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Refugee learner experiences : a case study of Zimbabwean refugee children.

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This thesis is a presentation of Zimbabwean refugee learner experiences. Children escaped political persecution and economic problems which affected Zimbabwe in the year 2008. Children were abused and they witnessed traumatic experiences in which their close relatives and neighbours were executed in cold blood. The study was guided by three critical questions: i) who are the Zimbabwean refugee learners? ii) what were Zimbabwean refugee learners’ migration experiences? and iii) what were Zimbabwean refugee learners’ school experiences? The study employed Bronfenbrenner’s Social Ecological Model as its overarching theoretical framework. The paradigmatic position of the study was interpretivism. A qualitative approach was used and the study was in form of a single case study of a refugee school in Johannesburg, South Africa. Twenty seven participants were selected using purposive sampling, quota sampling and snowball sampling. The participants were 16 learners, five parents, four teachers, one principal and one counsellor. Data collecting tools used were semi-structured interviews with all participants, focus group discussions with learners only, autobiographical method, and documentary reviews (school records and profiles). Data was analysed using content analysis. Goodson and Sikes’ timeline history was used as an analytical framework for learners’ identities. Learners’ experiences were presented according to the three stages of refugee experiences (pre-migration, transmigration and post-migration). Each stage of the refugee experience was described at each point in time in terms of Bronfenbrenner’s Social Ecological Model. The study found that refugee children from Zimbabwe were aged between 16 and 18 years. The majority of children lost their parents during Zimbabwe’s political violence while others died of natural causes. Most of the children came from poor socio-economic backgrounds and they were raised by aunts and uncles prior to coming to South Africa. Children had traumatic experiences during their pre-, trans- and post-migrations. They had unique and challenging school experiences which they overcome against all odds. The study concludes that refugee children’s experiences lead to the development of fluid and emergent identities. A resilient framework of refugee learners was developed. Resilience among refugee children is informed by school experiences, emotional trauma, behavioural change and development, and physicality.


Ph. D. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban 2013.


Refugees--Zimbabwe., Immigrants--Education--Zimbabwe., Multicultural education--Zimbabwe., Theses--Education.