This paper raises a number of issues concerning the prevalent conception of refugehood and displacement, and presents a materialist perspective to the understanding of the problem of population displacement in southern Africa. It argues that population relocation/refugehood is part of a broader process of population displacement, the former usually manifesting as an extreme effect of the latter. The process of displacement is itself rooted in the class struggle: the contradictory relations among classes, fractions, categories and strata. As such, displacement mirrors the power equation among contradictory social forces. Understood in this way, such factors as war, famine, government policy, coup d'etat and so on, which are commonly advanced as the causes of the refugee problem and population displacement generally, emerge as effects of the class struggle and secondary factors making for the relocation of people.
On the southern African situation, the paper characterizes the present conjuncture of the class struggle in the region. It identifies the internal and regional policies of the Republic of South Africa as the nodal point of this struggle: the internal apartheid policy, destabilization of black-ruled independent countries in the region and colonialism in Namibia. These conditions are at the centre of the crisis of population displacement in southern Africa.
The paper concludes by suggesting that a resolution to the crisis of population displacement in the region lies, in the short run, in the overthrow of the apartheid regime in South Africa. But in the long run, the more extensive struggle is against exploitation, poverty and underdevelopment not only within southern Africa, but on a global stage. Therein may lie a permanent resolution to the world's problem of refugees and other displaced groups.