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Open Access Cross-Border Couriers as Symbols of Regional Grievance?

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Cross-Border Couriers as Symbols of Regional Grievance?

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The Malayitsha Remittance System in Matabeleland, Zimbabwe

image of African Diaspora

This article explores the history and experiences of cross-border couriers/transporters known as omalayitsha, who remit money and commodities across the border between South Africa and Zimbabwe. Based on interviews with omalayitsha operators, customers and state officials in Matabeleland, it furthers debates over remittances in several ways. First, the focus on couriers and transport operators themselves (rather than on the migrants who are their customers) provides a novel perspective, as the remittance literature tends to overlook these businesses. The article scrutinises couriers’ modus operandi and business relationships with clients, state officials, collaborators and rivals, exploring moral economies, and the entanglement of irregular modes of operation with state authority. The three-fold typology of large, medium and small-scale omalayitsha shows significant variation in relations with the Zimbabwean and South African regulatory authorities. Second, the article emphasises the importance of regional histories and spatial variation, criticising the tendency for debates over remittances to depend on national scale data and ignore geographical differences. The development of the malayitsha remittance system is widely upheld within Matabeleland as a symptom of the region’s marginalisation and displacement, linked to the aftermath of the episode of state violence in the 1980s known as Gukurahundi. I argue that in Matateleland, the figure of the malayitsha is upheld as an icon of regional neglect and enforced cross-border engagement.

Affiliations: 1: Centre for Africa Studies, University of the Free State, South Africa nyamundat@gmail.com

This article explores the history and experiences of cross-border couriers/transporters known as omalayitsha, who remit money and commodities across the border between South Africa and Zimbabwe. Based on interviews with omalayitsha operators, customers and state officials in Matabeleland, it furthers debates over remittances in several ways. First, the focus on couriers and transport operators themselves (rather than on the migrants who are their customers) provides a novel perspective, as the remittance literature tends to overlook these businesses. The article scrutinises couriers’ modus operandi and business relationships with clients, state officials, collaborators and rivals, exploring moral economies, and the entanglement of irregular modes of operation with state authority. The three-fold typology of large, medium and small-scale omalayitsha shows significant variation in relations with the Zimbabwean and South African regulatory authorities. Second, the article emphasises the importance of regional histories and spatial variation, criticising the tendency for debates over remittances to depend on national scale data and ignore geographical differences. The development of the malayitsha remittance system is widely upheld within Matabeleland as a symptom of the region’s marginalisation and displacement, linked to the aftermath of the episode of state violence in the 1980s known as Gukurahundi. I argue that in Matateleland, the figure of the malayitsha is upheld as an icon of regional neglect and enforced cross-border engagement.

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/content/journals/10.1163/18725465-00701003
2014-01-01
2017-09-26

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