UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Southward from the blazing sun : climate change, migration and the experiences of cross-border migrants in South Africa Tlhotlhalemaje, Lekha Neo


People who migrate, at least in part, for reasons relating to climate/environmental change most often move within their country or region. Given that the countries of Southern Africa experience significant effects of anthropogenic climate change, it is important to study the phenomenon of climate migration in this region. Through a historical analysis of the phenomenon of environmental migration in the context as well as an exploration of the lived experiences of African cross-border migrants in South Africa, this thesis provides an introduction to this topic. Climate migration is inherently multicausal and inextricably connected with broad structures of power, such as capitalism and neo-imperialism. Moreover, the concept is often misappropriated and misunderstood to advance a view of migration that emphasizes security rather than human rights or migrant self-determination. Thus, we must be careful how we employ this terminology. However, broader and more contextualized understandings of climate migration can be used to push the boundaries of contemporary migration paradigms, such as the forced/voluntary dichotomy, the concept of the refugee, and modern emphases on securitization. Interviews with Zimbabwean, Congolese, Rwandan and Burundian refugees, asylum seekers and migrants in Johannesburg and Musina illuminated the various failures of the South African government in regularizing the stays of migrants and providing them with social services. However, even against these great odds, migrants continue to carve out a space for themselves in a sometimes-hostile South African society. Migration cannot be seen as homogeneously perverse or criminal; it is a fact of life for many people in Southern Africa and will continue to be so—especially in these times of political transformation, economic struggles, and climate change.

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