Livelihood Strategies of Cameroon Migrants
in Durban, South Africa
Akwa Tafur and Pranitha Maharaj
School of Built Environment and Development Studies
University of KwaZulu-Natal
South Africa
[email protected]
• Since the early 1990s, South Africa has received an influx of
migrants from a number of African countries including
• A report from Statistics South Africa (2008) suggests that the
predominant groups of migrants in South Africa are from
Europe, Mozambique, the Democratic Republic of Congo,
Nigeria, Somalia, China, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh,
Zimbabwe, Burundi and Cameroon.
• Studies suggest that migration is sometimes as a livelihood
strategy by migrants to escape from the economic hardships
plaguing their home country.
• Cameroon, situated between Central and West Africa, has a
population of approximately 20 million, and two major
language communities: francophone and Anglophone.
• It is not the poorest countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
• In 2006, the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) per
capita was $1,090, compared to $920 for sub-Saharan
Africa. However, worldwide, GDP per capita averaged
$7,400 in 2006 (World Bank, 2009).
• Over the past few decades the country has witnessed new
trends in migration: rural people are moving to the cities,
those in the cities are moving to other countries within the
sub-region, and, finally, Cameroonians are moving to other
Aim of the Study
• The aim of this paper is to investigate the reasons for their
migration to South Africa and also, explore the livelihood
strategies that are used by Cameroonian migrants in the
Methodology and Study Setting
• The case study approach was used.
– In-depth interviews were conducted with Cameroonian
• The study was conducted with Cameroonian migrants located
in the South Beach area of the city of Durban, also known as
‘The Point’.
• This area, known for its high concentration of Cameroonian
migrants and other African migrants, is close to the Durban
Reasons for Migrating
• The search for greener pastures
– Better employment opportunities
– ‘World class’ tertiary, educational institutions
• The poor economic prospects
– The high level of corruption in home country
• Family reunification – joining other family members in South
Africa (especially for women)
– Maintain social relationships
• For most, South Africa was not their preferred destination.
Reasons for Migrating
“I did not choose South Africa. I just had to come to South Africa
because my husband was already here, and I guess I would have
gone wherever he was, if it was not South Africa. If I had a
chance to choose where I wanted to settle, it would not have
been South Africa. I always dreamt of travelling abroad, but
South Africa never crossed my mind as an option. I thought of
Europe and America. But then when I got married to my
husband, he was already a South African citizen, I had to adjust
my plans to fit into his.”
• Respondents argued that the process of integration is slow.
• Migrants feel they are caught between two countries: RSA
and Cameroon.
• “I have been in South Africa for over five years now and I
am very familiar with Durban now. However, I still do not
feel that I belong here; I get homesick sometimes and feel
lonely even with other Cameroonians around. I think this is
because I find South Africans very unfriendly based on how
they relate to you and even look at you. They look at
foreigners as intruders that are stealing from them. This is
contrary to the feeling one gets at home; the feeling of
belonging and being accepted. It is therefore very hard for
me to fully integrate into the society.”
• The process of adjustment was long and complicated.
• “It is not easy living in South Africa as a Cameroonian as one
has to try and copy with the ways of the people. The accent of
Cameroonians is different from the accent of South Africans
and one has to try to talk like the locals in order to integrate
and be understood by the people. This is not an easy task as I
grew up talking like this and now I have to imitate a foreign
accent so as to relate with the people. It is even more difficult
as the locals are not supportive; some of my colleagues will
laugh at the way I pronounce certain words. They do not
understand I also find their accent weird.”
• Language is one major barrier to integration.
Strategies used to ‘secure their livelihood’
• In South Africa, migrants found that in order to ‘make a living’
they had to create ‘employment’ opportunities for
• As a result, they are more likely to be found in the informal
economy working as street traders.
• Social networks were very important in giving them a head
start on the streets of Durban.
• Without the appropriate documentation some find it very
difficult to secure employment.
• Some men reported entering into ‘a marriage of convenience’
which allowed them to remain in the country.
“Marriages are arranged in South Africa for the purposes of
getting documents and I have such a marriage. For real, I am not
married, but on paper, I am married. It was just a contractual
arrangement between me and the person that stood in as a wife.
Initially you could pay that person about R2000 or R3000 or even
less, depending on your agreement… It is strictly a business
transaction as we do not act or behave as a couple in any sense. It
is hard to get a permit to stay in the country so we look for ways to
obtain our permits.”
Strategies used to ‘secure their livelihood’
• With few alternatives, some migrants resort to illegal
• Some migrants use survival strategies, which could
potentially get them into trouble not only with the law but
also the community.
“I know my business is not legal, but there is no other way for me to survive ….
It is a long story. I really wanted to go to school, unfortunately I could not
afford the fees and my parents could not support me. I had seen my seniors in
the university in Cameroon making counterfeit money. I make fake money and
I am also a sangoma, providing muti [traditional medicine] to the citizens who
are in need. Through this I have done well for myself and I am happy, though
my business is illegal, it is not very criminal as I do not steal from anyone, I do
not kill people. I am only trying to make ends meet. I make a lot of money
which is what every businessman wants. The local people do not know how to
detect a counterfeit, plus I have people who buy the money I make so I do not
have to deal with it. I am doing well, I take proper care of my family and I visit
home when I feel like it, which lots of Cameroonians in South Africa cannot
afford. People must understand life is all about risk.”
Strategies used to ‘secure their livelihood’
• Migrants often do not earn enough to be able to send
remittances home therefore they have to make huge
sacrifices to secure the necessary funds.
• They feel that it is their responsibility to take care of family
members that have been left behind in their home country.
– Migration is usually not an individual but a household decision.
• Even those who are not in a position to send money are under
pressure to fulfil their financial obligation to their household.
• The reasons why Cameroonians decide to leave their home
country are various.
• Though most migrants are said to be mainly motivated by
economic incentives, this study has shown that different
reasons combine to lead the migrants to migrate.
• The factors that ‘pushed’ the respondents from their country
included high levels of poverty and unemployment, family
unification, and poor standards of education.
• In order to secure their livelihood migrants engage in
trading and other business activities.
• The interviews suggest that migrants sometimes resort to
illegal activities when this is seen as their only means of
• Some migrants entered into marriages of convenience so that
they could obtain the relevant documentation that would
allow them to find employment.
– In a highly unequal society like South Africa, migrants can
take advantage of the situation by providing money to
poor women whom they will marry and divorce after a
– This also shows the desperate measures that migrants use
when they face a situation that does not allow them to
exercise the same rights as the citizens.