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Regional themes > Migration Last update: 2020-11-27  

South African Cities Network

Patterns of migration, settlement and dynamics of HIV/AIDS in South Africa

Gayatri Singh

Forced Migration Studies Programme, University of the Witwatersrand

The South African Cities Network

SARPN acknowledges the South African Cities Network as the source of this document.
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Most, if not all, discussions of migration in South Africa begin with an almost unavoidable reference to the nature and impact of the apartheid legacy of the migrant labour system. This linkage perhaps emphasizes the fact that the intractable impetus created by Apartheid driven social engineering is still visible in the existing migration patterns. Literature by authors such as Oosthuizen (1997) and Horner (1983) claims that in South and Southern Africa the "mobility transition" patterns as premised by Zelinsky (1971) were interrupted. One reason given for this is the failure of such hypotheses to account for the phenomenon of circular migration in developing countries that were previously under colonial rule (Ndegwa et al, 2004). There is much speculation in academic circles regarding the current extent of circular migration in South Africa. While some authors such as Cross et al (1998) and Bekker (2002) believe that circular migration is in decline, others such as Collinson et al (2003), Ndegwa et al, (2004) and Hosegood et al, (2005) believe that it is still highly prevalent.

Posel (2003) blames the lack of sound national level data for such conjectures. While earlier literature on migration in South Africa (1970s and 1980s) focused on its nature and impact, in the 1990s the focus shifted towards a concern with immigration, especially from other African countries, neighbouring and afar. Given the instability and conflict on the African continent in the 1990s, this preoccupation has not been misplaced but has, to some extent, come at the expense of research on other patterns of migration, such as rural-urban internal migration. Another reason for missing information in this field in the post apartheid years seems to have been an implicit belief that the abolition of influx control legislation would lead to a decrease in internal migration, especially circular migration. The assumption is that the only reason people were moving was due to externally enforced oppressive apartheid laws, in the absence of which people would settle down close to their places of work (Posel, 2003).

This conviction has not only been proved naпve but it may very well explain why "the coverage of labour migration in national survey instruments in South Africa declined during the 1990s, and then ceased in 2000" (Posel, 2003:1). While there is some valuable information available from micro level survey sites such as Agincourt Health and Demographic Surveillance System (AHDSS), Halbisa etc., the problem of comparability across surveys remains significant in the absence of national level coverage of labour migrants in nationally representative household surveys and census data (Casale and Posel, 2002 a). It is only in the last couple of years that the study of the trends of temporary labour migration research has gained popularity leading to the grudging adoption of migration studies by demographers, albeit still subjecting it to second-class treatment.

Another understudied phenomenon in the migration conundrum has been its connection with the spread of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in South Africa. Much of the literature on migration trends and demographic changes has, until recently, failed to take into account the high prevalence of HIV/AIDS in South African society and its complex links with the conditions created by long-standing migratory patterns. However, it has of late unfortunately become something of a truism to connect the spread of HIV to the migration of human beings in spatial terms. Instead as Decosas and Adrien (1997) have pointed out, the association between migration and HIV is more likely to be a result of 'the conditions and structure of the migration process than the actual dissemination of the virus along the corridors of migration.'

Much of the research on Southern Africa's HIV/AIDS epidemic has neglected important socio-economic, legal, and cultural dynamics of migration that may be contributing to the spread of the virus. While migration is often posited as a significant vector in the disease's spread, there is very little understanding of the mechanisms in terms of which human movement contributes to new infections. Nor do we have a detailed understanding of HIV fuelled migration in order to access better health care or, as the macabre phrase goes, "returning home to die". The need to explain these processes is now acute, and nowhere more so than in Southern Africa, where median HIV prevalence rates are among the highest in the world.

In this paper, I argue that although the existing literature and data on migration is inconclusive with regard to the national trends relating to circular migration in South Africa, we can still piece together trends from various studies, data from regional sites etc. that can point us to meaningful indicators of what kind of a demographic picture confronts South Africa. Such information can shed useful light on what implications migration will have for city planners and policy makers. After an analysis of migration trends, this paper will proceed to elucidate the relationship between migration and HIV/AIDS, the mechanisms operating within the migration process leading to new infections as well as the new forms of migration as a result of circumstances created by HIV/AIDS. It will demonstrate the need to mainstream migrants in planning for the public provision of services such as education, health, water, energy, housing etc. in order to accelerate the economic urban transition. The discussion will conclude by arguing for a need to develop strategies to address the needs and vulnerabilities this population in the HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment programs and presenting a framework to think about instituting such interventions. Failing to take into account migration patterns and the conditions created by them in South Africa could lead to misplaced development policy as well as hinder the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals to which South Africa is committed.

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