Page 1


KNOW MY STORY Edited by Susann Huschke

First published 2017 by The MoVE Project African Centre for Migration & Society (ACMS) University of the Witwatersrand

About the editing process Participants selected pseudonyms. Therefore, names used in this publication are not necessarily the actual names of those involved.

Creative Commons: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND

The editors have corrected small typographical errors for the purpose of creating clarity for readers, but the changes have been minimal to ensure that the voice of each author is maintained.

This MoVE Project must be credited when shared. The work cannot be changed in any way, and it cannot be used commercially. ISBN 978-0-9946707-6-2 Editor: Susann Huschke Publication design: Quinten Edward Williams Copyeditor: Greta Schuler Series editors: Elsa Oliveira and Jo Vearey

Photography of participant artwork: Thys Dullaart Photographs on p.10, p.14, p.18, p.23: Julia Sestier Photographs on p.2, p.84/85, p.90, p.134: Susann Huschke

Printed in South Africa. MoVE MoVE is a project housed at the African Centre for Migration & Society (ACMS) at the University of the Witswatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa. KNOW MY STORY The project received ethics approval (H16 02 09) from the University of the Witwatersrand Research Ethics Committee (non-medical).

MoVE Social Media

Project Context Rebecca Walker Foreword


Susann Huschke “Before you judge me, know my story!” About the KNOW MY STORY Project


Susann Huschke The Local Context: Soweto



Featured Stories Introduction Stories and Artworks
































Reflections on Process Introduction About the Reflections


Jenny Coetzee The Strength of the Human Spirit


Susann Huschke & Jo Vearey Processing the Process


Group discussion In Conversation: On the Ethics of Disclosure and the Risks of “Showing Face” 104 Comments from participants What Was It Like to Take Part in KNOW MY STORY? 110 Julia Sestier & Susann Huschke In Conversation with Julia Sestier


Project Members Maggie O’Neill Claiming Cultural Citizenship Xoli Moloi & Susann Huschke In Conversation with Xoli Moloi


Introduction People and Organisations




Project Partners


Project Funders



Laura Lee Worlds Apart? Reflections from an Irish Sex Worker


Lenore Manderson Portraits of a Life on the Edge


“PITY – I cannot tolerate. CHARITY – I cannot live off! MY PRIDE – in making a living and being able to sustain myself and my family with a dream of one day returning to school to further my education.” Zenande, KNOW MY STORY participant

FOREWORD Rebecca Walker Postdoctoral Research Fellow, African Centre for Migration & Society, University of the Witwatersrand

Although sex work is an important informal livelihood strategy (see UNAIDS, 2012), it is currently illegal in South Africa. This means that individuals who sell sex face multiple vulnerabilities including abuse, discrimination, stigmatisation, moralisation, and many levels of violence – both direct and structural (Walker & Oliveira, 2015). Despite a growing body of research documenting the vulnerabilities encountered by sex workers, recognition of their everyday lived experiences remains limited. Moreover, specific marginalised groups such as mothers who sell sex and gay and transgender sex workers – two groups that are represented in this project – have received even less scholarly and political attention. The lack of understanding around sex work in mainstream discourse – particularly trajectories into the industry and the risks and vulnerabilities encountered while

selling sex – means that sex workers remain misunderstood and misrepresented. It also means that the role that sex work plays in enabling individuals to provide for themselves and their dependants, to support family networks, to pay rent, to pay school fees, and to meet economic needs on a daily basis is ignored. The assumption that sex workers are either victims in need of rescue or criminals in need of arrest belies the nuances of the lived experiences of sex workers – of the choices made, of the chances taken, of the risks faced, and of the desire to make a precarious life safer and more rewarding. These rich, multi-layered realities are brought to the fore through the stories shared by sex workers themselves in projects such as KNOW MY STORY, which highlights the complex and difficult choices many people in South Africa 11


References UNAIDS. (2012). UNAIDS guidance note on HIV and sex work. Switzerland: UNAIDS. Available from: sub_landing/files/JC2306_UNAIDS-guidancenote-HIV-sex-work_en.pdf.

make about work, sexuality, migration and mobility, motherhood, and survival. This project builds on a body of participatory arts-based projects conducted at the African Centre for Migration & Society (ACMS) in collaboration with sex workers and the South African Sisonke National Sex Worker Movement. Since 2010, these projects have continued to draw attention to the lived experiences of sex workers. Through the application of various visual and arts-based methods, the projects also unpack and raise important questions around the research process itself. In doing so, the complex – and sometimes difficult – relationship between the researcher and the researched and the relationships between academic institutions and the communities where research takes place come under scrutiny – particularly concerning issues of representation, identity, power, and agency as mediated by the criminalisation and stigmatisation of sex work in the South African context.

Walker, R. & Oliveira, E. (2015). Contested spaces: Exploring the intersections of migration, sex work and trafficking in South Africa. Graduate Journal of Social Sciences, 11 (2): 129-153.

More than anything, KNOW MY STORY is testimony of the hard work and commitment of the sex worker participants, the researcher, and the supporting team. Working together over several months, these individuals have produced and shared a powerful body of work that supports efforts to ensure that the lives of sex workers in Soweto can be seen, heard, and understood.


The workshop space The KNOW MY STORY team had to find a space in Soweto that was big enough and private enough for the workshop. Project participant Priscilla hosted the gatherings in her garage. Photo: Susann Huschke 2016 13


“[T]he ideology of oppression always injects a certain fatalism in the oppressed. This fatalism is instilled by having the oppressed believe that no solution for them can become a reality, that reality is unchangeable. As a consequence, one of the things to do for the oppressed people is to work on the question of hope, to increase hope, hope in spite of it all. Because without hope, there can be no struggle.� Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of Solidarity



Susann Huschke Postdoctoral Research Fellow, African Centre for Migration & Society and School of Public Health, University of the Witwatersrand

Inspired by the arts-based participatory projects conducted by the African Centre for Migration & Society (ACMS) in collaboration with sex workers and the Sisonke National Sex Worker Movement, I wanted to develop a project working with sex workers to collect/ tell/share their own stories. The resulting project – KNOW MY STORY – included participatory story-telling sessions prompted by photographs taken by participants with their cell phones, photo portraits taken by a professional photographer, the production of a five-minute film trailer, and a creative arts workshop. The project ran between June 2016 and March 2017 in Soweto.

KNOW MY STORY forms part of a larger ethnographic study on the experiences, health practices, and well-being of sex workers in Soweto, South Africa. The project design grew out of my frustration with the limits of more traditional research approaches. As a white European researcher working with Black women in a township, I felt that the interviews I was conducting reinforced unequal power dynamics between the researcher and the interviewees. Interviews are hierarchical by nature, with the focus, questions, and direction of the conversation largely determined by the interviewer. The arts-based participatory approach of the KNOW MY STORY project was an attempt to challenge these power dynamics and hierarchies and to involve sex workers more directly in the production of knowledge about issues that affect them.

Participants chose the project name – KNOW MY STORY – during a group discussion about the aims of the project. They wanted their audiences to listen to what they had to say about themselves, their lives, their struggles, 15


Your story, my story The stories that emerge in an open space reflect the deeply personal, complex nature of what it means to be a sex worker in Soweto. Photo: Susann Huschke 2016

Empowerment Through this project, sex workers proclaimed: “Before you judge me, know my story!� Photo: Coco 2016

Resilience We may stumble. We may fall. But we pick ourselves up and take the next step. Photo: Julia Sestier 2016 16

and their reasons for selling sex. All of the participants narrated experiences of rejection, disrespect, and violence from family members and from their communities because of their status as sex workers. Through this project, they wanted to proclaim: “Before you judge me, know my story!� In addition to the 14 sex workers involved in this project, the team included facilitator and social media expert Ntokozo Yingwana (ACMS), independent photographer Julia Sestier, film director Xoli Moloi, film producer Margherita DiPaola, and artists Monwabisi Dasi and Phumlani Mamfengu. The project was made possible by the Migration and Health Project Southern Africa (maHp) and the MoVE:method:visual:explore Project at the ACMS, the Wellcome Trust, the Perinatal HIV Research Unit (PHRU) and the Soweto Sex Worker Programme (SSWP) at Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto, and the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD).



“True social harmony grows naturally out of solidarity of interests. In a society where those who always work never have anything, while those who never work enjoy everything, solidarity of interests is nonexistent; hence social harmony is but a myth.� Emma Goldman, Anarchism and Other Essays



Susann Huschke Postdoctoral Research Fellow, African Centre for Migration & Society and School of Public Health, University of the Witwatersrand

I’m staring at the future with glassy eyes Xa ndijong’ ulutsha luswel’ ulwazi Ngxowa behlutha siswel’ amanzi Mpil’ iyarhuqa nguban’ obesazi I’m sick and tired of these cloudy skies People no longer smiling they’re wearing frowns My pen bleeds as I scribble these lines coz promises are broken we left with lies even Mandela had forgotten that he’s one with us I guess cooption is legal so is fire arms which is what the future holds up against us youth may never grow old coz they’re gangstars courtesy of the TV screen leaders are con artists, river dancing on our blood stream their very own blood it’s just not in their own skin Is this really what we signed up for? Sas’zabalaza sizam’ uk’tshintsh’ isimo sentlalo yomnt’ omnyama sixel’ uBantu Biko bath’ uzokhwezelwa ngubani umlilo Madoda xa nisuke nisthathel’ u Info Monwabisi Dasi, “Sas’zabalaza” 19


Soweto – which stands for South Western Townships – is home to more than 1.2 million people (Statistics South Africa, 2011). Located to the south west of Johannesburg’s city centre, the first township of Orlando was established in the 1930s to house Black workers employed in the city, including those working in the gold mines. Black workers were not allowed to live in the same areas as their white employers due to the racial segregation enacted by the apartheid government through the Native Urban Areas Act of 1923. From the 1930s onwards, city authorities forcibly removed Black African residents from the southern suburbs of Johannesburg and relocated them to the townships making up Soweto.

Over the last three decades, Soweto has become more diverse. Some parts now serve as images of the “new South Africa”: pretty brick houses with nicely kept front gardens, suburban gems owned by the emerging Black middle class. Alongside this, however, stand informal settlements of shacks built out of anything and everything, without running water or electricity, next to mountains of waste – that is also Soweto. Most of the participants of KNOW MY STORY live in parts of Soweto that are somewhere in between these extremes; their homes are associated with the infamous “matchbox” houses, now run-down and too small to host the extended families that typically form a household in working class Black communities. Many houses have been expanded over the years, with additional rooms or standalone shacks for family or renters crowding the yards. Some of the KNOW MY STORY participants rent shacks while others live in the main house of one of these properties, usually owned by an older family member. The houses have running (cold) water and electricity. The toilets and a large washing sink are usually outside, but there are no showers or baths.

Home to many prominent South African activists – including Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu – Soweto is associated with the continued struggle against injustice, including its pivotal role in the struggle against the apartheid regime. In 1976, students rose up against a law that would make Afrikaans – the language of the white ruling class – the language of instruction in schools. The violent response by the government left hundreds of young people injured or dead. In his foreword to Peter Magubane’s Soweto: Portrait of a City, Archbishop Desmond Tutu (1990) wrote of the township:

In Soweto, most sex work takes place in the backrooms of legal taverns and illicit “shebeens.” Some sex workers take clients to their own shacks or go with the client to his home while others work in hotels or bars. According to the sex workers who took part in my ethnographic study, the price for sex in taverns and shebeens is around R50 (US $4), whereas sex workers

Soweto happened almost by default, an eyesore that had not been planned; it just grew in a higgledy-piggledy fashion, with row upon monotonous row of so-called ‘matchbox’ houses crowding into unpaved streets that were badly lit. (p.4) 20

Ordinary life Sex workers are part of our communities. They are neighbors, friends, and family members. Photo: Susann Huschke 2016 The backroom of a Soweto shebeen, one of the places where sex workers meet their clients. Photo: Julia Sestier 2016 21


References City of Johannesburg. (2011). 2012/16 Integrated Development Plan: 2013/14 Review. Available from: stories/2013/June/2013-16%20idp%20 17may2013%20final.pdf

working in hotels and upper-class bars in Soweto and in other parts of Johannesburg may charge an hourly fee, e.g. R200 (US $16), or a fee per service, e.g. R150 (US $12) for vaginal sex. Some sex workers, typically those working in hotels, might earn R2,000 a week or more while others only make R200 in a week or sometimes nothing at all.

City of Johannesburg. (2005). Key results: Johannesburg. Available from: http://www.

