The Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC)

Migrant Labour

South Africa is a rapidly urbanising society. Over 60% of the population lives in urban areas and this will rise to more than 70% by 2030. However, it is also a society with a long history of labour migration, rural home-making and urban economic and residential insecurity.Thus, while the formal institutional systems of migrant labour and the hated pass laws were dismantled after apartheid, a large portion of the South African population remains double-rooted in the sense that they have an urban place of residence and access to a rural homestead to which they periodically return and often eventually retire. This reality, which continues to have profound impacts on social cohesion, family life, gender relations, household investment, settlement dynamic and political identity formation, is the main focus of this book.

Migrant Labour after Apartheid focuses on internal migrants and migration, rather than cross border migration into South Africa. It cautions against a linear narrative of change and urban transition. The book is divided into two parts. The first half investigates urbanisation processes from the perspective of internal migration. Several of the chapters make use of recently available survey data collected in a national longitudinal study to describe patterns and trends in labour migration, the economic returns to migration, and the links between the migration of adults and the often-ignored migration of children. The last three chapters of this section shine a spotlight on conditions of migrant workers in destination areas by focusing on Marikana and mining on the platinum belt.

The second half of the book explores the double rootedness of migrants through the lens of the rural hinterland from which migration often occurs. The chapters here focus on the Eastern Cape as a case study of a region from which (particularly longer-distance) labour migration has been very common. The contributions describe the limited opportunities for livelihood strategies in the countryside, which encourage outmigration, but also note the accelerated rates of household investment, especially in the built environment in the former homelands. Migrant Labour after Apartheid identifies pockets of relative economic dynamism, especially around former homeland towns, and reflects on the continued importance of rural spaces as places of belonging, identity and investment for social and cultural reproduction.

Product information

Format : 240mm x 168mm (Soft Cover)
Pages : 416
ISBN 13 : 978-0-7969-2579-4
Publish Year : March 2020
Rights : World Rights

List of figures and tables

Abbreviations and acronyms



  1. Introduction: Migrant labour after apartheid

Leslie Bank, Dorrit Posel and Francis Wilson

Part 1: Migration and urbanisation after apartheid

  1. Measuring labour migration after apartheid: Patterns and trends

Dorrit Posel

  1. Rural–urban migration as a means of getting ahead

Justin Visagie and Ivan Turok

  1. Informal settlements as staging posts for urbanisation in post-apartheid South Africa

Catherine Ndinda and Tidings Ndhlovu

  1. What does labour migration mean for families? Children’s mobility in the context of maternal migration

Katharine Hall and Dorrit Posel

  1. Distance and duality: Migration, family and the meaning of home for Eastern Cape migrants

Monde Makiwane and Ntombizonke A Gumede

  1. KwaMashu Hostel: Rural–urban interconnections in KwaZulu-Natal

Nomkhosi Xulu-Gama

  1. From ‘living wage’ to ‘family wage’: Platinum lives and the contemporary mineworkers’ movement (2012–2017)

Luke Sinwell

  1. Migrant women in South Africa’s platinum belt: Negotiating different conceptions of femininities

Asanda-Jonas Benya

  1. How labour migration works in the space economy: Labour markets, migration tracks and homelessness as an indicator of failure in Marikana

Catherine Cross, Catherine Ndinda, S Joseph Makola and Nthabiseng Sello

  1. Marikana revisited: Migrant culture, ethnicity and African nationalism in South Africa: Leslie Bank

Part 2: Double-rootedness and rural regimes of value

  1. Agricultural production, the household ‘development cycle’ and migrant remittances: Continuities and change in the Eastern Cape hinterland

Michael Rogan

  1. Migrancy and the differentiated agrarian landscapes: Land use, farming and the reproduction of the homestead in the Eastern Cape

Paul Hebinck

  1. Cattle after migrant labour: Emerging markets and changing regimes of value in rural South Africa

Leslie Bank and Mike Kenyon

  1. Double-rooted families: The circulation of hidden resources between urban and rural South Africa

Adam Perry

  1. Displaced urbanism: City shack life and the citizenship of the suburban house in the rural Transkei

Leslie Bank

  1. Changing small-town economies in the Eastern Cape – Michael Aliber and Nqaba B Nikelo
  2. Harnessing the ancestors: Uncertainty and ritual practice in the Eastern Cape

Andrew Ainslie

  1. Entangled in patriarchy: Migrants, men and matrifocality after apartheid

Leslie Bank

About the authors


Leslie J Bank is a Deputy Director at the Human Sciences Research Council in Cape Town and an Extraordinary Professor of Social Anthropology at Walter Sisulu University in South Africa. His previous books include Home Spaces, Street Styles: Contesting Power and Identity in a South African City (Pluto Press, London, 2011); Inside African Anthropology: Monica Wilson and her Interpreters (edited with A. Bank, Cambridge University Press, 2013); Imonti Modern: Picturing the Life and Times of a South African Location (with Mxolisi Qebeyi, HSRC Press, 2017) and Anchored in Place: Universities and City Building in South Africa (edited with N. Cloete, African Minds, 2018).

