Zimbabwean migrant domestic worker activism in South Africa
There is a longstanding ‘mobilisation structure’ for domestic workers which begins from the view that African women in South Africa are oppressed in three ways: oppressed as blacks, oppressed as women, and oppressed as workers. However, women do not constitute a homogenous category politically or otherwise and do not necessarily share or perceive ‘objective’ gender interests as they are both united and divided by ethnicity and nationality. Yet, the social relations of domestic work employment in South Africa’s post-colonial context are deeply implicated with class, gender and racial structures so much that nationality is rarely invoked in the equation by the state or reflected in the work of South Africa’s CSOs. In this paper, I seek to understand how CSOs facilitate the stay and protection of Zimbabwean migrant domestic workers (MDWs) through their activism. The paper uses a case study of activism in Johannesburg, South Africa mediated by CSOs as well as a municipal unit. It draws on two forms of research. The first is a thematic literature review and an ‘intersectional review’ of multi-level migration policies and discourses. The second is 16 in-depth qualitative interviews with a wide range of activists, state and non-state actors to understand their experiences in providing assistance to Zimbabwean MDWs in Johannesburg. I argue that activism for MDWs is mediated by specific local labour movement politics that create tensions in which, on the one hand, CSOs advocate for the regulation of the labour market, while on the other, they have to serve the interests of a body of workers that has no legal rights to work in this labour market.