Linzy on Musoni, 'Border Jumping and Migration Control in Southern Africa'

Francis Musoni
Benjamin Linzy

Francis Musoni. Border Jumping and Migration Control in Southern Africa. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2020. 218 pp. $28.00 (paper), ISBN 978-0-253-04715-1; $85.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-253-04714-4.

Reviewed by Benjamin Linzy (Marquette University) Published on H-Africa (July, 2021) Commissioned by David D. Hurlbut (Independent Scholar)

Printable Version:

In this work, Francis Musoni seeks to trace the history of "illegal migration" between Zimbabwe and South Africa over 120 years from 1890 to 2010. Early in the volume, Musoni explains why he uses the term "border jumping" to discuss moving across the border outside of officially designated channels. Using the term "makes it possible to simultaneously capture both the state's concerns and the sentiments of nonstate actors who often challenge the legitimacy of borders and state-centered efforts of controlling the movements between countries" (p. 5). By choosing this term, he successfully deemphasizes the legal status of border crossing and instead emphasizes the individual decision-making that went into crossing the border.

This terminology allows the book to examine the complex issues that motivated people to cross the Limpopo River. Foremost among them is the conflict between employers and state officials related to unskilled laborers in Zimbabwe and South Africa, which Musoni follows chronologically across five chapters. For example, the book's second chapter covers South Africa's ban on "tropical workers," that is, workers from north of the twenty-second parallel south, from 1913 through 1932. This led to conflict between labor recruiters for mines located within the Transvaal region, farmers who relied on migrant labor, and South African police who found the ban difficult to enforce. Further complicating matters was the response of the southern Rhodesian government, who "viewed the ban as an opportunity to strengthen several measures it had introduced since the mid-1890s in an effort to prevent loss of labor to South Africa" (p. 62). A result of these laws was the creation of complex border control subversion techniques that included activities as diverse as forging documents identifying laborers as "Portuguese natives" and bribing Botswanan officials to claim they were from the Tati Concession.

Musoni's fourth chapter further complicates the border jumping narrative between the two countries by showing how the internal displacement of South Africa's black population resulted in calls for a shift in labor policy. Further exacerbating the situation was the Zimbabwe War of Liberation. As a result of this conflict, the militarization of the border with South Africa and Rhodesian forces mining the Mozambican border further changed migration patterns and increased the danger faced by border jumpers. Following independence, the apartheid government of South Africa erected an electrified fence along the Zimbabwe border in 1985, one that "just four years after its construction ... had allegedly killed more people than those who died while trying to cross the Berlin Wall in twenty-three years of its existence" (p. 130).

As chapters 2 and 4 highlight, the book succeeds in explaining the changing dynamic of the border crossings between Zimbabwe and South Africa over the 120 years the author examines, adding to the scholarship on Africa, migration, and borders. Musoni has written an exciting book that challenges our notions of what borders on the African continent mean.

Citation: Benjamin Linzy. Review of Musoni, Francis, Border Jumping and Migration Control in Southern Africa. H-Africa, H-Net Reviews. July, 2021. URL:

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.