Fion de Vletter

Document Type

Migration Policy Series

Publication Date



Balsillie School of International Affairs


Despite Mozambique’s economic growth rate being one of the highest in Africa over the past few years, much of the growth is linked to the development of highly capital intensive “mega” projects with limited absorption of unskilled workers. The urban informal sector which has hitherto absorbed considerable numbers of the unemployed has become less attractive for the rural labour surpluses as increasing competition makes economic survival more difficult. Such limitations within the domestic economy, recently exacerbated by the current drought in the South, has forced many rural households to seek employment in South Africa. Although external migration to South Africa is the preferred employment option for many Mozambicans, it represents the option of last resort for many others simply because of the limited employment absorption capacity Mozambique’s formal economy.

The South African mines are the traditional destination of male Mozambican labour migrants. The number of migrants has remained relatively consistent over the last decade despite major downsizing in the industry as a whole. Mozambicans now make up 25% of the goldmine workforce (up from 10% in 1990). Mozambican miners may collectively be seen as a wage elite. Households with several generations of miners are likely to have built up assets and a home-based production capacity that would put them well above the economic status of other households with a more recent involvement in mine-migration. Households with miners with greater skills, longer service or with more than one miner, may have relatively high earnings. However, a significant proportion of sending households could be considered to be poor. Differentiation between households is even more pronounced when looked at across the entire range of migrant-sending households.

Rural Southern Mozambique, an area relatively bereft of resources and traditionally less productive agriculturally than other regions of Mozambique (due to poorer soils and erratic weather patterns) is now more developed and better off (at least in terms of average income and levels of wealth) than other rural areas. The pool of economic assets of the average rural household in the South is far greater than for other regions. This difference is largely attributable to labour migration and the transfer of significant volumes of remittances. There is, however, much evidence to suggest that many migrant households remain poor, having low levels of agricultural production and being highly dependent on relatively low levels of wage transfers.

Especially since the abolition of apartheid, employment opportunities for Mozambicans in South Africa have become much more varied, leading to a much higher degree of household differentiation than prevailed before 1990. In South Africa, employment is available for almost anyone willing to risk the consequences of unauthorized entry and prepared to be exploited, meaning that the remittances or accumulated wages brought home are likely to be minimal. Although migrant worker households are often better off than non-migrant supplying households, significant numbers of such households are still vulnerable to poverty. These households are usually deficit agricultural producers, being largely dependent on migrant remittances. In turn, with the increasingly harsh position on unskilled undocumented migrants in South Africa, their employment situation has become less and less secure.

This paper undertakes an inter-regional analysis of the South, Centre and North of Mozambique, demonstrating clear developmental differences attributed to many years of remittances channeled to the mainly rural areas of Southern Mozambique. This is followed by an analysis of the results of SAMP’s Migration and Remittance Survey (MARS) conducted in Southern Mozambique in 2004 which provides useful insights into the disparity of wealth and well-being among external migrant-sending households.

Although the overall economic impact of migrant labour has been positive in the South of Mozambique, because the nature of migration has changed so significantly over the last 15 years (i.e. the eclipsing of mine migration and increasing numbers of young Mozambican men chasing a limited number of jobs), it is likely that, in the coming years, the economic impact of migrant labour work in South Africa may diminish quite substantially as the amounts of wages remitted are reduced (due to lower earnings) and the mechanisms available for doing so are much more limited than for miners and workers in other, more privileged, wage sectors.