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African migrant labour situation in Southern Africa

Paper presented at the ICFTU-AFRO conference on ‘Migrant Labour,’
by Godfrey Kanyenze (Dr), Director, Labour and Economic Development Research Institute of Zimbabwe (LEDRIZ)

Nairobi, 15-17 March 2004

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Globalisation has seen a rise in the movement of people. This phenomenon is on the rise, despite the increasing anxiety, and in some cases xenophobia in the more affluent receiving countries. By the beginning of the 21st century, it is estimated by the United Nations that the total number of persons living in countries other than their own is 175 million, including 120 million migrant workers and their families (ILO, 2002). An estimated 20 million African men and women are migrant workers and it is projected that by 2015, one in every ten Africans will live and work outside his / her country of origin (ibid). Rather interestingly, this movement of people is highly contentious within both sending and receiving countries alike. This movement involves not only the ordinary workers, who constitute the majority, but also professionals and highly skilled persons. Some of these are refugees, while others are cross-border traders. While some are legal, a growing number are undocumented ‘illegal’ immigrants made up of border-jumpers and ‘over-stayers.’ Analysis of such movements is generally hampered by the dearth of adequate information, especially with respect to the undocumented migration (see Russell, 1990a & b; ILO / SAMAT, 1998; Sachikonye (ed), 1998; ILO, 2002; Crush && Williams, 2002 Crush && Williams, 2002; SIRDC, 2003).

For the purposes of this study, four types of cross border population migration, with relevance to Southern Africa are explored, namely:

  • Contract migration which involves the movement of unskilled and semi-skilled mainly male migrants which is legally sanctioned, regulated by government-togovernment agreement and has formal deferred pay arrangements to ensure that wages earned are repatriated to the supply country;
  • Clandestine or undocumented migration which involves the unregulated movement of unskilled and semi-skilled male and female job-seekers that is illegal;
  • ‘Brain drain’ migration, which entails the movement of professionals and skilled persons out of a country or region. This type of migration is rapidly gaining momentum; and
  • The movement of refugees, which is for relatively short durations, (Davies, 1995:2).

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