Dorrit (Dori) Posel holds the Helen Suzman Chair in Political Economy, and is a distinguished professor in the School of Economics and Finance at the University of the Witwatersrand. She specialises in applied microeconomic research, exploring the interface between households and labour markets in South Africa. From 2007 to 2015 Dori held an NRF/DST Research Chair in Economic Development at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Dori received a PhD in economics from the University of Massachusetts (Amherst) in 1999 and has since been the recipient of numerous research awards, including the Vice Chancellor’s Research Award in 2005. She has published widely on issues related to marriage and family formation, labour force participation, labour migration, the economics of language, and measures of wellbeing.

Francis Wilson is a South African economist. He was a member of the academic teaching staff in the School of Economics at the University of Cape Town and served as the director of the Southern African Labour and Development Research Unit (SALDRU), which he founded. He was also a visiting professor at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. In 2001 Wilson chaired the International Social Science Council’s Scientific Committee of the International Comparative Research Program on Poverty. After obtaining his PhD in Cambridge he returned to UCT and published three immensely influential pieces of research: in 1971 Farming 1866-1966, a chapter in the Oxford History of South Africa; and in 1972 Labour in the South African Gold Mines 1911-1969 was published by Cambridge University Press out of his PhD. Finally, he published a book, Migrant Labour in South Africa. These works describe the terrible social consequences of the story of the migrant labour system. Over time, his contribution broadened to a focus on understanding how these and other processes underwrite South Africa’s poverty.

Leslie J Bank is a Deputy Director at the Human Sciences Research Council in Cape Town and an emeritus professor of social anthropology at the University of Fort Hare, where he was formerly the Director of Social and Economic Research. His previous books include Home Spaces, Street Styles: Contesting Power and Identity in a South African City (Pluto Press, London, 2011); Inside African Anthropology: Monica Wilson and her Interpreters (edited with A. Bank, Cambridge University Press, 2013); Imonti Modern: Picturing the Life and Times of a South African Location (with Mxolisi Qebeyi, HSRC Press, 2017) and Anchored in Place: Universities and City Building in South Africa (edited with N. Cloete, African Minds, 2018).

Share this

You might also consider these related books

2251  Large

Empowerment through Service Delivery

The primary aim of Empowerment through Service Delivery is to critically appraise the challenges facing infrastructure and service delivery in South Africa. The secondary aim is to assess, evaluate and analyse perceptions of infrastructure and service delivery since 1994. An array of case studies drawn from various provinces and diverse rural and urban settings is presented. The analysis of infrastructure and service delivery goes beyond just providing 'statistics', which are often used uncritically. Empowerment through Service Delivery brings together both qualitative and quantitative analyses, covering various sectors such as water, electricity, transport, education, health, human resources and local economic development.

Product information

Format : 210mm x 150mm (Soft Cover)
ISBN 10 : 0-7969-1951-8
ISBN 13 : 978-07969-1951-9
Publish Year : 2000
Rights : World Rights
Price R 275.00
1999  Large

Lesotho 2000:
Public perceptions and perspectives

This regional study forms part of a survey of public perceptions in three southern African countries. It outlines the opinions of a representative sample of adult residents of Lesotho on a range of socio-political, economic and other issues. It will be of interest to students, scholars, policy-makers and NGOs throughout the SADC.

Product information

Format : 148mm x 210mm
Pages : 228
ISBN 10 : 0-7969-1978-X
ISBN 13 : 978-07969-1978-6
Publish Year : 2001
Price R 180.00
Popular  Politics

Popular Politics in SA Cities
Unpacking Community Participation

Community meetings seldom lead to significant change in urban policies, and have been accused of being sterile, sedative, or manipulative. This book starts from a simple question: why do people then continue to participate in these meetings, sometimes massively, and on a regular basis? Authors from a variety of disciplines explore the multiple roles of these �invited� spaces of participation. From consolidation of individual social status and networks, to the construction and framing of the local �community�, the display of political or group loyalties and maintenance of clientelist exchange, access to information, rumors or gossip but also forms of education on who and what is the state, invited spaces of participation are also, crucially, places of emergence of collective awareness, through shared expressions of frustration, that can lead to political mobilisation and other, less institutionalised forms of participation. This book, unpacking community politics and rethinking the complex articulations between ��invited� and invented� spaces of participation, is of relevance for international and national audiences interested in urban governance and local democracy.

Open Access

Product information

Format : 240mm x 168mm
Pages : 304
ISBN 13 : 978-0-7969-2464-3
Publish Year : July 2015
Rights : World Rights
Price R 270.00