By Aziz Choudry, Mondli Hlatshwayo
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Extra info for Just Work?: Migrant Workers’ Struggle Today
With the discovery of oil in the Gulf in the early twentieth century – followed by the beginnings of commercial exploitation in the post-Second World War period – these migration patterns were to shift decisively. The region as a whole was transformed from a relatively underdeveloped area largely based on pearling and entrepôt trade into a central node of an emerging oil-based global capitalism (Hanieh, 2011). There were three clear phases to this transformation as it related to migration. During the first phase (1950–73), increasing numbers of migrant workers found employment in the oil and public sector workforces; citizen labour, however, continued to constitute a majority of the overall labour force.
The situation is worse for women immigrants. According to Musetha, ‘Three out of 10 Zimbabwean women are gang-raped while trying to illegally cross the border into South Africa through undesignated entry points along the Limpopo River’ (2012: 1). Pamela Khumalo, a woman migrant worker working in South Africa’s early childhood development sector said, ‘We have to persevere. Resilience keeps us going. We have to survive against all odds and that has to do with the fact that there are no job and economic opportunities in Zimbabwe.
The logic behind this shift was not entirely without precedent; in the late 1970s, for example, South Korean conglomerates had marketed themselves to the Saudi and Bahraini governments as providers of a ‘semimilitarized labor force’ of former soldiers who would be housed in labour camps away from other workers or citizens, and supposedly immune to any political or labour protest (Disney, 1977: 24). The 1980s and 1990s, however, were to mark a decisive generalisation of this policy of ‘containerisation of labour’ across the wider Gulf.