and medical care. In spite of being entitled in law, their children were generally excluded from accessing schools and sometimes from hospitals. Parents found a range of solutions to these challenges but also experienced high levels of stress and showed signs of trauma. Participants experienced some successes that they were proud of, which were mainly when they were able to integrate into South African society. Still, the participants’ lived experiences were mainly characterised by broken dreams and disappointments. Participants faced all these challenges without any help from social workers. This is even though social work with migrants is an established field of services and in spite of social work’s commitment to human rights and social justice, and the well-being of all children. Based on these findings, a number of recommendations are made towards social work at the macro, meso and micro levels of practice, social work education and further research. These recommendations focus on increasing the inclusion of irregular migrant children, countering any abuses of human rights in the field of migration, enhancing social work’s visibility in migrant communities, strengthening the profession’s commitment to human rights, social justice and anti-oppression, and further increasing social work knowledge in this field.


Masters Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.