For comparison, the average formal income per household in Johannesburg is R30,000 (US $2,200) per month for white residents and R5,600 (US $410) per month for Black residents (City of Johannesburg, 2011); however, within the predominantly Black area of Soweto, it is only R2,600 (US $208) per month. This income must cover the costs of living for, on average, four people (City of Johannesburg, 2005). One in five Soweto households have no formal income at all (Statistics South Africa, 2011). Unemployment in South Africa is currently at 25%, with a significant gap between unemployment rates for white South Africans (8%) and Black South Africans (40%) (Statistics South Africa, 2014). Considering this economic reality, informal ways of making money – including criminalised activities such as selling sex – are crucial for survival. A monthly income of as little as R500 makes a significant difference for everyday living costs, while an income of several thousand rand would help pay for house extensions, medical costs, or school fees, considering that education, including public primary education and public higher education, is fee-based in South Africa.

South African History Online. (2016). The June 16 Soweto Uprising. Available from: june-16-soweto-youth-uprising Statistics South Africa. (2014). Employment, unemployment, skills and economic growth. Available from: presentation/Stats%20SA%20presentation%20 on%20skills%20and%20unemployment_16%20 September.pdf Statistics South Africa. (2011). Soweto. Available from: za/?page_id=4286&id=11317 Tutu, D. (1990). Foreword. In Soweto: A Portrait of a City. By Magubane, P. Cape Town: Struik Publishers.


FEATURED STORIES “Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity.� Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, The Danger of A Single Story

“By focusing closely on particular individuals and their changing relationships, one would necessarily subvert the most problematic connotations of culture: homogeneity, coherence, and timelessness.� Lila Abu-Lughod, Writing Against Culture


The following pages feature images selected by the participants accompanied by their written stories. The images include professional portraits that were anonymised by participants, pictures that participants took with their cellphones, and pictures taken by Julia Sestier during the portrait sessions. Each collection of images and texts is unique because the participants took part in the project in different ways. Some participants had to leave the project before the final art workshop for various reasons, including becoming a mother. Others did not take any photos of their own because they did not have cellphones with which to take pictures. Two participants – Chaniqua and Pretty – chose texts that were based on conversations rather than written stories. But all participants found ways to publicly share personal insights into their working and private lives in Soweto. 27


Amanda I am a very protective mother. I have two beautiful girls, one is doing her first year in university, the other is still a baby. I love my babies so much. They are the reason I wake up every day. You touch them you have to deal with me. I know that one day my girls will put me on another level in life and I am so proud that I have given them a better life than I had. Soon my firstborn will be working and she will take good care of her little sister. I am a proud mom; I did well for my family. I know I can go to rest knowing that my kids love each other and that they will take good care of themselves.




Artwork Details 1. Mixed media collage by Amanda & Julia Sestier 2. Mixed media collage by Amanda & Julia Sestier 3. Photo by Julia Sestier 30

I am at work, waiting for the client. I keep myself busy with playing songs on the jukebox.



Benefit I’m the first born son of Elizabeth. Elizabeth and my siblings live at my grandmother’s place which we share with my cousins. My childhood was the best because I grew up having everything at my disposal; I was spoiled by my grandmother, aunts and my uncles; until life showed me its harsh realities. Death came to my house taking all the people I loved and who were supporting me financially and otherwise. What a person must do faced with such obstacles. I had to come up with a plan, and very fast, to survive the situation. I befriended other guys in my township and they introduced me to a world of sex work in order to have an income and continue with my studies. I joined the group and started to make money and it was enough to cover all my needs. I started to get rejected at church due to the fact that I came out about my sexuality. Surprisingly, the pastor responsible became my client eventually, and he pays me very well for sex. I met different challenges but managed to get empowered academically, and even now I am still looking for ways to empower myself more. Unfortunately, I recently found out that I have anal cancer and HPV but I intend to fight the diseases. I’m stronger and looking at the past challenges I have faced, this is just a small 32



challenge which I will pass with distinctions. I know myself, I am strong, a survivor and a warrior. Watch the space.


Education has always been a priority for me.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

Psalm 23:4

Artwork Details 1. Mixed media collage by Benefit & Julia Sestier 2. Mixed media collage by Benefit & Julia Sestier 3. Cellphone photo by Benefit 4. Cellphone photo by Benefit 35


Chaniqua I was born between two cultural clashes where my father was a priest and my mother a sangoma [traditional healer]. It was quite difficult growing up as a child, not knowing what was right and what was wrong. Culturally, from my mother’s side it was okay for me to be the person that I am. But not from my father’s family; they believed so much in the Bible. From my mother’s side, culturally it was okay because I they saw me as coming into this world as a passed one or an ancestor. But then, since growing up, I was able to make my own decisions, I chose to be who I am and I stuck and stood by it. Later in life I lost both my parents, that’s when life started being very difficult. When you endure suffering as a young child and you’ve got no one to go back to or run to, that’s where you start finding yourself in these streets of Jo’burg and hustling, trying to make a living. That’s where one gets exposed to finding ways of making easy cash and eventually that’s how one was exposed to this industry. Through that I was able to sustain the life that I was living then until up to now. The hardship that we’ve endured as individuals, that’s what brings this unity among us. Even though we are human beings, we might have our own issues, but it’s like we all have been given birth by one 36



mother. We all want one thing, just to better ourselves, and making ourselves be best that we can be. I still believe that as time goes on there is still more that’s about to come out from me. Here we are, still pushing and surviving, and life goes on.


I look at this bridge and I think about how I was growing up as a child. I always knew I wanted to be different from being the person that I was, “the boy I was” – the transition to being a lady that I am. The walls of this bridge are standing strong, no matter how many people walk on it. It remains. I have overcome that, so I can overcome anything. I am unshakeable like the bridge.

This was a gift passed on to me by my mother who was a sangoma. I strongly believe in my ancestors because of what I have seen, and what has happened and what is about to happen. No one could ever take this gift away from me.

Artwork Details 1. Mixed media collage by Chaniqua & Julia Sestier 2. Mixed media collage by Chaniqua & Julia Sestier 3. Cellphone photo by Chaniqua 4. Cellphone photo by Chaniqua 39


Chantel It all started with me being daddy’s little girl and daddy used to buy me all sorts of stuff I wanted. And then reality hit back when daddy passed on. It all started, I started hustling on my own because mommy was a domestic worker and could not afford everything I wanted to have. And my four brothers, she had to take care of them, she was the only one who was financially stable at that time, and I had to stand on my own. That’s where it all started. I wanted things my mom couldn’t buy me and it was impossible for her to do that because I wanted expensive things that daddy used to buy me, shoes, hair, clothes. And then I started hanging out with my friend who was a sex worker. She taught me things I never knew but most of all she taught me how to survive.




Artwork Details 1. Mixed media collage by Chantel & Julia Sestier 2. Mixed media collage by Chantel & Julia Sestier 3. Photo by Julia 42

This picture shows me in my work place. I like dressing up sexy and looking sexy and I love dancing as well. That’s the way I attract my clients, the way I dress, look, and dance.



Chastiti My story – the book. My name is Chastiti. I am 40 years old. I am from Soweto, born and raised. I grew up in Orlando East. Finished school there in Orlando. Then went to do my auxiliary nursing certificate for a year and a half. I worked at PicknPay for 2 years. I was married and had two beautiful girls. Then they passed on. Then that’s where my life turns around cause I was devastated, destroyed and crushed and broken cause I felt that everything that I valued and loved was taken from me. I even contracted the virus HIV from being negligent. I no longer took care of my well-being, I felt I had no purpose in life, my husband left me. I started drinking heavily, going to taverns, my friend introduced me to the life style. I was likeable, the money was good cause I was new in the industry. I got used to it.




Artwork Details 1. Mixed media collage by Chastiti & Julia Sestier 2. Mixed media collage by Chastiti & Julia Sestier 3. Cellphone photo by Chastiti 4. Cellphone photo by Chastiti 46

This is where I usually take my clients in order to show them fun and pleasure them in my own private space. It is my place, I call it my palace. The door might be closed but you can’t tell that this is happening inside these closed doors. And there are many doors like these where you won’t or can’t tell what is really happening behind them. It might be day or night or any time, any human being, any door has its own story to tell, right?

This is inside my place where I usually put my work into practice. My bed: from earth to moon! It’s where I do my business, pleasing my clients. I get the good reward after doing my business. My clients are always happy with my services, nothing goes wrong when you enter this world.



Coco I’m a transwoman who is a loving, caring and sweet person. I am the mother of two beautiful girls, the oldest is 14 years old and the little one is 10 years old. Everything I do I do it for them. They are the reason why I wake up every day. We are a family of five, I am the breadwinner at home and the oldest child. Life hasn’t been easy for me. When I was growing up, being the oldest child, I had to drop out of school just to find something that will bring me money so that I can provide for my family, my Mom, my younger brother and my two girls. Sex work was the only way and yes, this industry has helped me, even though it is not easy being a sex worker. We experience a lot of violence and sometimes money is not enough. I have a day job now and things are much better at home. I still do my other job but now I have more than enough time to spend with my family. I love cooking and we eat our Sunday lunch together as a family. I also love helping my kids with their homework. I do laundry, cook and clean. I take good care of my family like any other person.




My dream is to be a program director one day. Above it all I want my kids to have a better life and not go through what I went through.

Artwork Details 1. Mixed media collage by Coco & Julia Sestier 2. Mixed media collage by Coco & Julia Sestier 3. Photo by Julia Sestier 4. Cellphone photo by Coco 5. Cellphone photo by Coco 50

I dress up for my job because there’s competition in our field so if I want more clients I must look good.

As a parent I make sure that my kids’ uniforms are ready for the next day before I go out, now that I can afford the things that they need.

I cook before I go out. My kids will never go to bed hungry ever again, because mummy is making money from sex work!



Keletso Keletso has such a painful background that even now she is still struggling and fighting to have a better life for herself and her kids. I am a girl from Limpopo who has three lovely boys. My first born is 14 years, second born is 8 years turning 9 this year. My third born is 1 year 6 months. People fail to understand when I say I have 3 boys because they know I was pregnant once. But I adopted two. My first born I adopted him when my sister passed away. He is the one who is 14 years. Last year, I adopted the child from my late friend Mary. We were like blood sisters and knew everything about each other. That was just a little background about me. I am a single mother who goes all out for her children. Before you judge me know my story. I am a sex worker. What or who is a sex worker? A sex worker is a human being, a mother, and a person who has scars. Our cultures hurt us most. I was married young and my marriage turned into hell because I was abused and beaten. I have nothing to say about it. When you approach the elders they will tell you “lenyalo la kgotlelelwa� [you have to hold on to your marriage]. Which parent now on earth will watch her child suffer, beaten with scars, and say that? How could you traumatise your 52



daughter by taking her to initiation school while still young, a virgin? ď Œ And expect a better future while choosing who she can get married to? It hurts and it broke my heart.


I then chose who I am today and it works for me and my kids. I support them, taking them to better schools to have a better future then myself. 54

I changed from my religion to Rasta because I felt that Zion is not helping me, but with Rasta, I smoke ganja that makes me forget my painful past that I have been through.

In this world, without money you are nothing.

Artwork Details 1. Cellphone photo by Keletso 2. Photo by Julia Sestier 3. Cellphone photo by Keletso 4. Photo by Susann Huschke 55


Meme Yes I am a sex worker but then, sex work is only my profession, my source of income to earn a living. I have dreams, ambitions, responsibilities and myself to look after. I have a son who is my everything. To me, he is the reason I wake up every day and go hustle to make ends meet for him. All I want for him is a proper life and good education, hence I am striving this much for him. Dreams may seem shattered but nothing is impossible til its done. I am struggling to pay for tuition fees, thus my hustling does it for me. I still believe that some day, no matter how and when, I will hold that degree somehow. Back at home I have grandparents who look up to me and whenever I enter the door, they’d be looking at my hands, what have I got for them? It’s heart-wrenching to see them this old and I cannot do any work for them, yet they raised me. Lucky for them they used to work as domestics. But in this age, even domestic employers seek good and contactable references for you to be hired. This takes me back to my hustling job where I would not be asked for 1 or 2 years experience with good references. And yes through all my sex work I have come across the bad and disturbing situation of crime. 56



This is how I want my story to be portrayed, all the reasons that made me take this risky work.

Artwork Details 1. Mixed media collage by Meme & Julia Sestier 2. Mixed media collage by Meme & Julia Sestier 3. Cellphone photo by Meme 58

This is about the night life that I have on my weekends. This is where I have time to mingle with my friends and get my entertainment in the community that I live in: chilling, destressing, with alcohol of course but away from my sex working job. It’s the shebeen that I usually entertain myself at when I am not exactly doing business, simply because it is the community that I live in, a community that is like my home town since I was born and bred there, though I do have

my real home town in the Eastern Cape where my parents were born. Here I am just like everyone in the community, regardless of my “other work“ that I do. I am not known as a sex worker, since my parents don’t even know.



