BOOK REVIEW: Migrant Women of Johannesburg

Life in an in-between city
Author:Caroline Wanjiku Kihato


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJohannesburg is filled with many migrants from across Africa and the world, seeking opportunities in the ‘city of gold’. In this book, Caroline Wanjiku Kihato, who began her life in South Africa as a street trader, uses narratives and images to explore the lives of women from Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Congo Brazzaville, Nigeria, Rwanda, Burundi, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe, now living in Johannesburg. Using their stories of love, illness, fears, children, violence, family and money, she explores women’s relationships with host and home communities, the South African state, economy and the city of Johannesburg.

Rather than ask how political forces and global capital shape Johannesburg, this book turns the dominant urban question on its head, and interrogates how cross-border women shape Johannesburg’s politics, regulatory systems and local economies. It explores migrant women’s fluid lives against the backdrop of a city that is also in flux. It looks at what it means to live in Johannesburg, yet remain dislocated there; what it means to be in the inner city, yet aspire to live elsewhere; and what it means to be both visible and invisible in the city.

Kihato poignantly illustrates how populations living in society’s margins influence urban practices. As we follow migrant women through the city’s streets, the boundaries between legality and illegality, formal and informal, official and unofficial collapse – rendering these categories inaccurate descriptors of the city or their lives. Kihato argues that transformation within urban planning and governance structures a redefinition of these terms for twenty-first century African cities.

This insightful ethnographic study is a must-read for those working in urban planning, gender and migration studies and governance and service delivery.

 

Source:Wits University Press

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