This article shows how life histories can be useful in analyzing the impact of political and economic change on the lives of individuals and social groups in South Africa. Four case studies are presented to highlight the shared and individual experiences of four women who arrived in Cape Town in defiance of the pass laws, which prohibited such migration. Comparing the four stories, it is clear that certain aspects of South Africa's influx controls affected all the women as women. Women were the targets of most pass raids in the townships, hostels, squatter camps and held a much more precarious position in the city. Also, the age and stage in the life cycle determined their ability to make a living in their town in order to survive shocking outbreaks of violence in the Crossroads squatter camp in 1983 and to avoid arrest under the "pass laws" of the apartheid era.