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The Dynamics of Gender Politics in the Hostels of Cape Town: Another Legacy of the South African Migrant Labour System

Mamphela Ramphele
Journal of Southern African Studies
Vol. 15, No. 3 (Apr., 1989), pp. 393-414
Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2636404
Page Count: 22
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The Dynamics of Gender Politics in the Hostels of Cape Town: Another Legacy of the South African Migrant Labour System
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Abstract

The overcrowded, poorly equipped African male hostels of Cape Town house many women and children too. Personal relations in these migrant hostels illustrate how gender politics are shaped by racial exploitation, poetry and the manipulation of `tradition' to legitimate male control. Tables set out the location, employment, education and age of bed-holders and their dependants in the research sample. Married women from the countryside seeking increased financial support from their husbands may use family sickness to remind men of their responsibilities. Wives in the hostels are forced into dependent submissiveness in order to continue staying there. Unmarried women are even more insecure as they compete with one another and with wives for access, via male bed-holders, to accommodation essential to survival. Some mutual female support does occur but far greater male solidarity is evident, with older men retaining `traditional' authority. The paper concludes by suggesting that the power of (remoulded) tradition is such that it constitutes an important fourth factor, together with race, class and gender, shaping social relations.

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