The Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC)

Visit South Africa's official Covid-19 resource portal
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

2016  Large

Peace-Making in Divided Societies
The Israel-South Africa analogy

This occasional paper explores lessons that the unresolved Israel-Palestinian conflict can draw from South Africa's 'negotiated revolution'. Six realms are compared: economic interdependence, religious divisions, third party interventions, leadership, political culture and violence. The author also sheds light on the nature of ethnicity as well as the limits of negotiation politics.

Product information

Format : 148mm x 210mm
Pages : 80
ISBN 10 : 0-7969-2080-X (SCI 2)
ISBN 13 : 978-07969-2080-5
Publish Year : 2002
Price R 98.00

PRODDER Southern African Development Directory 1999-2000

This directory provides a comprehensive overview of the southern African Development Community's (SADC) development role-players. More than 5 000 organisations are listed including government departments, parastatals, research institutions, business organisations, corporate social investment programmes, NGOs, CBOs, training institutions, local and international donor agencies, United Nations agencies and diplomatic representation in southern Africa.

Product information

Format : 295mm x 205mm
Pages : 565
ISBN 10 : 0-7969-1926-7
ISBN 13 : 978-07969-1926-7
Publish Year : 1999
Price R 291.00

Broadcasting Democracy
Radio and Identity in South Africa

The media play a key role in post-apartheid South Africa and is often positioned at the centre of debates around politics, identity and culture. Media, such as radio, are often said to also play a role in deepening democracy, while simultaneously holding the power to frame political events, shape public discourse and impact citizens’ perceptions of reality. Broadcasting Democracy: Radio and Identity in South Africa provides an exciting look into the diverse world of South African radio, exploring how various radio formats and stations play a role in constructing post-apartheid identities. At the centre of the book is the argument that various types of radio stations represent autonomous systems of cultural activity, and are ‘consumed’ as such by listeners. In this sense, it argues that South African radio is ‘broadcasting democracy’. Broadcasting Democracy will be of interest to media scholars and radio listeners alike.

Product information

Format : 198mm x 148mm
Pages : 184
ISBN 13 : 978-0-7969-2542-8
Publish Year : November 2017
Rights : World Rights
Price R 180.00
Post Schooling

Post-school education and the labour market in South Africa
Labour market in South Africa

South Africa has one of the highest rates of youth unemployment and is renowned for being one of the most unequal societies in the world. In this context, training and education play critical roles in helping young people escape poverty and unemployment.

Product information

Format : 240mm x 168mm (Soft Cover)
Pages : 272
ISBN 13 : 978-0-7969-2463-6
Publish Year : January 2019
Rights : World Rights
Price R 250.00