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Bagagešu / those of my home : migrancy, gender and ethnicity in the Northern Province, South Africa

By Deborah James


The efforts of southern African women migrant workers to gain control of resources in the linked spheres of urban workplace and rural base have rarely been characterised - by anthropologists or local communities - as ethnic in nature. This suggests the truth of the African proverb that "women have no tribe". Puzzlingly, though, women are seen in other contexts as quintessentially traditional. I discuss this paradox, referring to the mobilisation of a sotho identity centred on the ideas of "family" and "home" by groups of northern Transvaal migrant women performers. Both ideas are expressed and symbolised in emotive terms which make them appear intrinsic or primordial in nature but both on closer examination emerge as complex combinations of ascription and achievement. In conclusion, I show how women migrants' claim to be sotho gives them a right to a voice in the public arena which derives in part from the propinquity with male migrants' ethnic identity, but how it also speaks of a new and autonomous identity which selects and interweaves elements from the shifting terrains of sotho man- and woman-hood

Topics: GN Anthropology
Publisher: American Anthropological Association
Year: 1999
DOI identifier: 10.1525/ae.1999.26.1.69
OAI identifier:
Provided by: LSE Research Online
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