Penelope My name is Penelope Mknize. I am a 26 year old female who is a sex worker. I was born and bred here in Gauteng but my parents are originally from the Eastern Province. I grew up in a good family which was warm and loving up until death visited my father.

first and I will think about it. We went to the Johannesburg clubs where we would meet her clients and she would introduce me. This was happening after school as we were going to the same school in town, and she was staying around there.

In 2006 I was at primary school, just starting my high school, when my father got sick due to natural causes. He continued working until I was doing my grade 11. He couldn’t bear the pain anymore so he passed away. It was so sad and emotional and things started to change as there was only one breadwinner at home now, my mom.

We went there 3 or 4 times a week and almost every weekend. I finally made my decision and said to her “I will give it a try this month”, and I did. At first it wasn’t easy, I felt like I was doing something wrong and that I am dirty. But later I discovered that it is not wrong what I am doing, I am just offering a service to someone who wants it, and I am able to help myself, buy whatever I need, especially for school.

I did not give up and continued going to school. I had this friend of mine who was so nice to me and would offer me lunch or share some of her things with me, seeing that I was struggling.

I was also able to assist at home. My mom was no longer working. She was concerned where I was getting the money, I would explain to her in different ways whenever she asked.

She was independent, even though she was almost the same age as me and still going to school. I wondered where she was getting all the money or are her parents giving her money? One day I ended up asking her and she told me the truth, that she has clients that she offers services to and they pay her. I asked her how and she explained.

This is how I started my sex work. I wanted to release my mom of the burden she had with having to look after me financially while she was working part-time as a cleaner, getting R75 a day (US $6) and later having to give it all to me because I had to use a mini-taxi to go and come back from school, I needed lunch money and money to buy stationary for school.

It took me quite some time to join her. She asked me am I willing to try? I said let me see 60

Things became worse when I passed my matric and went on to tertiary education. My mom took every last cent she had; money left by my father, and said I must go to tertiary to study. I did my first year in journalism. In the second year, I was struggling as the money was not enough for books and transport, as I did not have accommodation at college. Because I knew

how to balance my finances, I did the same at tertiary. And the number of us at tertiary was quite high, as we began to know each other, meeting in the places where we work. Back then it was not that risky because we were working in the clubs in the northern suburbs 61


where we were safe and security was tight for us. We were students and had decent clients who would never abuse you in any way you might think of. The only problem was drugs. The majority of my friends were on drugs, which was destroying their health, life and future. I was strong enough to avoid drugs and always focused on my purpose, on the reason for my sex work.

It wasn’t for fun or for an addiction but so that I can have a better future, be independent, educated, support my family and be the strongest woman, just like I am. This is the story of my life. That’s how I became a sex worker. I have dreams. I am aiming for a brighter future for me and my family.


It was my dream to finish my education. Education is very important to me because I believe that no one can take away education or the knowledge you have. As a child I always dreamt of being independent and educated, but in life, we all have plans but the answers and results may not be what we expect. I always wanted to have a career that includes helping people, especially in my community.

This is me going past the University of Johannesburg in a bus. I believe the sky is the limit. I’m not where I want to be but soon I will reach for the sky, study further and graduate… be independent…

Artwork Details 1. Mixed media collage by Penelope & Julia Sestier 2. Mixed media collage by Penelope & Julia Sestier 3. Photo by Julia Sestier 4. Cellphone photo by Penelope 63


Pretty I’m born and bred in Diepkloof, Johannesburg. My father was a loving, caring, and tolerant gentleman. My mother was a woman of strong virtue, high integrity, and a warm and loving, caring woman. These characteristics made up my parents, but death deprived me of enjoying and knowing them. I had three sisters, and a brother. Again, death took one of my sisters, leaving her two young sons with a big question. You know, when I think of how my mother met her death, at times, I wonder whether it is worthwhile to go to a initiation school. She went, but came back home very ill and after two weeks, she passed on. My father ordered peace within the community, including the unstoppable violent hostel dwellers. On the night of 31 May 1992, someone summoned him to a certain house, where the people were supposed to be robbed. Instead, there was no such thing. Unfortunately, on his arrival to the room he was called to, there stood a mean man with a gun and shot him. He was rushed to Baragwanath Hospital shortly after being shot and certified dead on arrival. That was it. All alone, my sisters, brother, and I. Two of my sisters and my brother went to live with my uncle in Diepkloof. My sister, who later died in 2008, and I remained at home and our younger aunt came to live with us. That is when trouble started. 64



All hell broke loose. We started experiencing all kinds of hurtful and cruel talks and hurtful happenings.

he was beating us, he was treating us not good, he was treating us like we are strangers, like we are not his brother’s sons and daughters.

My life got difficult when my family passed away. I didn’t have someone who will comfort me and say: even if you don’t have parents, it’s fine, we are there for you; you are going to fight until the end. I was staying with my aunt and uncle, and

I started sex working after rape. I saw my life like there is nothing that I can live for anymore. I felt like there’s no life, but at the end of the day I see the light. Sex working gives me money. When I get money, I’m buying food, clothes, and my 66

family gets happy even if they don’t know where I am getting the money. At the end of the day, when they are happy, I am also happy. Without being a sex worker, it was going to be hard, just because there is no one who is working at home, there is no one who is earning money; my aunt’s pension is too small for all of us in the house. People, they treat me like I’m a slut, I’m a whore, I don’t know what I am doing with my life. They don’t understand I am trying to make myself some money. They are treating me like nothing, like rubbish. They think sex working is not that good thing. Sometimes I want to answer them, but I can’t, just because if I answer them, they are going to beat me, so I just shut up and carry on what I am doing. Life was difficult when I grew up, but I didn’t give up in life. Here I am. I am a mother of a son, he is 9 years old. He is a good son. He respects others. He likes school. And I have nephews that I have to take care of. If the child goes to school with an empty stomach what is he or she going to learn? Nothing, with an empty stomach! They have to eat in the morning, and in the evening; they must get food. My dream in life is I want to see my son finish school. I want to see my nephews finish school. I want them to succeed in life. And my dream for myself, I’m dreaming that one day I will get a proper job, I’ll get my house and I will live with peacefully life like with my sons and my nephews.

Artwork Details 1. Mixed media collage by Pretty & Julia Sestier 2. Mixed media collage by Pretty & Julia Sestier 67


Pricilla My name is Priscilla. I started to work as a sex worker at the age of 17. I was doing it after coming from school every day. I did it because I wanted to have my own money. When I grew up I got employed working for my own, supporting my family and covering things that I wanted to do for me. Sometimes we struggle to get a client. The police were also disturbing us. I want to tell people to stop discrimination and know that we are also humans. Sex work is a profession. That’s my story.




Artwork Details 1. Mixed media collage by Priscilla & Julia Sestier 2. Mixed media collage by Priscilla & Julia Sestier 3. Photo by Susann Huschke 4. Cellphone photo by Priscilla 70

I decided to give you this picture because it has lots of talks. I’ve lost my father, I was his favourite. I was a spoilt kid, I was crying to get these two piece suits because I was a pantsula [traditional dancer] then. There is something that they call skhothane, a dance. My father used to spoil me by buying everything that I wanted for my pantsula style because I was the only one for him.

This is my chaf pozi where I am doing my private job. But then at the same time I’ve got a makwapheni, my side dish. I don’t want to depend on him, that is why I am doing my own thing at my own place. I like to keep it clean so that the client loves the place.



Shakypay I am Shakypay a transgender of many sacrifices, a girl who has passed through tough times and is still standing. I want the South of Africa to know about respect, education and ambition, these are the most important roles for a good reliable path. If I was portrayed in a movie like Tess, I would be shown as passing hard obstacles and trials that I have passed through all my life, and the bitterness of it, how to contain yourself as a child and what you have to do to run away from hardships and teach people out there of respecting one another, not by degrading a human being. And I would show them what dreams did I hold on to throughout my journey of storms.




Artwork Details 1. Mixed media collage by Shakypay & Julia Sestier 2. Mixed media collage by Shakypay & Julia Sestier 3. Photo by Julia Sestier 4. Photo by Julia Sestier 74

She needed love. She needed to accept that she was living in a different situation and it has to be accepted, not trap it, trash it, stamp on it and curse it as if it was evil.

I realised that in life you need to set your own boundaries.

The poor child remained in the streets of her home town, she travelled a long journey. With the mind of I know, I will, I can, I experienced how to stand up for myself at a very young age when you can’t just knock at the door of an office and say “Good morning, sir, I need a job.” When the walls started to shake, the lights turned off in her mind. Blinded by guilt. There is no peace. Find the light that will set your heart free from the chains of your body sex. In the midst of the storm, floods took me away to a different city. The city of struggle, the city of no maize and no comfort but a place to hide.

I gained strength from my bravest experiences, from hard lessons. From falling and picking myself up. It comes from surviving failure and loss at an early age: it implies an understanding of the human condition. Forgive and move on.



Star My name is Star, I am a 27 year old mother of 3. I started doing sex work at the age of 16 when my older sister was very sick and needed money to go to doctors and traditional healers coz back then we were ignorant about HIV/AIDS.

should be going to school, playing like other kids and treated like a child in my community but… things don’t go as you expect them to. I grew up and thought to myself: it’s hard, but I have to fight. No job, no money, that’s not the life I am going to live.

My sister was very sick and it was hectic at home coz we didn’t have money. Life was so hard. I was in grade 10 then. My Mom and Dad were not working, so I had to do something to help. At that time the only option was to go to a tavern, and I knew boys who would offer me money in exchange, and yes, it was hard, but life went on.

My community knew what I was doing but never accepted it cause they would talk about me when I passed through, saying ugly stuff. I had to stay strong. I succeeded. My sister got better and better. She is strong, healthy and beautiful now and she is the only family member that knows my story. Life has changed for the better.

I had challenges and difficulties because some people would treat me badly, because they knew I needed the money desperately. Some would sleep with me and never give me the money. It was painful, coz I would count and think that if I sleep with this many guys, at least it will cover for some things, and then it did not happen. What I hate about this situation is that you get discriminated, treated like dirt. To them, I am just like a person who deserves to die. Life was bad but I told myself all my life I have to fight to get money to help my sister to heal, to help my parents to eat, to help myself to live. While people call me “magosha” [whore] I would make myself strong so that my family could live. Hatred and discrimination is what I have come across since I was 16. At that age, I

Artwork Details 1. Cellphone photo by Star 2. Cellphone photo by Star 3. Cellphone photo by Star 76

What’s important in my life is my two kids. I want them to live in a good and healthy environment. I want them to be more exposed to valuable things in life. I want them to go to school, I want them to become whatever they want to be in life. I want to build a house for them, I want to be successful and help them to achieve whatever dreams they have. Another thing that is important is for me to see myself graduating as an IT specialist and having my

own company. That’s what I want, to be successful, have my own company, my own house, my own money, being able to do anything for myself. That is my dream.



Sex workers can love and take care of their loved ones! As they say, 2 for joy. ď Š I love my two kids so much, I enjoy being with them on weekends, take them out, buy them nice food, nice clothes, toys and anything that they like as now I can afford that because I am working, not only doing sex work but I am employed, too. I am expecting another child. I just pray every day that God makes me strong, so I keep my job and provide for the three of them.

I will never leave them until death do us part. I will fight and work hard to make sure I put food on the table for them, take them to school and help them achieve their dreams.


Sex workers are beautiful and have big dreams! I am a sex worker and I love myself, I take care of myself as much as I take care of my kids. So jewelry is something that makes me feel proud of myself, even after the bad things, the shock and tears in my life, despite all of the pain I go through. I know how to go outside and feel proud of myself, to look beautiful. People would tell me I look beautiful and then I start to smile and feel loved and appreciated.

And that keeps me going. I put a smile on my face and pretend everything is Ok‌ but knowing that a lot is happening in my life and that it will be alright.



