Johannes Machinya

Contact Details

43 Curzon Court, Cr Klein and Captain, Hillbrow, Johannesburg, South Africa


+27 73 873 1213


University of Witwatersrand

PhD Project Title

‘Illegal’ migrant labour and precarity. A case study of undocumented migrant workers in Witbank, South Africa.

Abstract of PhD Thesis

The study investigates the ways in which undocumented migrant workers in Witbank, a mining town in South Africa, grapple with abounding conditions of insecurity, vulnerability and uncertainty as ‘illegal’ people; what understanding and political subjectivities do they have about their illegalised and precarious existence, and how they navigate the terrain of ‘illegality’. The study pays attention to the daily, lived experiences of ‘illegality’ by undocumented migrant workers in their everyday encounters with state power in the form of immigration policing/enforcement – the raids (in the communities where they are living as well as their workplaces), the stop and search by the police, (and the fears thereof). It is attempting to find out how this is producing undocumented migrant workers as an economically and politically precarious people in their workplaces, the communities they live in as well as the broader South African community. The research is located within the broader context of globalisation which evoke an image of the world where people move freely across seamless national borders, with nation states no longer constituting meaningful economic or political entities, and the emergency of a universal human rights regime that is indicative of a shift from a state-based to a more individual-based universal conception of rights. What this implies is that people are free to move across the world and live and or work anywhere with their human and labour rights guaranteed as global citizens. However, under globalisation, (im)migration has raised concerns on issues of national security and nation-building. To this effect, the free movement of people and the purported dissolution of national boundaries is increasingly being seen as a rhetoric that is contradicted by the paradoxical reality of borders and immigration control as strategies of exclusion. This creates a disjuncture between economic and political interests regarding trans-boundary labour migration and immigration control, thereby creating a global “liberal paradox” of open markets and closed political communities. The reactualisation of political and social boundaries through immigration enforcement creates the condition of migrant ‘illegality’ which, by criminalising ‘illegal’ migrants, makes them insecure and vulnerable in their host countries. It makes them exploitable in their workplaces, ideal targets for criminals, ideal targets for violence by the public and also victims of extortion from the police and corrupt immigration officers. I am using the term ‘illegality’ or ‘illegal’ in inverted commas to imply the juridical construction of the condition of migrant ‘illegality’ within discourses of immigration control and enforcement and the use of inverted commas helps in denaturalising the condition of migrant ‘illegality’.

Area of Interest

Labour Migration, Immigration control, Decent Work

Educational Background

(in progress)

Doctor of Philosophy in Sociology, University of Witwatersrand, South Africa.


Master of Arts in Industrial/Economic Sociology, University of Witwatersrand, South Africa.


Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Industrial/Economic Sociology, University of Witwatersrand, South Africa. 


Bachelor of Social Sciences in Social Anthropology and Sociology, Great Zimbabwe University, Zimbabwe

Professional Experience

Feb-Jul 2015

Special Tutor, Sociological Theory, University of Witwatersrand, South Africa


Research intern, Mining and Rural Transformation in Southern Africa (MARTISA), University of Witwatersrand, South Africa


Undergraduate tutor, Southern Africa in the Era of Globalisation, University of Witwatersrand, South Africa


Primary School Teacher, Ministry of Education, Sports, Arts and Culture, Zimbabwe



Andrew Mellon Foundation, Doctoral Scholarship


Postgraduate Merit Award Scholarship for PhD, University of Witwatersrand


Postgraduate Merit Award Scholarship for MA, University of Witwatersrand


Beit Trust Bursary for Zimbabwe


J. C. Carstens Bursary, University of Witwatersrand


Postgraduate University Council Scholarship, University of Witwatersrand


Dean Scholarship Fund, University of Witwatersrand


Postgraduate Merit Award Scholarship for Honours, University of Witwatersrand