Importance of this research

Why Research the Portuguese Diaspora to South Africa? 

The Portuguese diaspora to South Africa is significant not only because of its size (10-15% of the white population of South Africa is of Portuguese descent[1]) but also because the experiences of immigrants during this time provides us with valuable insights into how various systems of power functioned. The South African government allowed (and at times even actively encouraged) Portuguese skilled labourers to South Africa between 1940-1980. Many bricklayers, welders, boiler makers and machinists immigrated to the country in hope of a better life.

The experiences of the Portuguese community in South Africa during this time invites further research for many reasons, most especially how it enriches our understanding of transnationalism. However, I would like to focus on two reasons for furthering this research.

The first concerns the gendered dimension of the diaspora, which presents a significant gap in our understanding of women’s embodied experiences of work and married life in South Africa. Women’s experiences of the diaspora (the primary focus of my research) provide a vivid reflection on the prevailing gender conformities and relations at the time. In this respect I have focused on instances of burn-out, which describes the break down of the female body under pressure.

Secondly, the experiences of many Portuguese men and women in South Africa provide a potent depiction of how the divisive and insidious dynamics of apartheid operated.   

Lastly, the importance of research that examines personal archives – such as photo albums, letters and stories – cannot be underscored enough in our conception of history. Often, these archives provide some of the most significant contributions to our understanding of moments in history, or at least allow for a diversity of perspectives on historical events.

[1] Clive Glaser (2010) ‘People in Transition between Africa and Europe: Cultural, Social and Economic Aspects of Portuguese Immigration into South Africa from 1926 to 1975’ p.61.