Migrant Workers in present day South Africa

Migrant workers leave their homes in order to find work. They mostly abandon areas of low unemployment for areas of higher employment, poorer regions for richer and rural areas for urban regions.

South Africa has traditionally been a magnet for labourers from across the region. Therefore migrant workers also come from neighbouring countries such as Botswana, Mozambique, Lesotho and Swaziland. Because of improved transport and communication, there has been an increasing demand for both skilled and unskilled labour. People may become migrant workers because of political and economical problems in their home lands. For example in Zimbabwe there was a hyperinflation for many years.
Miners in South Africa work under difficult conditions.
The money the migrant workers send is the main income. The workers have very few options because they are unskilled and uneducated. The main reason is that young men are tempted by the fact that they can get a job for example in mines without formal education. Since they are unskilled, they only get high risk jobs. They work mainly in mines, on farms or in the construction industry. Whenever employees have to be laid off the migrant workers are the first victims since they are not qualified enough. Its nearly impossible to estimate the number of migrant workers in South Africa. On the one hand because they work only seasonly and on the other hand because their illegal work is rarly documented.

In the last few years women have also become migrant workers, mostly as domestic employees, but also as prostitutes. This trend is known as "feminization of migration“. A reason for this trend is that they have lost their families, mostly their husbands and so they have to earn their own money.

Migrant workers run a higher risk of being infected with diseases. Due to the fact that they work in isolated environments they have limited access to health facilities. Southern Africa has the highest Aids rate of infection in the whole world. One of the main reasons are the migrant workers. Mobility often encourages people to engage in dangerous behaviour. Men with money, few recreational options and away from their families sometimes have risky sex. Women migrants may face the greatest risks. While they travel to their work places they might be forced to trade sex for visas or permits.
In the last few years many women have become migrant workers too.

Due to the fact that the fathers from the tribal reserves live far away from home, often there is no real family-life in the homelands. Children suffer from growing up without a parent and are sometimes neglected. They do not experience the privilege of having a complete family. Some migrant workers even have a "second family" at their work places. They cheat on their wives. In some cases the women who are left back home, become the decision-makers because they have more responsibility and self-confidence, which is not so common in Africa. Some women occupy high positions in companies.


The number of migrant workers depends on various factors, such as poverty and political problems in the homelands. In South Africa there are migrant workers also from the bordering countries. Since they are poorly qualified migrant workers have to do risky jobs and are always the first ones to be laid off when fewer workers are needed. In many cases men leave their homelands when they are teenagers. Therefore they have a proper school education. Often this is the beginning of their hard lives as migrant workers. In recent years we observe an increase of migration also among women. The reason is that their homelands depend on the money the migrant workers send back. They also face a lot of difficulties, such as terrible health care and discrimination. In some cases families are neglected by their men. Some of the husbands even have a "second family" at their work-place. The absence of the men may give women the opportunity to take on responsiblities in the family as well as in high position jobs.