Zenande Having passed my matric, I wished for a society that cared more, I wished for a teacher to recognise my ability and my yearning for education. I wished for a congregation that would ask me what my plan is? I wished for a rich or affording family. As I soon realised, my BSc enrollment was just a distant dream. I am a poor chick, from a poor family. I am doomed, I will stay at home and do nothing. I needed a job, I needed to get out of this sudden shame and sudden poverty after my father died. That dawned on me. With not much knowledge but just the dusty streets of my forgotten, no electricity, no water and no sanitation area, I felt trapped, but I am not giving up EVER!! I am taking a conscious decision to go far away. I am looking for a job, be it in retail or as a till packer or window washer at a car wash, it’s ok, so long as I can change my family environment and ensure that all my 6 siblings do not go through the same. I settled for sex work. PITY – I cannot tolerate. CHARITY – I cannot live off! MY PRIDE – in making a living and being able to sustain myself and my family with a dream of one day returning to school to further my education. Right now I’m into the sex work industry and I am content! It is not easy but I have built my family a home, no more mud house. I took my brother to a driving school and I am proud to present him as MY BROTHER THE COP IN SA. 80



It is still okay, since he does not know where I got the money and how hard it was. HE HAS TURNED HIS BACK on us, as his extended family, got married and is in the city now. The contradiction, my brother’s colleagues are confiscating my condoms, calling me names and have taken my hard earned cash. It is OK, I contributed to SARS indirectly! My heart bleeds, I am seen as a menace to society, I am

rendered a criminal but it is well, it is not my fault! Artwork Details 1. Mixed media collage by Zenande & Julia Sestier 2. Mixed media collage by Zenande & Julia Sestier 3. Cellphone photo by Zenande 4. Cellphone photo by Zenande 5. Photo by Julia Sestier 82

An ordinary child. It is a basic right to have shoes. I grew up with only one pair, namely the school shoes. I had to go and fetch wood and water back at home without shoes and the thorns would have a field day. So my vow was to one day become a better Mom who can provide shoes, I mean plenty of shoes for myself and my daughter. Mission accomplished!!!

I could be anyone’s daughter, I can be your niece, I can be your helper’s daughter. It is important that we do not look away whenever we see the signs of poverty in a girl child. I am so sad. As I was growing up, I was the most intelligent in my small rural classroom yet I ended up here. For the upcoming generation let us ensure that they get proper education and that they know of the vast choices they have in life!

These are prices written on the door. It’s a sign that gives me hope because my sex work feels like any other business, like in a local bunny chow shop where there’s a menu and prices!!



Baleloko This song was written in Setswana by the group Baleloko, for the KNOW MY STORY film trailer. The original lyrics are followed by their English translation. Bricks and pillars Boimabo Bohlokobo Boima ba bojara lefatse mahetleng aka I need bricks and pillars Sheba keledi tsaka ha o batla hotseba mabaka aka Boima bo Bohloko bo Boima ba bo jara lefatse mahetleng aka I need bricks and pillars Sheba dikeledi tsaka ha o batla ho tseba mabaka aka A ho bonoloho ongolla le chena le ngolo Re makgoba maemo modimo mocha ke mokgolo Re kene fatseng le re safupa radihlomo Pula pula re nele tlala e re bontsha mehlolo Re sutjwa ka menwana Re bitswa ka mabitso Le chaba le lo dikela re shwela ntho tse siko Re jeka dipeo tse hodiswang ka kgapa tsarona Your story my story Pale tsa rona Tsela di fapane tse re isang masemong Tse ding di phiri re kena letsona badimong Re jeka dipeo tsehodiswang ka kgapa tsarona Your story my story Pale tsa rona 84



Boima bo Bohloko bo Boima ba bo jara lefatse mahetleng aka I need bricks and pillars Sheba keledi tsaka ha o batla hotseba mabaka aka Ba di bone ba di tsebang ba re bophelo ke ntwa Ekgotjwa e le maoto amane e shebile kere empa Bohlokwakeho e thuta bohahlaudike re empa oselle Bohlere mefuta ya dipale ha re fellwe Se seng fela se rasa rona ke ho sa phehelle Kamehla le matsatsi nako ho sa lekelle Moketa ho thuswa yae teka ngose nehelle Maya ke ma boya fela o se itlohelle Boima bo Bohloko bo Boima ba bo jara lefatse mahetleng aka I need bricks and pillars Sheba keledi tsaka ha o batla hotse ba mabaka aka Boima bo Bohloko bo Boima ba bojara lefatse mahetleng aka I need bricks and pillars Sheba dikeledi tsaka ha o batla ho tseba mabaka aka Le hanka tsamaya kgohlong Le morithi walefu Ke kenke ka tsoha bobe Le hao le bong Ka hoba wena O na le nna O na le nna O na le nna


Bricks and pillars This heaviness This pain This heaviness of carrying the world on my shoulders Look at my tears if you wanna see my issues It’s not easy to write this kind of letter We are slaves to this situation; the new god is the old god We enter in this world without arms Let the rain rain because hunger is showing us miracles They point fingers at us They call us names Sunrise and it sets, we die for nothing We’re like seeds that grow from the drops of our tears Our story Roads are different that are leading us to the greener pastures Some secrets we take them to the ancestors Those who know saw that life is war We trip with four legs while looking The importance is to teach ourselves to tour but don’t cry All of us are different kinds of flowers There’s only one enemy for us, it is not to live Day by day we strive on We help those who help themselves To go is to come back only to leave again Even if I die tonight The shadow of death I’ll never wake up easily Even you alone Because of you You are with us



RELECTIONS ON PROCESS “’This business of womanhood is a heavy burden,’ she said. ‘How could it not be? Aren’t we the ones who bear children? When it is like that, you can’t just decide today I want to do this, tomorrow I want to do that, the next day I want to be educated! When there are sacrifices to be made, you are the one who has to make them. And these things are not easy; you have to start learning them early, from a very early age. The earlier the better so that it is easy later on. Easy! If it is ever easy. And these days it is worse, with the poverty of blackness on one side and the weight of womanhood on the other. Aiwa! What will help you, my child, is to learn how to carry your burdens with strength.”

Tsitsi Dangarembga, Nervous Conditions

“Truth is not born nor is it to be found inside the head of an individual person, it is born between people collectively searching for truth, in the process of their dialogic interaction.” Mikhail Bakhtin, Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics


Witwatersrand; from the facilitation team – Ntokozo Yingwana of the ACMS, Julia Sestier (photographer), and Xoli Moloi (filmmaker); from supporters and funders – Jo Vearey and Elsa Oliveira of the MoVE project at the ACMS and Jenny Coetzee of the Perinatal HIV Research Unit (PHRU) in Soweto; and from external observers and commentators – UK-based sex worker and activist Laura Lee, Professor Lenore Manderson from the School of Public Health at the University of the Witwatersrand, and Professor Maggie O’Neill of the University of York in the UK.

Like the work created and shared by the sex worker participants, the KNOW MY STORY project is itself a collage, one of ideas, workshops, processes, contradictions, changes, and, most importantly, different people. In the texts and conversations presented on the following pages, participants, facilitators, and “outsiders” engage with the stories that are shared in this publication as well as with the process of making and un-making these stories. The purpose of these reflections is to highlight how the project affected and changed those involved in it and how it is perceived by those who supported it and by those who have read the stories and images from further away. This section includes reflections from the sex worker participants; from the researcher – Susann Huschke of the University of the 91


The Strength of the Human Spirit Jenny Coetzee Head of the Soweto Sex Worker Programme & Co-head of Prevention in Key Populations Perinatal HIV Research Unit (PHRU), Soweto

As the Project Head and Principal Investigator of the Soweto Sex Worker Programme (SSWP) at the Perinatal HIV Research Unit (PHRU), Baragwaneth Hospital, I have spent four years observing a team of immensely courageous individuals navigate the discrimination, violence, marginalisation, and many unmentionable indignities facing so many sex workers in South Africa.

life changing ways. They have sent children to school, fed siblings and parents, cared for grandparents, loved partners, and earned money. Given that one of the key components of our programme has been the Sisonke Sex Worker Movement slogan “Nothing about us without us,” it is only fitting that the KNOW MY STORY project was based at our premises. Sex workers have developed incredible narratives of their lives, beliefs, and inspirations through the project, reflected in the photographic art presented in this book. In reading this book, you are receiving a privileged perspective on the strength of the human spirit, the power of women, trans people, and men within a marginalised community, fighting for their rights, fighting to be seen and acknowledged for who they are. This is an amazing journey.

Each person who has come into the SSWP has arrived filled with the fear of failure, the fear of a lifetime of being told they “cannot”: cannot achieve anything, cannot be better than they are, cannot be a good person, cannot possibly be a good mother/sister/daughter/ brother/husband/son/partner. Their lives have often been stifled of creativity and hope for a brighter future. Over a period of months and years, each has found their feet in the project, felt the strength of their spirit, and discovered a common ground. This is humbling to watch – to watch them heal themselves, to watch them grow and realise that they, too, can contribute meaningfully to the world around them. To see them realise that all along they have been contributing in deep and immensely

Be in each page. Be present with each story. Feel each person’s journey. Hear their voices calling to you, chanting their collective power. Nothing about us without us!


Soweto backyard The project led us into people’s houses and shacks, into backyards turned into small gardens, carefully looked after. Photos: Susann Huschke 2016 93


Processing the Process Susann Huschke Postdoctoral Research Fellow, African Centre for Migration & Society and School of Public Health, University of the Witwatersrand

Jo Vearey Associate Professor and MoVE Co-coordinator, African Centre for Migration & Society, University of the Witwatersrand

research, advocacy, and activism and with ethical concerns around visibility and invisibility. The guiding research ethics principle of “do no harm” can be interpreted in different ways, with “harm” being perceived in different ways by different members of the project team. Key here was the tension that arose when some team members – including several sex worker participants – wanted to share work publicly that showed face(s) and place(s) of work as acts of resistance and reclaiming in public photos and the film clip. Other members of the larger project team, including Jo Vearey as the supervisor and funder, wished to exclude this work from use in public spaces in order to protect participants, their families, and their communities. Some team members raised concerns that researchers making decisions – in this case about anonymity – on behalf of participants could be viewed as causing harm in the sense that doing so exacerbates unequal power dynamics and further contributes to the stigmatisation and exclusion of sex workers. Other team members, drawing on

There were several distinct phases to the KNOW MY STORY project that collectively supported the production of the public works that are shared here and online. These works – selected for public viewing by participants and the project team – provide a sense of the large body of work created, and the decision to include these works here reflects a difficult process of navigating both research ethics and advocacy imperatives. One of the biggest challenges in the KNOW MY STORY project was the tension of using visual research methodologies with individuals who are both criminalised and stigmatised due to their livelihood activity. Confronting this tension, in many ways, reflected the experiences of researchers in previous MoVE projects involving sex workers in South Africa that – like KNOW MY STORY – were designed to explore ways of doing research more justly and to meet the dual imperatives of research and activist agendas. Specific challenges that arose during the KNOW MY STORY project included those associated with the relationships between 94

stigmatisation and exclusion. Susann drew on the methods applied in the MoVE project of the ACMS.

their experiences in previous visual research projects, worried about the unanticipated consequences of identifying sex workers in public outputs and were against making these images and the film clip public to prevent harm. We had to find ways to ensure the safety of the sex workers involved in the project as well as other sex workers who did not participate – and their families – by not exposing their identities, places of work, families, and communities, while at the same time finding ways to share visual images of deeply personal stories of identity, work, family, and community.

Funding Susann was awarded funding for KNOW MY STORY from projects that Jo oversees at the ACMS: the Security at the Margins (SeaM) project – a partnership between the ACMS and the Centre for African Studies at the University of Edinburgh, supported by the ESRC and the NRF – and the Migration and Health Project Southern Africa (maHp) and MoVE – projects that are supported by the Wellcome Trust.

The project The KNOW MY STORY project grew out of Susann Huschke’s discomfort with the power dynamics that shape more traditional research methods such as interviews. As a white, middle-class European researcher working in a Black township, she was looking for ways to address, challenge, and subvert hierarchies in research processes and to produce public research outputs that would contribute to sex workers’ struggle against

Ethics Approval for the KNOW MY STORY project was granted by the University of the Witwatersrand Research Ethics Committee (non-medical). Participation Susann invited ten participants with whom she had previously worked – as part of a larger ethnographic study that began in 95


Creating stories Participatory arts-based approaches can challenge power relationships in research: who speaks, and who listens? Photos: Susann Huschke 2017




Storytelling Storytelling was a crucial part of the project throughout. We started the project with an exploratory storytelling session in which each of the participants shared parts of their life story and what matters most to them with the group, using an object they had brought from home or a picture they drew to represent their story.

December 2016 – to take part in the photo and film project. All of the ten sex workers that were invited wanted to be part of the project, but none of them were prepared to disclose their identities in public outputs. They therefore became the “film production team,” working behind the scenes in the development of the film clip rather than in front of the camera, and were only involved in taking photos that would not identify them. This team then talked to other sex workers about the project in search of people who would be comfortable with being filmed and invited four additional participants – sex workers who wanted to share their stories without hiding their faces – to join the project as “film stars.”

Photography Photographer Julia Sestier then joined the team, and the participants were supported in producing storyboards to guide their photographic work. Julia led a session on visual literacy, and participants were asked to take photos with their cell phones to represent different parts of their stories. In each of the sessions with Julia, participants shared stories to explain the images they had taken. We were also joined by film director Xoli Moloi, who took part in the photography workshops to get to know the team and the participants’ stories.

