Mobile Women: Negotiating Gendered Social Norms, Stereotypes and Relationships

  • Sarah Matshaka


In the last two decades, “the Zimbabwean Crisis”, an intersection of domestic national political and economic instability, has initiated extensive migration of Zimbabweans to different destinations including its neighbour South Africa as well as elsewhere in the region and beyond. In addition to increasing numbers of people migrating there is more diversification in terms of who migrates as well as shifts to more extended stay. Included in this current wave of migrants to South Africa cities are an increasing number of women who unlike the historically more visible Zimbabwean female cross-border trader are often locating in this host space for indefinite periods. Drawing from research carried out with a sample of young Zimbabwean women located in the periphery of the city of Cape Town, this chapter considers the ways in which migrant women are constructed and positioned within the new social environment they are located, pointing to the assumptions, gendered expectations and stereotypes which govern this current wave of Zimbabwean women’s migration experiences. The chapter considers the dense networks of everyday life in the ‘community’ of Zimbabweans, which are fostered by proximity, shared backgrounds, and multifaceted, multi-purpose migration networks, looking in particular at the complicated relationship between reproduction of ‘community’ and the construction of gendered migrant identities. I point to the assumptions, gendered expectations and stereotypes which govern this current wave of Zimbabwean women’s experiences as they negotiate households, neighbourhoods, and community in the ‘working class’ townships on the Cape Flats. I discuss the ways in which ‘community’ and within it, social gendered norms are produced and reproduced, exploring in particular how young women position themselves within these socio-cultural structures and the implications for their day-to-day interactions and overall migration experience.


