This study explored the social construction of black male Zimbabwean refugees’ identities as they experienced becoming refugees living in South Africa. A review of refugee literature revealed that Zimbabwean refugees demonstrate an exceptional nature that sets them apart from what most definitions of refugees assume. Refugee theory focusing on deficits and disorder promoted a view of refugees as helpless victims. As a result, refugees have come to be viewed as state burdens. Immigration practices characterized by the herding of refugees into spatially segregated areas, deportation and neglect continue to endanger the livelihoods of refugees. The manner in which government and media conceptualise the identity of a refugee has significant consequences for foreigners and locals. It is therefore important to explore the social construction of black male Zimbabwean refugees’ identities by investigating their own experiences through the telling of life stories. A process of in-depth qualitative interviews were conducted with four black male Zimbabwean refugees between the ages of 18 and 50, all currently living in South Africa. A self told life story outlined a narrative of their past migration, present circumstances and future deliberations. Results showed that participants bore great suffering in search of a stable existence. They were subjected to political abuse and an immense economic downfall in Zimbabwe, and experienced a great shock of self-confidence upon leaving their home. They came to bear a painful sense of ‘otherness’ living as a foreigner, and had to develop new understandings of themselves. Race and religion became important signifiers of identity, and participants were said to undergo a posttraumatic growth in the aftermath of their turbulent experiences. A study such as this offers valuable insights into the aspects of a Zimbabwean refugee’s existence and needs. Research may also inform bureaucratic practices as to conceptualising more appropriate refugee relations in the future, as well as media campaigns capable of rehabilitating the image of the refugee.