Association for Africanist Anthropology
Group Flash Presentation Session
Within the context of an ever-changing political-economic landscape, migrants in inner city Johannesburg are increasingly pushed towards the economic periphery. Malleability becomes a key asset in their effort to escape inhibiting structural forces that would otherwise limit possibilities. Despite stringent control systems, migrants find porous borders, such as the Limpopo River, which provides a line of flight to South Africa. When the formal economy denies them entry, they enter vibrant informal economies. Such limitations become crossroads where new possibilities are imagined and explored. This paper explores how migrant men from low resource settings adjust to socio-economic reality as they attempt to live up to self and societal expectations of men. Deviating from the common narrative that adverse situations spawn aggressive behaviours, I present a less explored narrative of men becoming resourceful, entrepreneurial, indeed cunning, in a tough economy. In such contexts businesses become more than economic enterprises: they are sites in which kinship claims are established and strengthened, and in which acts of care are proffered. The paper is based on data from an ethnographic study which focused on masculinities and violence, conducted from June 2017 to February 2018 in Johannesburg. I present migrants as ‘frontier beings’ who are flexible and defy boundaries as they seek to belong and survive the harsh conditions of inner city life, which is defined by incompleteness and infinite possibilities.