Mobile Women Zimbabwean Women Zimbabwean Migrants Migration Context Township Spaces 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Ahmad, N. (2006). Gender, culture and migrant masculinities: Pakistanis in Europe. Chapter presented at the History/Gender/Migration conference, Paris, March 2006.Google Scholar
  2. Babbie, E., & Mouton, J. (2001). The practice of social research. Cape Town: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Baines, E. K. (2003). Body politics and the Rwandan crisis. Third World Quarterly, 24(3), 479–493.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Barnes, T. (1999). “We women worked so hard”: Gender, urbanization, and social reproduction in colonial Harare, Zimbabwe, 1930–1956. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann; London: Currey.Google Scholar
  5. Barnes, T., & Win, E. (1992). To live a better life: An oral history of women in Harare, 1930–70. Harare: Baobab Books.Google Scholar
  6. Bernard, H. R. (1994). Research methods in anthropology: Qualitative and quantitative approaches. Thousand Oaks, CA and London: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  7. Beyene, J. (2004). Gender, migration and the household: The case of Ethiopian and Eritrean migrant domestic workers in Lebanon. Retrieved April 16, 2009, from
  8. Bhavnani, K. (1994). Tracing the contours: Feminist research and feminist objectivity. In H. Afshar & M. Maynard (Eds.), The dynamics of “race” and gender: Some feminist interventions. London: Taylor and Francis.Google Scholar
  9. Bolzoni, M. (2009). Refugees and asylum seekers in Cape Town. Situation, challenges, perspectives. In F. Barbera & E. Ochse (Eds.), A game of mirrors: Economic development and social cohesion in Piedmont and South Africa. Torino, Italy: COREP—Regione Piemonte.Google Scholar
  10. Bozzoli, B., & Mmantho, N. (1991). Women of Phokeng: Consciousness, life strategy and migrancy in South Africa, 1900–1983. Portsmouth: Heinemann.Google Scholar
  11. Budlender, D. (2003). Women and men in South Africa: Five years on. Pretoria: SA Stats.Google Scholar
  12. Cheater, A. P. (1998). Transcending the state? Borderline constructions of citizenship in Zimbabwe. In T. M. Wilson & H. Donnan (Eds.), Border identities: Nation and state at international frontiers. Cambridge: CUP.Google Scholar
  13. Cheater, A. P. and Gaidzanwa, R. B. 1996. Citizenship in Neo-patrilineal states: Gender and Mobility in Southern Africa, Journal of Southern African Studies, 22(2).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Chitauro-Mawema, M. (2003). Mvana and their children: The language of the Shona people as it relates to women and womens’ space. Zambezia, 30(2), 135–153.Google Scholar
  15. Crush, J. (2000). The dark side of democracy: Migration, xenophobia and human rights in South Africa. International Migration, 38(6), 103–134.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Curran, S. R., & Saguy, A. (2001). Migration and cultural change: A role for gender and social networks. Journal of International Women’s Studies, 2(3), 54–77.Google Scholar
  17. Dodson, B. (1998). Women on the move: Gender and cross-border migration to South Africa. Cape Town: Institute for a Democratic South Africa.Google Scholar
  18. Gaidzanwa, R. B. (1995). Women, democratisation and violence in Southern African experience. Paper presented at a Seminar on Women and the Democratisation Process in Africa, University of Pretoria, South Africa, April 7–11.Google Scholar
  19. Gelfand, M. (1973). The genuine Shona: Survival values of an African culture. Gweru: Mambo Press.Google Scholar
  20. Gelfand, M. (1979). Growing up in Shona society. Gwelo: Mambo Press.Google Scholar
  21. Gluckman, M. (1963). Papers in honor of Melville J. Herskovits: Gossip and scandal. Current Anthropology, 4(3), 307–316.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Hungwe, C. (2006). Putting them in their place: “Respectable” and “unrespectable” women in Zimbabwean gender struggles. Feminist Africa 6. Subaltern Sexualities. Retrieved from
  23. Makina, D. (2007). Profile of migrant Zimbabweans in South Africa: A pilot study. Pretoria: University of South Africa.Google Scholar
  24. Masade, I. (2007). Where is home? Transnational migration and identity amongst Nigerians in Cape Town. In S. Field, R. Meyer, & F. Swanson (Eds.), Imagining the city: Memories and cultures in Cape Town. Cape Town: HSRC Press.Google Scholar
  25. Matshaka, N. S. (2007). Marobot neMawaya—Traffic lights and wire—Migration experiences and gendered identities: The case of young Zimbabwean migrants living in the city of Cape Town (Unpublished research project for partial fulfilment of BsocSc Honours degree). African Gender Institute, University of Cape Town.Google Scholar
  26. Matshaka, N. S. (2009). “Marobot neMawaya”—Traffic lights and wire: Crafting Zimbabwean migrant masculinities in Cape Town. Feminist Africa, 13, 65–86. Body Politics and Citizenship.Google Scholar
  27. McDowell, L. (1997). Undoing place?: A geographical reader. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  28. McLaren, M. (2007). Dancing with dangerous desires: The performance of femininity and experiences of pleasure and danger by young black women within club spaces. M.Soc.Sc. Thesis (Gender Studies), University of Cape Town.Google Scholar
  29. Merry, S. E. (1997). Rethinking gossip and scandal. In D. B. Klein (Ed.), Reprinted in reputation: Studies in the voluntary elicitation of good conduct (pp. 47–74). Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.Google Scholar
  30. Mupotsa, D. (2005). Zvimwe Hazvibvunzwe: On the politics of being a black Zimbabwean women and a sexual being (Unpublished research project for partial fulfilment of BsocSc Honours degree). African Gender Institute, University of Cape Town.Google Scholar
  31. Muzondidya, J. (2008). Majoni-joni: Survival strategies among Zimbabwean migrants in South Africa. Chapter presented at International Conference on the Political Economies of Displacement in Zimbabwe, Wits University.Google Scholar
  32. Muzvidziwa, V. (2001). Zimbabwe’s cross-border women traders: Multiple identities and responses to new challenges. Journal of Contemporary African Studies, 19(1), 67–80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Nhongo-Simbanegavi, J. (2000). For better or worse? Women and ZANLA in Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle. Zimbabwe: Weaver Press.Google Scholar
  34. Parrado, E. A., & Flippen, C. A. (2005). Migration and gender among Mexican women. American Sociological Review, 70(4), 606–632.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Pigou, P. (2004). From the frying pan into the fire: A report on Zimbabwean political refugees in South Africa. Themba Lesizwe; Southern African Trauma Coalition.Google Scholar
  36. Pitt-Rivers, J. A. (1971). The people of the Sierra (2nd ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  37. Polzer, T. (2008). South African Government and civil society responses to Zimbabwean migration. Migration Policy Briefs, 22. Cape Town, South Africa; Ontario, Canada: Southern African Migration Project.Google Scholar
  38. Radcliffe-Brown, A. R. (1933). Social sanctions. In Encyclopedia of the social sciences (Vol. 13, pp. 531–534). New York: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  39. Ramphele, M. (1993). A bed called home. Cape Town: David Phillip.Google Scholar
  40. Salo, E. (2003). Negotiating gender and personhood in the new South Africa: Adolescent women and gangsters in manenberg township on the Cape Flats. European Journal of Cultural Studies, 6(3), 345–365.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Salo, E. (2004). Respectable mothers, tough men and good daughters: Producing persons in Manenberg township, South Africa. Unpublished PhD thesis, Emory University.Google Scholar
  42. Schlyter, A. (2003). Multi-habitation: Urban housing and everyday life in Chitungwiza, Zimbabwe. Uppsala: Nordiska Afrikainstitutet.Google Scholar
  43. Sisulu, E., Moyo, B., & Tshuma, N. (2007). The Zimbabwean Community in South Africa. In S. Buhlungu et al. (Eds.), State of the nation: South Africa 2007. Cape Town: HSRC Press.Google Scholar
  44. Tamale, S. (2005). Eroticism, sensuality and “women’s secrets” among the Baganda: A critical analysis. Feminist Africa, 5, 9–36.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sarah Matshaka
    • 1
  1. 1.Independent scholarJohannesburgSouth Africa

Personalised recommendations