Undocumented Zimbabwean migrants in Botswana and South Africa under COVID-19


For years, migrants from Zimbabwe have been undergoing xenophobic policies and discourses in South Africa and Botswana. This article demonstrates how the South African government has utilized the pandemic to further feed into these policies and discourses. From official statements to social media campaigns, the pandemic has been used as an opportunity for South Africa first discourse to grow and “coronationalism” to emerge, while depicting migrant communities, especially from Zimbabwe, as a risk to the public health. Based on ten interviews, the author shows how migrants have developed counterstrategies to cope with (new) border restrictions. While local lockdowns meant more immobility and risk of deportation for undocumented migrants, border restrictions have ironically increased the irregular crossings as the smugglers and migrants themselves developed an informal border regime in parallel to the formal one. Finally, the article reflects on the nature of different borders in the region, and how one-sided physical bordering approach is problematic and is likely to be dysfunctional.

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