Zimbabwean migrant domestic worker activism in South Africa

Kudakwashe P. Vanyoro. (2019). Zimbabwean migrant domestic worker activism in South Africa. Migrating out of Poverty, Working Paper 55. [OPEN ACCESS]

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.

About Kuda Vanyoro

Kuda is a Research Communications Officer and Doctoral Researcher at ACMS.

In 2013, Kuda was awarded an International Human Rights Exchange Programme special scholarship from Bard College and the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. There he acquired distinguished multidisciplinary human rights education and certification. During the course of the programme, he served as a Communications and Advocacy Intern at the Albert Street School for Refugees in Johannesburg where he became exposed as well as interested in migration and poverty issues due to his daily interaction with Zimbabwean refugees.

Kuda joined ACMS in February 2014 where he was appointed Research, Communications and Outreach Intern. ACMS nominated him for the Migrating out of Poverty Research Internship Scheme from April to July 2014. His internship involved supporting all ACMS communications work, preparing and packaging policy briefs, research data capturing, undertaking desktop research and blogging on contemporary issues related to migration and poverty in Southern Africa. Kuda has participated and presented at various international conferences and three years iteration of the Global Forum on Migration and Development.

He holds an MA in Migration & Displacement (Cum laude) from Wits University. His current doctoral thesis explores how crossborder migrants experience quotidian waiting events at the border and what various banal modalities of waiting say about belonging, subjectification and governmentality.