South African higher education institutions are key sites in which persistent inequalities regarding race, class, and gender in the post-apartheid era have been challenged. However, despite their large presence, international students at South African universities have often been neglected in these discussions. This paper examines the ways in which students from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region studying at the formerly Whites-only Rhodes University experience, interpret, and practice social class as migrants. I argue that SADC students’ transnational identities are a source of both privilege and precarity in the South/southern African contexts of race and class. At Rhodes, SADC students are often highly regarded students who easily adapt to the middle-class campus environment, which they call a ‘white space’. They are therefore sometimes misrecognised as being particularly privileged. This, however, contradicts SADC students’ own experience of precarity. Families across the region invest heavily in their children’s transnational education, which creates pressures of success, while encounters with culture shock and xenophobia aggravate SADC students’ sense of non-belonging in the South African society. Renegotiations of class between home and South Africa complicate SADC students’ identities and leave them feeling never fully ‘at home’ in either place, constantly looking for a better future elsewhere. Despite their ongoing challenges, SADC students believe that through transnational education they will eventually become successful ‘future leaders’ and thus facilitate their families’ intergenerational class-making projects. This paper makes a significant contribution to the understanding of such pivotal topics in migration studies as identity, aspiration, and belonging by challenging perceptions of migrants as a stereotypically marginalised group and offering a fresh lens on social class through the dynamic and fragmentary processes of privilege and precarity.
Veera Tagliabue is a part-time PhD candidate (thesis awaited status) in the Department of African Studies and Anthropology at the University of Birmingham, UK. Veera completed her Master's in Development Studies at the University in Helsinki, Finland, and her MA thesis focused on the African Union federal initiative. Veera’s main research interest currently lies in the intersections of race and class, especially in the contexts of migration and higher education. Her PhD project is an ethnographic study on African international students’ experiences of social class at Rhodes University in South Africa.
Wednesday 8 March, 15.00-16.00