Gender, Mobility and Precarity: The Experiences of Migrant Women in Cape Town, South Africa
Southern Africa is a region of extreme economic inequality within and between countries, as well as uneven national political contexts. In these conditions, various forms of cross-border mobility are an important part of individual and household livelihoods. Intra-regional labour mobility was dominated historically by formal male migrant labour, especially in the South African mining sector. South Africa remains the primary destination, but political and economic changes over the past 20–25 years have resulted in increasing diversification of intra-regional migrant flows by geography, temporality and demographics – including gender. The occupations and livelihoods of migrants have also diversified, and today span a wide range of formality, sector and security. Female migrants are typically engaged in feminised labour, such as domestic and care work, but are also active in informal cross-border trade and in various service sector occupations. Their position in the labour market places them in ambiguous and contested relations with South African nationals, who themselves experience high levels of unemployment and precarious work. Thus, in addition to vulnerability on the basis of gender and occupation, migrants are also exposed to xenophobia, with foreigners viewed as ‘stealing jobs’ from South African nationals. This chapter draws on ethnographic research conducted in the city of Cape Town to provide insight into the lives of migrant African women in South Africa. It demonstrates their resourcefulness and resilience in securing livelihoods, however tenuous, in the face of discrimination and exploitation.