Academic journal article Refuge

Childhood in Exile: The Agency of Second-Generation Exiles Seeking Refuge from Apartheid

Academic journal article Refuge

Childhood in Exile: The Agency of Second-Generation Exiles Seeking Refuge from Apartheid

Article excerpt


This paper is based on a retrospective study of children who were born in exile and/or spent their formative years in exile during apartheid. It is based on 21 in-depth interviews with men and women who spent their childhoods in an average of three different countries in North America, Western Europe, the Nordic region, Eastern Europe, West Africa, and East Africa as second-generation exiles during apartheid. This article will argue that the interplay of structure and agency in the lives of second-generation exiles in the process of migration and in the transitory spaces that they occupied should be explored. Second-generation exile children devised a range of strategies in order to challenge or cope with constantly shifting contexts characterized by inequalities, social exclusion, violence, and political uncertainty.


Cet article s'appuie sur une etude retrospective d'enfants nes en exil ou qui ontpasse leurs premieres annees en exil durant Vapartheid. L'etude est basee sur 21 entrevues en profondeur avec des hommes et des femmes qui ont passe leur enfance comme des exiles de deuxieme generation au cours de Vapartheid dans une moyenne de trois pays differents en Amerique du Nord, Europe occidentale, region nordique, Europe de I'Est, Afrique de VOuest et Afrique de I'Est. Cet article fait valoir que V interaction de la structure et de Ventremise dans la vie des exiles de seconde generation en voie de migration et dans les espaces transitoires qu'ils occupaient devrait etre exploree. Les enfants exiles de deuxieme generation ont mis au point une gamme de strategies en vue de contester ou d'affronter des contextes en constante mutation, caracterise par des inegalites, Vexclusion sociale, la violence et Vincertitude politique.


Between 30,000 and 60,000 people--adults and children--went into exile during apartheid following the banning of opposition political organizations such as the African National Congress (ANC) and Pan African Congress (PAC), and the initiation of the armed struggle in 1961. In addition to participating in strategic planning, military training, and armed combat, exiles established dwellings all over the world. They constructed "homes," engaged in intimate relationships, and raised children. The literature tends to focus narrowly on strategic military operations and largely ignores the politics of the everyday where individuals negotiated power dynamics and waged "strategies of resistance" (1) in their new environments in exile.

Efforts have been made to elucidate the gendered dimensions of these struggles; (2) however, children's voices have remained on the periphery of academic enquiry. The agency of children growing up in exile is poorly described. They appear as invisible actors or silent bystanders--their intentional decision-making (3) and transformative action on the structures in which they were "bounded" (4) remains unrecognized. Second-generation exiles, who were born and/or spent their formative years in exile, were described as passively being acted upon by their parents and teachers, or as "sponges" simply absorbing the dominant political ideology--effectively denying them agency and power. There is little information about the manner in which children negotiated power relationships, waged everyday acts of resistance, or shaped their environments.

Literature Review

Exile as Strategic Space

Exile tends to be defined as physical "banishment" and geographical dislocation impelled by a political regime intent on preventing social change. (5) Exile in this study has been conceptualized not in relation to geographical place but to a historically specific "condition" (6) or process (7) associated with forced estrangement from a lived or imagined home in the context of political struggles against "norms of a nation." (8)

It is increasingly argued that the exile experience cannot be reduced to "militaristic, top down and bureaucratic" (9) power relations, and "narrow military and strategic objectives," (10) as this obscures the diversity of experience and the extent to which "strategies of struggle" (11) are played out in a range of social relationships, all diffused with power, as argued by Foucault. …

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