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Psychol Trauma. 2017 May;9(3):252-257. doi: 10.1037/tra0000214.

Trauma and PTSS of Zimbabwean refugees in South Africa: A summary of published studies.

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North-West University.



This paper is a report of 4 published papers on posttraumatic stress symptoms (PTSS)/posttraumatic stress disorders (PTSD) and traumas experienced by homeless Zimbabwean refugees living in South Africa. The general purpose of the papers was to explore how pre- and postmigration difficulties predicts posttraumatic stress symptoms/disorder; to understand gender differences in PTSS/PTSD reports using quantitative and qualitative approaches; and finally, to understand the nature of abuses, perpetrators, and sex of perpetrators.


Through focused group discussions (FGD)s, structured in-depth interviews, data were collected from 125 randomly selected homeless Zimbabwean refugees in Polokwane, Limpopo Province, South Africa. Age of participants ranged from 18 years to 48 years with a mean age of 28.3 years (SD = 6.27). Participants were assessed on demographic variables, Pre- and Post-Migration Difficulties Checklists, General Health Questionnaire 28 (GHQ-28), and PTSD Checklist (Civilian Version; PCL-C).


Results (Paper 1) indicated that a majority of the participants were significantly traumatized and pre- and postmigration traumas contributed to PTSS and PTSD. The qualitative study (Paper 2) overwhelmingly shared similar experiences that could be temporally framed into pre-, mid-, and postmigration. Many of the challenging sociocultural, structural, and institutional factors that they experienced were seen across all the migration stages. In Paper 3, results of a structural equation model (SEM) showed that none of the 3 paths (pre- and postmigration stress and poor mental health) on PTSD is significant for men whereas for women, the path from poor mental health to PTSD (β = .36, p = .013) is significant. Finally the fourth paper showed that rape and sexual harassment were common abuses. Perpetrators were mainly single male border and police officers.


The Zimbabwean refugees were found to constitute a particularly vulnerable group to have experienced cumulative traumas and therefore reported PTSS, PTSD, and poor mental health. These findings were discussed in line with practical implications for refugees in South Africa where xenophobic feelings are on the rise. (PsycINFO Database Record

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