Blog To document the process of the project, Susann started a blog in which she engaged with the stories that were shared and the emotional challenges, methodological insights, and ethical issues that we encountered along the way. Some of the project participants also wrote blog entries. The blog entries were discontinued for a few months during the project when the tensions around publishing the photo and video content – discussed below – took up most of our energy and changed the direction of the project.

Each of the participants then chose a location for a professional photo shoot with Julia to complement the photos taken by the participants themselves. In a concluding workshop, participants chose their favourite images – their own and Julia’s – that would be shared publicly and wrote captions for each of the photos. Susann worked with participants to discuss what a public audience could mean and highlighted that images for public use would be shared online and in exhibitions.

The blog is available from: 98

Filmmaking We then moved on to preparing the production of a film trailer. Xoli conducted a workshop with some of the participants on film production, and participants took on roles as location managers and production managers for the film trailer shoot. Susann trained the remaining three participants in interview methods so that they could conduct the interviews on camera. Based on the stories shared in the photo workshops, Xoli wrote a script for the trailer. Originally, we had planned to write the script collectively. This turned out to be unrealistic given the time frame of the project. Due to the busy lives of the team members, many of whom work multiple jobs, we were not able to schedule meetings for the pre-film interviews and script-writing, and Xoli stepped in to write the script.

Several participants chose images in which, they felt, they were not easily identifiable – for example images in which they were wearing masks. Other participants selected images that did not include their faces at all. The four “film stars” chose images in which they were clearly identifiable. Jo expressed concerns about this, indicating that – as had been previously discussed – all public images would need to protect the identity of participants. These differing interpretations of the role of research ethics to “do no harm” in a participatory, justice-driven research project resulted in a difficult situation. Some of the team were concerned that the project was being subjected to the paternalistic censorship of sex workers by university-based researchers and that, as the participants had given consent to the images they selected for public use, these decisions should be respected and upheld. Other team members, while recognising the difficulties that can be encountered in managing the ethics associated with participatory visual methodologies, were committed to protecting participants and addressing unintended consequences that could result in the use of non-anonymised public images. This included concern for those who did not wish to be identified in public images but could be identified by association with those who did and the possible impacts that being identified could have on the wider social networks of sex workers, including the families and members of their households.

This development offers an example of the dynamics and contingencies that shaped the project throughout and highlights the challenges of involved participatory research practice. The project was designed to be participatory – but the extent to which this could be realised was limited by the time and resources available and by the busy lives of the participants. We then scheduled a workshop to discuss the script and prepare the film shoot. The participants made no fundamental changes to the script, which reflects that it was based exclusively on their stories and group 99


film. However, the maHp and MoVE team at the ACMS expressed deep ethical concerns with showing the faces of sex workers in a film clip intended for public use, reflecting earlier concerns raised about the identification of participants in photographs. As a result, the film clip was not made public, and further work was required with participants to explore ways of anonymising photographs.

discussions. The script focused on the reasons why the sex workers portrayed in the film sell sex, their responsibilities as breadwinners, their experiences of stigma in their communities, the losses and hurt they had endured, and the role of spirituality in their everyday lives. All of these had been central themes in the storyboards and the photos. The locations chosen for the film shoot had been discussed in the group, and the team had taken Xoli to the hostels and homes where the filming would take place. The only change that was made to the script related to protecting people’s identities. One of the people in the film wanted to tell the story of how he had been given shoes as payment for sex by the pastor of the church he used to attend, the church he was exiled from due to homophobia; however, the “behind the scenes” team realised that if we were to show the shoes, the church could be identified because the shoes carried the church logo. We thus decided to use a different pair of shoes in the video.

With the decision to not make the film clip public, KNOW MY STORY took an unexpected turn. We discontinued our original plans for working towards the production of a longer documentary film that was to be supported through the online crowdfunding campaign and was envisaged as a follow-on from the initial KNOW MY STORY project that is shared in this publication. The decision was challenging for all of us involved and forced us to engage with a fundamental ethical question that has no easy answer: who determines what is “safe,” and for whom? In this publication, various people involved in the project present their answers and ask further questions. While this is a research project guided by the principles of research ethics, the motivations implicit in the project – to work collaboratively with sex workers to produce materials that can contribute to broader social justice and advocacy agendas – have led to tensions between the different interpretations of guiding ethical principles.

The four minute trailer was shot in one intense day of filming. Xoli, Margherita DiPaola, and a professional editor, following the film script, edited the trailer. The group viewed the trailer together, and then discussed and approved collectively. Ethical contestations Originally, the film clip was intended for use in an online crowdfunding campaign to generate funds for a longer documentary 100

Anonymising portraits: the art workshop The decision not to make the identifying photo portraits and the film clip public led us to facilitate a previously unplanned art workshop. In order to address the ethical concerns raised by the ACMS team, each participant was asked to choose two of their professional, non-anonymised photo portraits, which were then printed on A1 canvasses. Participants worked with the artists Monwabisi Dasi and Phumlani Mamfengu to creatively anonymise their portraits. This process – while not originally planned – created important opportunities for participants to discuss and share their feelings about the risks and benefits of visual methods as a way of challenging stereotypes and stigmatisation. Even though most participants were reluctant to work on their images, worrying about “ruining” them, they came to enjoy the process of creating art.

Penelope, another participant, wrote: I have painted and created a collage of my pic because of obeying and following the ethics. I really like my pic now that it has been edited by me. It has hidden my physical appearance but it tells a lot about me. I am an African and I like African products. So in my pictures, I have used materials that tell the story how I value African tradition and what it means to be African. Though I have hidden my face in the picture I feel like I still show my face and told my story, because what I created is a reflection of who I am. Visible tensions In many ways, the final arts-based workshop symbolised, and made visible, the ethical tensions that arose during the KNOW MY STORY project. During the project, it became clear that different ethical frameworks and concerns were guiding different members of the project team in different ways. It has been – and remains – difficult to find ways to navigate these conflicting positions. For example, research ethics guide the argument for ensuring that the anonymity of participants who work in a criminalised, stigmatised violent context is maintained in all public outputs, but this idea was challenged during the project process and perceived as a form of silencing the participants who had indicated that they want to be identified in public project outputs.

As one of the participants, Chastiti, commented after the art workshop where she creatively anonymised her portrait: If it was for me, I wouldn’t have painted it. After all, it’s my picture; I wouldn’t spoil it for anybody. But I should think for the loved ones around me. It was a great experience for me doing art. It reminded me of my primary school days, doing painting at school. I had so much fun. But I wish I didn’t have to do it on my precious photos. 101


As with previous MoVE projects, the social justice and advocacy imperatives guiding the methodologies developed within KNOW MY STORY aimed to support the involvement of sex workers in research and to share the voices and experiences of sex workers with public audiences in different ways. While KNOW MY STORY has certainly contributed to this aim, it has perhaps done so in unanticipated ways, with new questions arising around ethics, power, and hierarchies within research teams, and in the use of visual methodologies.

benefits of “showing face” when making their photos and stories publically available. Project facilitators Susann and Ntokozo expressed their discomfort with the decisionmaking process and the lack of involvement of sex workers in the conversation about the ethics of visual methods. Jo highlighted the responsibility of researchers to ensure that involvement in research does not place participants at increased risk of harm, even if this goes against the wishes of participants.

Public engagement This publication – and the associated exhibition – showcases the photos/artwork produced by the participants and the words with which they chose to tell their stories. It also presents the views of facilitators, participants, and researchers on the processes involved in the making and un-making of visual stories. The kaleidoscope of images and texts in this book reflect the complexity of visual, arts-based, collaborative research projects and questions the role of this form of research practice in bringing about social change.

Importantly, it also became clear that many – though not all – participants felt that, looking back, they were glad that the photos and the film clip were not published. They had come to realise how their decision to make themselves (and their work places) visible might impact their communities and their fellow project participants, who might be identified as sex workers through their associated with the project. This process of reevaluating choices highlights the importance of continued consent, which is an on-going conversation about each person’s involvement in the project – as opposed to the one-off consent that is used, for example, in media ethics.

(See also IN CONVERSATION on page 104.)

Reflecting on the process A discussion and debrief between participants and the project team took place in March 2017. This discussion was crucial in many ways. It was the first opportunity for participants to engage directly with Jo – the project funder and supervisor – and to discuss the risks and

Looking back, we see that we needed to make more time for conversations about ethics between different members of the team to happen throughout the project. Our experience highlights the ways that research 102

ethics and associated processes can be interpreted differently within a participatory visual research project driven by social justice imperatives. Those involved in the project workshops – including Susann and the sex worker participants – made decisions, for example regarding the content of public outputs, collectively and by consensus and felt that this was not respected or applied within the larger frame of the project, which included members of the maHp and MoVE team at the ACMS as funders and supervisors. Those within this wider team – including Jo – had understood that the principles of anonymity were being applied within the workshop spaces and that the responsibility was with Susann to negotiate this with participants within the workshop space.

advocacy and activist campaigns? We recognise the need to unpack the application of visual methodologies in a participatory research process and their use as a method for supporting the production of visual outputs for use in public spaces within wider advocacy and activist approaches. The two are not mutually exclusive, and we believe that both are possible while recognising that this requires us to proactively and collaboratively navigate tensions associated with what is sometimes a difficult terrain.

Moving forward, we need to create regular spaces for participants, researchers, and funders to discuss and negotiate their positions in relation to research and advocacy imperatives. We need to find inclusive, respectful ways of balancing the individual desire to challenge stigma by speaking out and showing face, on the one hand, with the ethical responsibility to avoid harm and minimise risk on the other hand. This brings us back to fundamental questions about the role of participatory visual methods in research and in advocacy: do visual methodologies provide opportunities to develop improved, justice-oriented research practices or are they approaches for producing visual materials to support 103


In Conversation: On the Ethics of Disclosure and the Risks of “Showing Face” Group discussion Participants and researchers

JOHN: Any project that involves taking pictures or other representations of people has a series of ethical requirements around it. In this case, there were images of people – yourselves – who are engaged in illegal activities in the country of South Africa right now, and that makes it difficult to work out what can and can’t be shown. I want to reflect a bit on some of those issues, how they were handled, and how it made you feel at different points.

The following text is a shortened and slightly edited version of a group conversation on the KNOW MY STORY project process and outcomes. Speakers include four of the original project participants – Coco, Chantel, Chaniqua, and Penelope – who did not wish to disclose their identities in the public work; three participants recruited later on – Shakypay, Chastiti, and Pretty – who had originally agreed to show their faces in the photo and film work; and three researchers based at the African Centre for Migration & Society – Ntokozo Yingwana (social media support and group facilitator), Jo Vearey (supervisor and funding manager), and Susann Huschke (researcher and facilitator of the project). The conversation, which lasted nearly three hours, was facilitated by John Marnell (African Centre for Migration & Society).

SHAKYPAY: I was so very disappointed with the film because I thought the film was a start. I thought that when people see that video, it was assured that you want to see more [in a longer documentary film]. Chastiti has a different story, I have my different story, Pretty has a different story, and we wanted to see more happening, you understand? It was going to be interesting if we were given a chance for it to be continued.

The conversation was facilitated to provide an opportunity for all involved in the KNOW MY STORY project to reflect on the process and to explore the ethical tensions that arose. The text below picks up towards the end of the conversation, following a long discussion about participants’ experiences with the project.

CHASTITI: We signed the paper [the consent form], [which asked] are we really ready to show our face, and we were really like: “Yes, we are.” Because we want to show the world 104

that we are sex workers and this is what we’ve experienced and this is what we want to change and this is who we are at the end of the day. CHANTEL: Su [Susann] came back and told us that they didn’t allow it [the public release of the promo video and photo portraits]. We were disappointed. Honestly, we were disappointed because as we were doing the movie, we all had an agreement…

PENELOPE: I think the film stars are the ones who are supposed to talk about that, the only people who were in the pictures, who agreed on show[ing] their faces, which is Shakypay, Pretty, and Chastiti, and Benefit, who is not here today. SHAKYPAY: The reason why we want[ed] the film to be shown is because we wanted to be able to stand up and say with one voice, “We are sex workers, and we are proud of who we are.”

COCO: We consented. CHANTEL: Yes, we consented. CHANIQUA: Adding to what Chantel said, it was also that we had to understand about the ethical procedures. In South Africa, we still have a long way to go – the stigma, going to the community, the discrimination, our families. Yes, when we went into the film, we were just so happy that it’s being done and we can’t wait to see it, but not really knowing the implications that will affect [us] after the film has been shown. When we went back to really think about it, only then we became aware of what is going on.

