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Dr Gugulethu Siziba

Home country: Zimbabwe

Year of enrolment: 2011

Graduation date: December 2013

Department:  Sociology

Supervisor: Dr Lloyd Hill

Dissertation title: Language and the politics of identity in South Africa : the case of Zimbabwean (Shona and Ndebele speaking) migrants in Johannesburg


Abstract: Discourses about identity framed in terms of questions about autochthons and the Other are on the ascendance in the contemporary socio-political and cultural milieu. Migration, by virtue of its transgression of national boundaries and bounded communities, stands as a contentious site with respect to the politics of identity. South Africa is one case in point, where migrants – particularly those of African origin – have been at the centre of a storm of Otherization, which climaxed in the May 2008 attacks (now widely termed ‗xenophobic attacks'). ―Amakwerekwere", as African migrants in South Africa are derogatively referred to, face exclusionary tendencies from various fronts in South Africa. Using language as an entry point, this thesis investigates how Zimbabwean migrants – who by virtue of a multifaceted crisis in their country have a marked presence in South Africa – experience and navigate the politics of identity in Johannesburg. Through a multi-sited ethnography, relying on the triangulation of participant observation and interviews, the thesis focuses on Ndebele and Shona speaking migrants in five neighbourhoods. Framing the analysis within an eclectic theoretical apparatus that hinges on Bourdieu's economy of social practice, it is argued that each neighbourhood is a social universe of struggle that is inscribed with its own internal logic and relational matrix of recognition, and each ascertains what constitutes a legitimate language and by extension legitimate identity. This relational matrix is undergirded by a specific distributional and evaluative structure with corresponding symbolic, economic and socio-cultural capitals (embodied practices) that constitute the requisite entry fees and currency for belonging, as well as the negative capitals that attract designations of the strange and the Other. Zimbabwean migrants' experiences as the Other in South Africa take on diverse and differentiated forms. It was observed how experiences of Otherness and being the Other are neither homogenous nor static across the different social universes that make up Johannesburg; rather they are fluid and shifting and occur along an elastic continuum. Consequently the responses of migrants are also based on a reading of – and response to – the various scripts of existence in these different social universes.

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