Original Research

Access to healthcare by undocumented Zimbabwean migrants in post-apartheid South Africa

Takunda J. Chirau, Joyce Shirinde, Cheryl McCrindle
African Journal of Primary Health Care & Family Medicine | Vol 16, No 1 | a4126 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/phcfm.v16i1.4126 | © 2024 Takunda J. Chirau, Joyce Shirinde, Cheryl McCrindle | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 18 April 2023 | Published: 28 February 2024

About the author(s)

Takunda J. Chirau, WITS School of Governance, Centre for Learning on Evaluation and Results Anglophone Africa, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
Joyce Shirinde, Department of Public Health, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa
Cheryl McCrindle, Department of Public Health, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa


Background: Zimbabwean undocumented migrants rely on the South African public health care system for treatment of non-communicable and communicable diseases, surgery and medical emergency services. A gap remains to understand undocumented migrant experiences at a time when accessing public healthcare has been topical in South Africa.

Aim: This article aimed to describe and understand the experiences, challenges and health-seeking alternatives of undocumented Zimbabwean migrants in accessing healthcare services in Nellmapius in Pretoria.

Setting: The study was conducted at Nellmapius in Pretoria.

Methods: A qualitative descriptive research design was used. Structured interviews with 13 undocumented migrants were conducted by applying purposive and snowballing sampling techniques. The data were thematically analysed.

Results: Migrants reported that the attitudes by healthcare officials suggest unwillingness to provide services to undocumented migrants, aggravating their vulnerability and perennial illness. Migrants faced challenges of discrimination, a lack of professional service delivery, a lack of financial capacity to pay for services and a lack of documentation evoking health-seeking alternatives.

Conclusion: Migrants continue to face challenges while accessing subsidised health care. This study confirms that medical xenophobia is generally present in the public health care centres, at least for the sampled undocumented Zimbabwean migrants. The majority of undocumented migrants cannot afford to pay for private healthcare.

Contribution: The findings of this study inform national, provincial and local healthcare facilities to be ethical and provide dignified quality healthcare to undocumented migrants in line with international practices.


undocumented migrant; migrant; Zimbabweans; South African healthcare systems; xenophobia; human rights; Tshwane District

Sustainable Development Goal

Goal 3: Good health and well-being


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