JOHN: These are really great reflections. It would be good to try and draw in Su and Jo and Ntokozo from the other side and see if we can share a few insights and then reflect on them collectively. NTOKOZO: What I really struggled with is the fact that within the process of the project itself, decisions were made collectively, and that for me is ethical. People who did not want to be visible decided to be behind the scenes and help the production, and others wanted to be part of the film and they wanted to be visible and be able to challenge the stigma and discrimination that sex workers face


involved in is the role of whether something ultimately might do more harm than good. So to take an example, Shakypay, you would like to have the film shown, but there’s a whole team of people who worked with you on that project, including the people who very clearly didn’t want their faces shown. People know you all hang out, people know you spend time together, people know you’ve worked on this project, so suddenly, even if you’re very happy to have your face shown, what does that mean for people who actually didn’t want to have their faces shown? So by having a film where some people or some places are identified [even if others aren’t], by having been part of that project, [they are] also being identified.

by putting themselves out there, literally. What I struggled with is having a decision outside of this group being made on behalf of this group’s creative output. I wish we actually had a discussion like this before the decision was made, where we as researchers [the MoVE/maHp team] discussed our ethics and that the film should not be screened. It seems as if the university’s research ethics trumps the trust, the collective decision making, all the ethics that we have worked to build throughout this process as a collective, and that’s very disturbing for me. I would like us to reflect on how do we actually negotiate those ethics then where people make a decision as a collective about their creative work and then we have an institution telling us, “Well, actually, you know what? You don’t know any better for yourself, so cover your face.” For me, that was very disturbing because it actually reinforces that stigma. How am I supposed to process that?

We need to think about stigma and abuse, and we need to recognise the longer-term implications. I think that this is an opportunity, and I think what you’ve beautifully done with the portraits is really to say this is a project about knowing my story. I wanted to tell you my story, but there [are] parts of me that I can’t even share with you because of the way society currently is working, the way the law works, the way that stigma works, the way the police work.

JO: Yes, I think that it’s a complicated process from the beginning. I think that the challenges come with maybe some of the guidance at the beginning around what would be possible in terms of things to be shared with the public. That [not publishing the film clip] was not a sudden decision from my side. [It’s about] our responsibilities in terms of where we work and in terms of where the funding for the project comes from. One of the things around research ethics which might be different to media ethics or other projects you’ve been

And my role is to take on that very difficult job of saying, “I have to be very aware of what might happen and what would that mean if somebody here who didn’t want to be identified was identified through being part of the project?” These tensions are a 106

big learning experience for me. It’s about how do we make sure that at the beginning of projects like KNOW MY STORY, we talk more clearly about these kinds of ethical challenges. [And also] if we are working in an area like sex work which is currently criminalised and highly stigmatised, a visual approach isn’t maybe the best way. Are we saying that maybe body maps, because we don’t need to have people’s faces, work differently? SUSANN: I found it really interesting what you said. Since we finished the film clip, I feel like there has been a lot of confusion, like: who is deciding what, and why is this happening, and where are we going to go from here? And the reason for that confusion is that I did not agree with the decision. Everything that Ntokozo has said is the stuff that I would have said. My main issue was the way the decision was made. Everything else has been decided in a collective. We always talked until we found consensus. And this was different. I mean, Jo and I had had conversations before where she looked at some of your images that Julia had taken and Jo wasn’t alright with the faces. I thought that’s OK, we can disagree. That was a misunderstanding of who makes what decisions and I thought Jo can think that way, we can think differently, you know, we’ll figure it out. And that wasn’t actually

the case. So it was a misunderstanding of the hierarchies and the power; who gets to make which decisions? [But then, I’m now also] glad we didn’t release the trailer because I feel like we were a bit naïve about some of these issues. I disagree with the fundamental response to the question [of ] can we show faces or not? Can sex workers show their faces? I feel that if at the end of a long process of thinking about these things, some sex workers say, “I want to have my face in the film,” then it is their risk to take. You’re all taking risks, you’re sex workers, you’re taking risks every day. I think it comes down to that ethics are always personal. There will never be two researchers agreeing on everything completely. So it comes down to that in some ways we just disagree and that’s perfectly fine. JOHN: I think we have personal ethics, we have institutional ethics, we have societal ethics that don’t always align and that sort of tension we need to think about in a project of this nature or any work that involves vulnerable populations in different ways. JO: I think that the dimension of power that Su spoke about is really, you know, we can’t pretend it doesn’t exist. And what we have to keep trying to find is a way to mediate


JO: And your stories are out there. There’s the film and I know that there’s a lot of disappointment and that’s what we need to work on, but I think it’s really important to recognise that the photography pieces, the work that you’ve written, that is telling your story as well. It might not be the way that you had anticipated at the beginning of the project, but there’ll be exhibitions with this work. We can work out if you want some of it available online or not, you know, there [are] all these different ways. Don’t let your frustrations at someone like me and your disappointment around the film overshadow all this other work that can be made public, I just want to emphasise that.

that challenge of research ethics which may be different to media ethics or ethics that individuals practice at an individual level. [A]ccording to the principles of the university research ethics, we would be putting people at risk of harm that isn’t for an individual to choose. It’s not just Shakypay saying “I want to be in the film.” It’s actually about everybody who’s been part of the project, it’s about the streets that are in the films, do you see what I mean? COCO: I would actually like to agree with Ntokozo that if we were told some of the things earlier, we wouldn’t have gone through all these things and we wouldn’t be so disappointed because we would have done things differently.

PRETTY: At first I was disappointed about the film, that we are no longer doing the film, but now I understand, because I have a son, yes. He knows how to read and write. When he is going to see that film, how is he going to feel about me? And he’s going to ask me so many questions: “Mom, why are you doing this?” Now I understand why we are doing a book; we are no longer doing a film.

PENELOPE: To add on to what Coco has said, we were disappointed. I think what I thought was, “It’s okay for me since I’ll be behind the scenes,” and I thought the film stars said, “I’m okay being the film star.” There was nothing that was forced. If I wanted to be here, I’d be here. So we never had those doubts. But it’s okay, we understand.

CHANTEL: To wrap up all these things, it’s like working, and then at the end of the day, they said, “Go back.” Yes, it’s painful, but at the end of the day we are now being told the reason for why we have to go back and rewrite or redo even though we’ve put so much effort in it. The thing was that we were so dedicated to what we were doing,

COCO: We just wanted to tell our story, we didn’t really think about what the story would do in the long run or once it’s out there. What we wanted to do was send a message out there.


and we were aiming higher and higher, you understand. But now there’s that peace because we understand the reasons; they are stated in a manner that we understand.


What Was It Like to Take Part in KNOW MY STORY? Comments from participants

SHAKYPAY: The reason why I wanted to share my story is that I wanted to tell the world that behind the scenes, we are different people. At night, you can be a different person and then at daylight you can be another person. We have things to tell. We’ve got talents. There are other things that we are capable of. Taking the pictures was a very nice experience and a very good journey; you know that taking pictures can tell more than anything.

I don’t have to fight anymore. I now know how to love my son. It helped me a lot.

PENELOPE: We would discuss all of us. If someone is absent, we will rather wait and then discuss and finalise all together. If it’s good, if it’s not good – what are your suggestions? And then we will have some debates: “No, let’s do this” and “No, let’s do that.” And then we come up with something that will make all of us agree.

PENELOPE: I appreciated the way they treated us, Su, Ntokozo, Julia, and Xoli, and also Monwa and Phumlami. They treated us as one and the same. There was nothing like “no sex workers.” There was no separation between the people that Su brought in and between all of us. I really appreciated that.

PENELOPE: We were able to express our feelings the way we couldn’t even think that we would be able to do in the first place. We’ve learnt a lot of things, and at the same time we were having fun. We were able to express our feelings, cry, be happy, share our daily experiences, be encouraged, and be comforted.

SHAKYPAY: There’s one thing that helped me a lot: Su helped me to release, you know, because I was bottled up and then I realised throughout the months we’ve been together, I was able to forgive people. Today I can face those people whom I never wanted in life, whom I told myself that, you know, when I’ve got money, I’m going to kill those people. You know, opening up old wounds can even teach you that life has got

COCO: I was able to talk about things I couldn’t tell anyone. I was able to make friends. You know in life there are things that you think only happen to you with you not knowing that the very same things is happening to the next person. PRETTY: This project helped me just because now I know how to talk to people. 110

its own difficulties and in order to mend and in order to fix up the broken pieces, you have to stand up for yourself because nobody will stand up for yourself. So now, yes, we are getting there, fixing things that we were not able to fix. CHASTITI: For me it was really challenging when it comes to taking pictures because I never ever liked pictures of mine, I’ve never ever. I’ve got personal issues so for me taking a picture… But after seeing the

The art workshop For two hours, participants were absorbed in changing, covering, re-creating their portraits. Photo: Susann Huschke 2017


normal like the rest of the community that we live amongst. This documentary was going to change the public’s perception about us and the industry. That is why I wanted to show my face and not be hidden.

pictures, I saw my story in a different way. I was in my comfort zone, you understand? CHANTEL: People take sex work as a sin. They think people who are doing sex work have just given up on life, their purpose in life is just to do drugs, drink alcohol. We wanted to prove them wrong. We’ve all got all different purposes, like taking your kids to school, being responsible for your family or even your siblings because some of us don’t even have both parents.

ZENANDE: Disguising the portraits in an artistic manner was such a big challenge! Although there was a lot of material to choose from, I struggled to settle for anything. I tried different methods – I did not quite like the way my portraits were. Part of me felt they were too special to be tampered with. In the end I managed to cut and paste fabric, stick paper notes, and put a hand “high five” to cover my face. It was good fun.

BENEFIT: I was so shocked to find out that the documentary was not possible for us to do. I was so angry and very disappointed as I wanted the public to really know that as a sex worker I can make positive things in life. I wanted to show them that we are 112

Rediscovering creativity For many participants, this was the first time since school that they created art. The joy of it came as a surprise! Photos: Susann Huschke 2017

CHANIQUA: Being involved in this project was such an amazing experience because we were given a platform to tell our stories and to let people hear it from us. When we were all together in those sessions, sharing our stories, we all would break down and be so emotional, and you kind of felt mine is nothing even compared to her story, you know. PRISCILLA: I’ve experienced a thing that I’ve never thought I’d know; I’m happy for what we did. The pictures are telling your story. Doing this takes out what is inside your heart, what you were struggling to handle. Some of the stories are so much hurt that you cannot tell someone. But I was free to tell Su and my colleagues what I was feeling when I was growing up. I was free to tell them about my story, to be free.


In Conversation with Julia Sestier Julia Sestier Independent photographer

Susann Huschke Postdoctoral Research Fellow, African Centre for Migration & Society and School of Public Health, University of the Witwatersrand

This is a shortened version of a conversation between independent photographer Julia Sestier and researcher Susann Huschke, recorded in February 2017.

living, that culture and that way of behaving, those codes, those structures of support. It’s a privilege to get into people’s lives, and I think Chaniqua is quite an amazing character. I have a lot of admiration for her.

SUSANN: What was your best moment? SUSANN: Compared to other work that you’ve done, how was this compared to your other projects?

JULIA: What was my best moment? I think it has to be when I was taking pictures of Chaniqua. I think the best moment for me was that night because it was such a complete experience because where she took us was crazy. I’ve been to crazy places in my life, but yes, it was intense to realise how established the sex trade is and how big it is. [In the hotel], it was completely organised around sex, and downstairs, there must have been I don’t know, forty, fifty women selling sex. And then also the way she is and her friendships, the people around her, it’s a team that was there and taking care of each other, taking care of us, having fun even though it’s all a bit shit. And then Chaniqua herself is such a character. She is an amazing woman. I was inspired by this. By being taken places, physical spaces but also ways of

JULIA: Photography is a very lonely business in many ways. You find your own story. This project was different in the sense that it was other people who had to be my eyes in a way for part of the project. It was very challenging for me to make people understand how their eyes and what they see is unique and valuable and precious. And when I think about it, it’s obvious, you know, the amount of training you get as a photographer in order to get to a sense of self-worth. To get people to a space where they value their own eye is huge and incredibly ambitious. And you saw it so much in the pictures, like how people just submitted pictures that were already there 114

in their phones or just submitted pictures that were convenient, which in a way meant people didn’t say, “I value my eye and the power of it and what it can bring to the outside world with all of it, my sensitivity, my vision, my politics, my heart, my space, my environment.”

