When the social net is unplugged

Researcher: Christal Spel

This project is based on lifestory interviews and resilience theory to explore how poor and vulnerable African immigrants organize their lives around their precarious situation. I adopted a two-pronged approach; Firstly, I explore poor migrants’ tactics of survival as a means of self-organization and the progressive realization of the migrants’ wellbeing within a restrictive context. Secondly, I examine the tactics of survival as the unintended effects of restrictions and social exclusions as focus of South Africa’s immigration policy. The increasing restrictions and social exclusions of poor African migrants, compels the migrants tactical survival, thereby stimulating illegality and informality in the immigration enforcement institutions.  Therefore, the immigration policy unintentionally reproduces the situations it was created to prevent.  It can be likened to the medical situation of an infected patient’s abuse of antibiotic medication to cure a bacterial infection. The same drug meant to cure the infection becomes the stimulant to creating organisms that are immune to the drug. The patient does not get better, he stimulates the creation of super bacteria, and his condition becomes unresponsive to regular prescription and complicated.

Preliminary findings from ongoing analysis indicates that migrants’ survival are mainly influenced by mental reorganization and interpretation of past, present and future opportunities, amongst other factors. Thus emphasizing and highlighting Hope in the discourse of immigrants’ survival in an urban centre. In this sense, the highly restrictive immigration policies plays less important role in the decision to remain in or move from the host society. Rather, the restrictive immigration policies influence the tactical options and navigation choices for the migrants to remain in the host society. In this vein, the migrants’ tactical resilience for survival has created a form of migrants’ empowerment for navigating their restrictive context. So the poor immigrants are not living in a ‘hypothetical frame’ (i.e. theoretical conditions that purportedly prevents them from accessing the basic amenities for sustained living within the host society). It is thus arguable that the migrants’ informal tactics that effectively counter the objectives of immigration regulations are unintentional consequences of the restrictions and exclusions of South Africa’s immigration policies.  So, my analysis suggests that South Africa’s immigration policy unintentionally reproduces factors that effectively challenges and reverses its stated objectives.

Furthermore, interviewees’ narratives revealed high level of dis-humanization, abuse and exploitation by ordinary South Africans irrespective of related inclusive policies. Their experiences raised questions on whether or how immigration policy can be promoted as an instrument for improving migrants living experience in South Africa.

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