Journal of Cross-Cultural Gerontology

, Volume 24, Issue 3, pp 241–258 | Cite as

Reframing Vulnerability: Mozambican Refugees’ Access to State-Funded Pensions in Rural South Africa

  • Enid J. SchatzEmail author
Original Article


Researchers at the South African Medical Research Council/University of the Witwatersrand Rural Public Health and Health Transitions Research Unit (Agincourt) fieldsite in rural South Africa consider Mozambican residents more vulnerable than others in the local population. These self-settled refugees, many of whom are still not South African citizens, primarily came to South Africa in the 1980s during the Mozambican Civil War. This perceived economic vulnerability is rooted in their difficulties in accessing social grants, until recently legally available only to those with South African citizenship documentation. This paper focuses on semi-structured interviews with 30 ‘older’ women of Mozambican-descent living in the Agincourt area. These interviews highlight three important aspects of vulnerability; the respondents: (1) perceive a risk of deportation despite their having lived in the country for 20 years, (2) are unable to easily access social grants, namely the state-funded old-age pension, and (3) struggle to make ends meet when faced with daily needs and crisis situations. All three of these vulnerabilities were mediated to some extent by these women’s resourcefulness. They generated ties to South Africa through obtaining identification-documents, used these documents to access pensions, and used the pensions to help them sustain their multigenerational households.


Aging Refugees Social grants South Africa Vulnerability 



I would like to thank the South African Medical Research Council/University of the Witwatersrand Rural Public Health and Health Transitions Research Unit (Agincourt) for encouraging and enabling this project. Agincourt provided the project with access to the study site, information from the Agincourt Health and Demographic Surveillance System, assistance with sample selection, integration into the site, and collegial support throughout the data collection and analysis. The author is indebted to Catherine Ogunmefun, the fieldwork manager, and to Asnath Mdaka, Florence Mnisi, and Joyce Nkuna, the three interviewers who collected the data. I would like to thank Rebecca Dingo, Fred Golooba-Mutebi, Loren Landau, Jane Menken, Tara Polzer, Stephen Tollman, and Jill Williams, as well as the three reviewers of this paper, for reading and commenting on earlier drafts or presentations of this paper. This work was funded through the Mellon Foundation HIV/AIDS Node, which is situated at the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa (E. Preston-Whyte, PI); through the Mellon Foundation African Demography Research and Training Program (J. Menken, PI) at the University of Colorado; and a Seed Grant from P30 AG024472-01 National Institute on Aging, Population Aging Center (J. Menken, PI).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of MissouriColumbiaUSA
  2. 2.University of Colorado–BoulderBoulderUSA
  3. 3.University of the WitwatersrandJohannesburgSouth Africa

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