This paper attempts to redress the lack of research into temporary labour migration at a national level in South Africa. Using the 1993 Project for Statistics on Living Standards and Development and the 1995, 1997 and 1999 October Household Surveys, we explore three broad areas: the extent of labour migration over the period 1993 to 1999; the characteristics of migrant workers and how these have changed over time; and the economic ties that labour migrants have maintained with their households of origin. We find that labour migration from African rural areas has increased, driven largely by a rise in the proportion of women leaving their households of origin to work or to search for work. Using a simple multivariate regression analysis together with descriptive statistics, we explore some possible reasons for why there has been this increase in female migration. We also find that over the period migrants have retained strong economic ties with their households of origin, and that remittances remain an important share of income for these households. However, the analysis is limited by the paucity of data that exist on labour migrants in the national household surveys. We therefore have also sought, wherever possible, to expose the limitations of the data and the likely biases that result.