Mutual admiration Julia working with Chaniqua during the portrait shoot. Photo: Susann Huschke 2016

SUSANN: Do you remember a moment where you got a glimpse of that process, of supporting their vision, of getting to the space where they value their own vision? 115


JULIA: I think there was some talk around it, like when you think of Benefit who was always quite vocal about documenting certain aspects of what his life is with his phone camera, which involved a lot of really hard things such as drug abuse – that was the intention. But it didn’t happen. SUSANN: Why do you think that was? JULIA: I don’t know. I think it’s a very complicated thing to figure out. Was he trying to be present in that talking space but didn’t take it any further than this, or were there practical challenges in accomplishing it? We know that the phones were a problem, not everybody has cameras, but in your daily life, where does such a project fit in? So again, give it the space, give it the time, nurture that. It’s very challenging. But I think I saw it in Zenande’s picture of her hand and her baby’s hand. We had that first week with all those pictures of their kids and without them realising how far this could travel and what it meant [to publish photos of their children], but she still wanted to talk about that, it was very important for her and I saw it, that picture was great because it shows those things, it shows the type of relationship between child and mother.

Valuing your own vision Zenande’s image of herself and her daughter. Photo: Zenande 2016

SUSANN: I agree with you. I feel like we’ve reached too high; we tried too much in too little time and with too little money. Do you still feel like there was a point in doing this? 116

JULIA: Yes, absolutely, there’s a point in doing this. The little we accomplished, it’s huge. It looks like nothing, but it’s like my work as a journalist: the world was not changed, but I was changed by the stories I followed and the people that were kind enough to share them with me. You have to take baby steps when it comes to change. In this project, there was so much happening because we were telling fourteen stories, that was massive, with very little time and incredibly complex stories. But to get a few moments of sincere sharing, a few moments of emotion, then we influence each other’s lives. It changed all of us. I don’t think we changed anything in their reality, but maybe something switched in their minds, in the sense of maybe self-worth or sense of possibilities, being open to other things, being exposed to other things, and this is huge in life.

in when you show up in somebody’s life with a notebook and a camera and the only thing that you can do is to try to be aware of how much you don’t know, what dynamics you’ve just triggered, and there’s no solution. The only thing that solves it is time and we didn’t have a lot of time. We had a lot of people, we had deadlines, we had appointments. SUSANN: In terms of what you said earlier, the project changed you. How did it change you? JULIA: It’s in very small and subtle ways, but important ways: to come across people who I think are very brave and strong and smart. You can read a lot of articles and you can know all the figures – we’ve got poverty, sex work, abortions, HIV, violence, gender-based violence, LGBT rights, and everything – but you don’t know fuck all until you’ve spent time with someone who is a trans, HIV-positive sex worker in Soweto. I mean, you really don’t know anything. So just that changes you forever. It gives you an understanding of human experience that you can’t find anywhere.

SUSANN: When we first started, you know how people were always like “I hope you like this picture,” “I hope this pleases you” rather than telling the story their way. I do feel like we managed to get out of that dynamic throughout the project. But then when it came to taking the photos with you, we ended up with all images of sex work places. So that’s again that thing of wanting to please the audience, wanting to please the researcher, the photographer and telling the story that people thought was the story they were meant to be telling.

SUSANN: With the pictures that we have, do you feel like there’s any of that in those pictures? JULIA: Some of them yes, but I think a lot of it, if I have to be honest I doubt it. It was too set-up, too organised, too time-framed, location-framed. For me as a photographer,

JULIA: There are so many dynamics that come 117


you really have to completely go with the flow and surrender to that. And you need to spend shitloads of time to be able to catch that one moment that is significant, and it’s generally the moment where everybody forgets you’re around. I think for a lot of the photography that we did, we didn’t do that. People didn’t really get a chance to do it. One of the problems was that people couldn’t show their

In search of meaning Julia asking Meme about her storyboard and the story she wants to tell in the photos. Photo: Susann Huschke 2016


faces. I mean sex work is such a sensitive topic to approach. People have concerns about so many things on so many levels, starting from their personal safety to their relationships with their family, their relationship in society, everything. So for people to just relax around you and the camera, it has to take hours, if not days, and we didn’t get that chance with the project. I think a lot of them felt like “OK, I need to have my portrait taken. It needs to happen. It needs to happen around certain hours.” It had to happen around their [day job work] hours, their constraints of locations and places where they would be comfortable to take us, outfits, things to hide the face with. It was very structured in a way […].

really took advantage of that. I think they needed that trial run to figure out actually what it meant. They all wanted to please everybody. […] And I think after the portrait session, after having spent time with me, with us, in these places, after seeing the pictures, the results, seeing themselves there on the pictures, impressed, generally, happy, pleased, but then they were like: “shit, no, I should have done this, I should have taken them there.” I don’t think they were aware of the possibilities. […] They all woke up, and they were like: “no, we did the usual things, we showed the high heels, the clothes, the sexy dresses, the dirty places where we work, the beers, the cigarettes, the drugs. We didn’t show home, family, pyjamas. Other aspects of ourselves that actually we wanted to convey.” It’s a really tricky thing. It’s complicated. It’s a long process for people to value their own voice, right, to trust what they want to say. […] But then, I don’t think we could do it any differently because I think we need to go through that phase anyway for us to understand it, for them to have the time to process, all of this needs to happen. The places we went, the pictures we took, the picture we ditched, the picture we can’t use, all of it needs to happen for people to trust the process more, to trust us, and to trust themselves. I mean it takes a lot to stand in front of the camera and be who you really are. If you think about yourself standing in front of the camera and looking at it and being sincere and conveying something of yourself that is meaningful and sincere and true, how often were you able to do that?

SUSANN: So if we were to do this again, how should we do it? JULIA: From the point of view of a photographer, you would reduce the number of people drastically. You would choose three, three that you feel are open and sincere and willing to travel with you because it’s a risk for them. It’s a journey for them as well, so people need to be willing to do it. And then just way more time I think – maybe three times a week for six weeks and maybe another six weeks three months later. Then you start getting those pictures that are out of this world, literally. But I think there’s something very interesting about that process that we did, which was to say to people, “Hi, here’s your photographer. Please take your photographer wherever you like.” But I don’t think people 119


Claiming Cultural Citizenship Maggie O’Neill Chair in Sociology & Criminology, University of York, UK and co-chair Sex Work Research Hub, UK

We know from research with (not on or for) women that sex work is a risky business. The stigma and secrecy deeply embedded in women’s lives impact on their access to social justice. Violence against them is endemic. The men who perpetrate violence know that because of stigma, the criminalisation of sex work, and the social and moral censure involved, women are unlikely to or – depending on access to criminal justice – will not be able to report violence and exploitation. Holding space The workshop as a space to share, to change, to reflect, and to re-create stories. Photo: Susann Huschke 2017

These stories and images from brave and resilient women, men, and transgender people participating in KNOW MY STORY claim a space for cultural citizenship in the context of sexual, social and material inequalities, austerity, and poverty. By cultural citizenship, drawing on Jan Pakulski (1997) I mean: the right to presence and visibility – not marginalisation; the right to dignity and maintenance of lifestyle – not assimilation to the dominant culture or hegemony; and the right to dignifying representation. Using a combination of storytelling and visual images/photographs, the researcher, the facilitators, and the 14 amazing women, men, and transgender people involved in 120

and storytelling, combining the visual with narrative and voice – the transformative potential of participatory, image-based research and working together with women, men, and transgender people to tell their stories and create social change!

this project have created a powerful route to better knowledge and understanding of sex workers’ complex lives. They have also created a holding space for their lived experience and practice of cultural citizenship, exercised in situations and circumstances that are not always of their own choosing. The images and narratives call on us to appreciate and understand the participants’ lives in recognition, in dignity, and with respect and call on us to mobilise and transform the ways of seeing and thinking about sex work, as well as the social/material conditions that mitigate against social justice for sex workers. The democratic and participatory ways Susann worked to develop, conduct, and create this project offer a person-centred way of working and telling people’s lives that demonstrates inclusion, participation, and valuing their voices. As a result, interpretive, action-oriented outcomes have been created by working together. The images are incredible and beautiful; the stories are powerful and real. The project evidences very clearly for me the transformative potential of combining images

Reference Pakulski, J. (1997). Cultural Citizenship. Citizenship Studies, 1 (1): 73-86. 121


In Conversation with Xoli Moloi Xoli Moloi Film-maker, TV producer and storyteller

Susann Huschke Postdoctoral Research Fellow, African Centre for Migration & Society and School of Public Health, University of the Witwatersrand

XOLI: I think my best memory was when they were asked to take pictures of whatever is important to them. And almost none of them brought anything to do with sex work. There was the picture of a school blazer from Coco. I remember how she explained it: the morning preparing for school, that is the most important thing in life, not the judgement she gets from us, not the work she does, but making sure that the kids go to school in the morning, that they are ready and they look beautiful when they go to school. That is the first thing that hit me.

This is a shortened version of a conversation between Xoli Moloi, director of the KNOW MY STORY film clip, and researcher Susann Huschke, recorded in February 2017. SUSANN: When you look back, when we first interviewed you and you realised you were going to be part of this project, what were your expectations? XOLI: I thought I knew what I was expecting. But I think I went into it with a preconceived idea, with this saviour type of attitude, like “Oh shit, these poor ladies need my help.” And then I got to meet the ladies, and I realised that they didn’t really need my help. They didn’t need my pity; they needed my respect. They know what they’re doing. They’re trying to make a living. So yes, that has transformed me in that way.

SUSANN: And in terms of the filmmaking, was it different in any way to other projects that you’ve done? XOLI: A lot. I think my mistake was that I thought I’d take my cue from them, and I forgot to be the professional. So I was listening to what they wanted to be in the film, and I forgot to guide them.

SUSANN: When you think about all the times that you came out and you worked with us there, which moments stands out for you as moments that were like special, in whatever way?

SUSANN: Like to critically work with them and say, “OK, this is what you want to do, and 122

Unexpected stories Coco’s image of her child’s school uniform. Photo: Coco 2016 Hard work Xoli, Meme, and camera man Shadley filming the story of Pretty. Photo: Susann Huschke 2016 123


why do you want to do that? What is it going to do? Is this really what you want to put out there? Which way are we going to put it out there?” I feel like for the both of us, it came from a place of respect, but at the same time it’s like, at least for myself, a bit of naivety about certain kinds of knowledge or certain skills we can’t just assume people have. It is our job in these kinds of projects to teach or to transfer skills, and we didn’t do that enough.

this thing happening under my nose and I didn’t know about it?” For the first time it just hit me that it could have been me, and it is me! It’s just a different profession. They are just doing what I’m doing in a different way. For the first time in my life, [I got] to see that sex work is work. SUSANN: So see, this for me is the point of these sorts of projects. How could we make this sort of realisation or transformation possible for other people who are not part of these projects? You know, if more people could go through the process that you went through – realising “they are me and I am them” – do you think with these sorts of participatory arts projects where sex workers are involved, can we create something that does this for other people?

XOLI: Yeah. I was thinking, “Let me respect what she wants to have in the story.” But look, I think it was a personal journey and an emotional one for me. As much as I regret that the project didn’t work out well, at a very deep personal level, I don’t regret how it turned out. I’ve worked in Johannesburg all my life; I think I can count maybe three or four stories that I’ve done in Soweto in my life as a journalist and a filmmaker and a storyteller. I was born in Bara [Chris Hani Baragwaneth hospital, where the Know My Story project started]. This is my home, and these ladies are me. Their stories are very similar to my story, and I think I was taken aback in a way. You know when you [are] going to a place and you think you’re a storyteller, you’re a professional… and I became a part of them, I became their sister, their older sister, and that’s dangerous because then you let your guard down and you forget to be professional. I think I kept asking myself at the back of my mind, “How can I grow up in that neighbourhood, and yet there was

XOLI: I certainly think we can, but it’s not something we rush. I mean if you got me to transform, and honestly, I never ever thought I was judgemental, I thought I was empathetic and sympathetic and understanding. [But then] Zenande, she likes using that word, “pity,” like, “I’m actually not asking for your pity.” The first time she said it, I was like, “How can I work with you and be there with you and sympathise with you if I don’t feel sorry for you?” And then I realised, “Actually, you can, all you have to do is respect me and understand things from my perspective as much as I see your profession and I understand that this is what you have to do to make a living.” To answer 124

your question, I really think it’s possible, and I think if we ever do tell a sex worker’s story, a story needs to be told that way. SUSANN: Which way? XOLI: In a way that is empowering to them because we always tell stories either from a judgemental point of view or from a sympathiser’s point of view; we rarely see stories that say, “Look, I’m an empowered person. I make choices for my life. You may not like them, you may be uncomfortable with my choices, but these are my choices.” And that’s the story I want to see.



Worlds Apart? Reflections from an Irish Sex Worker Laura Lee Sex worker and activist in the UK and Ireland

prostitute”; this is not a practice of the PSNI. The relationship between the sex industry and the police in ROI is very problematic and getting worse since the passing of a new law criminalising paying for sex.

