Ethiopian immigrants in South Africa are increasingly occupying informal trading space in townships, rural areas and in select central business districts across the country. This article documents the experiences of Ethiopian migrants in the informal sector in South Africa. Theoretically, the article rests on the concept of everyday life. It draws on data from interviews, focus group discussions and observations carried out between October 2020 and September 2021. This signals a period in which everyone was challenged by COVID-19, especially migrants, which compounded the hierarchies of marginality in which Ethiopian migrants in South Africa are situated. Coupled with this, Ethiopian migrants face two broad levels of marginality: firstly, marginality from state policies and the communities in which they reside and work; and secondly, marginality from gendered and class-based inequalities within the Ethiopian community. The structural and hegemonic barriers range from lack of documentation to regularize residency status and business respectively, extortion by gangs in the name of “protection fee,” exploitation by local level state/community structures and women restricted to female roles. By the same token, we see the creativity and ingenuity of this community, that focuses on their personhood, to make sense of their lives and create conditions to live meaningful lives. This article explores some of the core contestations emerging out of these twin marginalities the ways in which Ethiopian migrants structure their lives and livelihoods in South Africa.
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