‘When they come, we don’t send them back’: counter-narratives of ‘medical xenophobia’ in South Africa’s public health care system

Kudakwashe P. Vanyoro (2019). ‘“When they come, we don’t send them back”: counter-narratives of ‘medical xenophobia’ in South Africa’s public health care system‘, Palgrave Communications, 5: 101, DOI: https://doi.org/10.105/s41599-019-0309-7 [OPEN SOURCE].

Relying on the experiences of migrant patients, research on migration and health in South Africa has documented a particular concern with public health care providers as indiscriminately practicing ‘medical xenophobia’. This article argues that there is more complexity, ambivalence, and a range of possible experiences of non-nationals in South Africa’s public health care system than the current extant literature on ‘medical xenophobia’ has suggested. Based upon in-depth interviews with frontline health care providers and participant observation at a public health care clinic in Musina sub-District, this article demonstrates how discretion may play a crucial role in inclusive health care delivery to migrants in a country marred by high xenophobic sentiment. It finds that in spite of several institutional and policy-related challenges, frontline health care providers in Musina provided public health care services and HIV treatment to black African migrants who are often at the receiving end of xenophobic sentiment and violence. The article concludes that citizenship, nationality or legal status alone do not appear to tell us much as ‘bureaucratic incorporation’ and ‘therapeutic citizenship’ are some of the modalities through which migrants are constantly being (re)defined by some of South Africa’s health care providers.

About Kuda Vanyoro

Kudakwashe Vanyoro is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the African Centre for Migration & Society (ACMS), University of the Witwatersrand, in South Africa interested in migration, temporality, borders, humanitarianism and governance in Africa. His doctoral research explored how temporal disruptions at international borders shape (im) mobile bodies’ experiences and modes of waiting by focusing on irregular Zimbabwean migrant men at the Zimbabwe-South Africa border who have arrived in South Africa but are restricted in moving further into the interior. Through this inquiry, his work reveals how waiting is a component of both governing Zimbabwean migrants as well as seeking agency through the relationship between time, space, and humanitarianism in the Zimbabwe-South Africa border regime. He has also been conducting research uptake work for ACMS since 2014. As part of this role, Kudakwashe is responsible for stakeholder engagement in South Africa and is regularly called upon to brief decision-makers in government and civil society, including the creation of synthesis documents and other communication products to make evidence more accessible and applicable.