Although we are worlds apart, there are some similarities between sex work in South Africa and in the UK and Ireland. In the UK, the manner in which sex work is policed varies greatly from area to area. In Manchester, Leeds, and Liverpool, there are tolerance zones for street prostitution and a focus on harm reduction, which is good; however, in London and Scotland, the policing is very different in that we can be arrested for working together for safety, which makes our working conditions very dangerous. We are compelled to work alone and would-be attackers know that. In addition, police in Scotland regularly seize condoms as evidence.

While on the face of it we are not working in a “criminalised” context, actually, we are. Only full decriminalisation will stop police abuse of sex workers. That is why I am leading a challenge in the High Court in Belfast in Northern Ireland against the Nordic model, which criminalises the purchase of sex and places sex workers in grave danger. It is the same with our working conditions, which may appear different from South Africa, but they are not really that different. There is little difference between taking a client to a shack and going off with a client to a wasteland in his car. In my opinion, it does not matter if you work from a 4-star hotel room or a shack; if you are working alone and without the guaranteed protection of the police, then you are in danger.

In Northern Ireland, I have worked closely with the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), and they do not enforce the sex purchase ban, which makes paying for sex a crime, nor do they arrest sex workers for working together far safety. In the Republic of Ireland (ROI) there is a marked contrast. Attacks by members of the police and even rapes are commonplace. It is hellishly difficult to get sex workers to come forward and give evidence because they end up on police record as a “known

I got a sense of hopelessness and despair looking at the image of the mattress on the floor and reading the words of the sex worker describing men she does not want coming to 126

see her, who belittle her by calling her whore. In fact it upset me greatly, because it took me back to very bleak times in my life when I was working on the street, out of my face or drunk or both. It also reminded me of some of the Dublin brothels I worked in; they were dingy and the clients were not very nice at times, cheap, in-and-out.

Connecting realities This image of Zenande reminded Laura of the Irish brothels she used to work in. Photo: Julia Sestier 2016

The women, trans women, and men involved in this project speak a lot about stigma – something that remains rife throughout the industry all over the world. The use of masks by the sex workers in the KNOW MY STORY project to hide their identity is something we see globally and is a recognition that “coming out” can have all sorts of ramifications – such as the loss of a day job, stigma, and even child custody issues. One of the things that stood out was a desire on the part of the women for free education; they felt that this would be a way forward to exiting the industry. In the UK and Ireland, at least we do not have to pay school fees for the primary education of our children unlike the mothers in KNOW MY STORY. But for sex workers in South Africa and in the UK and Ireland, it seems to me that free higher education would make a massive difference in


their lives. Not only would it assist those who do sex work to pay for a higher education in the first place – in that they would not have to do sex work if they did not want to – but it would open up a whole host of other options for sex workers in the trade, too. What is really important to note here is that the removal of all criminal records is key to the success of future education for sex workers. I have lost count of the number of women I know with degrees who were thrown out of their jobs because it became known that they are or were once sex workers. If we are going to use education as an important tool to allow women to move on from the industry, then old records for solicitation have to go. The project overall is a fantastic concept. Allowing sex workers to express themselves through art is a whole different way of doing research, and it has clearly worked. I love their use of colours, and I got a real sense of solidarity from the women, trans women, and men in the project. I think any work that shows sex workers as creative human beings, parents, and good people can only be a positive thing, especially as a way to challenge the reproduction of popular stereotypes.

Chaniqua in a club Sex workers in South Africa and UK demand decriminalisation and access to basic rights. Photo: Julia Sestier 2016 128


Portraits of a Life on the Edge Lenore Manderson Distinguished Professor of Public Health and Medical Anthropology, University of the Witwatersrand

continuing excesses of hunger for the visual and explicit; contemporary images of the dead bodies of children on the Mediterranean shore and television footage of corpses and torture prove the point. We seem inured now to the visual representations of violence and pain, of an excess that should be incomprehensible, unconceivable, and intolerable.

When is a voice not a voice but a series of vivid images capturing a life that defies description? In KNOW MY STORY, each sex worker/participant/storyteller becomes her own raconteur, spinning accounts of living on the edge. When she needs to anonymise her professional photo portraits and turns these images into collages, creating new questions rather than presenting answers, then we have an even richer portrait of everyday life. The collages that are at the heart of this volume complement the texts and images taken by sex worker participants, sharpening our apprehension of how these artist-narrators live always in a space of social exclusion, potential violence, and stigma.

While photojournalism, despite its controversy, has pursued a path of realism with little restraint, academic researchers over the past few decades have also been enamoured with the image as a complement to text, both to provide context and to aid comprehension. With the increasing affordability of throwaway cameras, “photovoice” as a method has gained appeal, enabling research participants to document what was meaningful or important – at least at the time of the exercise – and to share this with their collaborating researchers (and their readers) to initiate enquiry, explanation, and reflection.

In an essay published three decades ago, Arthur Kleinman and Joan Kleinman wrote of the misuse of photography, with each image more vivid, more shocking, desensitising its viewers to those that preceded it. The iconic photographs of past human atrocities – starving children in Biafra (1967-1970), the limp body of Hector Petersen (1974), the graphic photographs of the My Lai Massacre (1969), Kevin Carter’s photograph of a vulture stalking a child in the Sudan (1993) – have all jolted us to the realities of famine, apartheid, and war. But they mark the beginning and the

The images shared in KNOW MY STORY are not Polaroid happy snaps, however, and the ethnographer – Susann Huschke – is not the one to produce meaning from them. The women whom she has befriended and with whom she has collaborated reside and work 130

in Soweto. In this project, the women have invited the researcher, the photographer, and the filmmaker into their lives, their work environments – Soweto’s taverns and hotel bars – and their homes. They have told their stories to Susann and to each other in the project workshops. Their written stories and those told through the pictures taken with their own cell phones are about the work of selling sex for as much as they can get in order to keep themselves and their children alive. They are stories of journeys and circumstance, luck and vulnerability. In shaping these stories, they have married their accounts with professional portrait images that they have embellished as a means of ensuring anonymity. Yet anonymity has not produced distance; the collages sharpen rather than occlude their lives. The resultant works are profound because they are spare; they show what life at the edge is like, with a gritty realism that avoids the shock tactics of excessive photojournalism and that rejects sentimentality.

contemplate the settings in which sex workers work, to savour their commentaries, and to listen to their voices. The two forms – words and images – come together to insist that we hear the sex workers’ stories and so move towards understanding how these women, trans people, and men came to be where they are. The challenges of curating this kind of publication reflect back on the role of the ethnographer. The collection is the outcome of Susann’s friendship and collaboration with these 14 sex workers – talking with them, discussing their photos, and spending much of her time in this everyday urban field. As a result, there is an ethnographic sensibility as well as creativity in the collection, as Susann and her friends have dealt with the challenges of anonymity and stigma and the significance of their subjective accounts.

The “captions” – the texts that run against the images – are profoundly moving, blunt, gritty, reflective, visceral counterpoints to the visual. The artworks invite us to read the texts closely, as we might not otherwise have done; the visuals slow us down, enabling us to

Reference Pakulski, J. (1997). Cultural Citizenship. Citizenship Studies, 1 (1): 73-86. 131


PROJECT MEMBERS For those of us who live at the shoreline standing upon the constant edges of decision crucial and alone for those of us who cannot indulge the passing dreams of choice who love in doorways coming and going in the hours between dawns looking inward and outward at once before and after seeking a now that can breed futures like bread in our children’s mouths so their dreams will not reflect the death of ours Audre Lorde, A Litany for Survival

“The soul of our politics is the commitment to ending domination.“ bell hooks, Feminism Is for Everybody: Passionate Politics


continuous support from the Perinatal HIV Research Unit (PHRU) and the Soweto Sex Worker Programme (SSWP) at Baragwanath Hospital. They gave this project a home.

Many people have given their time and energy to this project. 14 participants took part in the workshops, weaving images and texts into stories. They were supported by a team of open-minded, dedicated facilitators. All of their hard work, commitment and passion lie at the heart of this publication. KNOW MY STORY is part of the MoVE project, a series of participatory arts-based projects housed at the ACMS. The project received generous funding from maHp, a Wellcome Trust funded project. Susann Huschke received a DAAD postdoctoral scholarship for her research in South Africa (2015-2017), which included her work on KNOW MY STORY. This project – and the larger anthropological study that KNOW MY STORY is part of – would not have been possible without the 135



People who drove the planning, facilitation, and presentation of the project.

Susann Huschke (Researcher) I am an anthropologist, a mother, a gardener, a chicken-keeper, and an activist. I have been doing research on sex work since 2013, previously at Queen’s University Belfast, UK, and currently at the African Centre for Migration & Society (ACMS) and the School of Public Health at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. Before that, I did my PhD research on undocumented migration and healthcare in Berlin, Germany. I work in solidarity with sex workers, challenging the stereotypes, the stigma and abuse they face in South Africa and around the world.

Julia Sestier (Photographer) I am a photojournalist based in Johannesburg, South Africa. I cover news and social issues in Central, East and Southern Africa, with a particular focus on gender issues in conflict situations. I received an MA in Photojournalism from Speos Photography School in Paris, and MSc in NGO Management from the London School of Economics and Political Science with a focus on gender based violence in emergencies.


Xoli Moloi (Film Director) I have produced and directed documentaries for eNCA and I was Senior Producer for’s flagship investigative current affairs show 3rd Degree, where I won the 2008 Vodacom Journalist award for best TV feature in the Gauteng region. I am also a Duke University Menell Media fellow.

Margherita di Paola (Film Producer) I am a producer, a film festival curator, an antifascist, a mother, a sister and an aunt. I’m from Sicily but I have lived in Rome, Spain, Los Angeles and now Johannesburg. I love producing political documentaries. I watch lots of movies and travel as much as I can. I graduated in Social Science at the University of Roma 3 and from the Los Angeles Film School.



Phumlani Mamfengu (Artist) I was born 1989 in Cape Town in the township called Khayelitsha. After my matric, I studied graphic design at the University of Stellenbosch and later at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, but due to financial problems I didn’t finish. In 2012 I worked as an assistant in the South African National Gallery at the Iziko Museum in Cape Town. I graduated as Master in Professional Italian Mosaic from the Spier Arts Academy in 2015. My socio-conscious works are based on everyday life in South Africa.

Monwabisi Dasi (Artist) I consider myself a cultural activist. My ability to create and communicate is closely linked to my mission and purpose on earth. I have a passion for visual art and music, and I am interested in expression and communication through art in various forms. I have been involved with community based organisations such as the Community Networking Forum (CNF), and I am co-founder of Soundz Of the South.


Ntokozo Yingwana (Social Media and Campaigning) I’m a sex-positive African feminist, and scholar-activist. I’m currently a researcher and doctorate candidate with the African Centre for Migration & Society (ACMS). I am experienced in journalism, online media, advocacy, open access/knowledge and research. My passion lies in gender, sexuality and sex worker rights activism in Africa. I have worked for the Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT), the African Sex Worker Alliance (ASWA), and the Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP). My recent research asks “What does it mean to be an African sex worker feminist?”



Project Partners MoVE

MoVE is a project housed at the African Centre for Migration and Society (ACMS) at the University of the Witwatersrand located in Johannesburg, South Africa, and it focuses on the development of visual and other involved methodologies to research the lived experiences of migrants in southern Africa. Our approach aims to integrate social action with research and involves collaboration with migrant participants, existing social movements, qualified facilitators, and trainers, and students engaged in participatory research methods. This work includes the study and use of visual methods—including photography, narrative writing, participatory theatre, collage—and other arts-based approaches in the process of producing, analysing, and disseminating research data. These approaches to research facilitate storytelling and self-study, incorporating various auto-ethnographic approaches. Central areas of investigation relate to issues of social justice in relation to migration, with a specific focus on sexuality, gender, health, and policy.

Since 2006, the ACMS has explored the use of creative methodologies with more traditional qualitative research methods in social science research. These projects engage in the co-production of knowledge through the development of partnerships with migrant groups; a central focus is the involvement of under-represented migrant groups that face multiple vulnerabilities to collectively develop methods that ensure that their voices are heard and seen. To date, projects have been conducted with migrant men, women, and transgender persons engaged in the sex industry, informal settlement residents, inner-city migrants, and hostel residents. These projects have culminated in a range of research and advocacy outputs, including community-based exhibitions, public exhibitions, engagement with officials, and outreach into multi-media forums.



The African Centre for Migration & Society (ACMS), formerly known as the Forced Migrations Studies Programme, is based at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. The ACMS is an independent, interdisciplinary, and internationally engaged Africa-based centre of excellence for research and teaching, which shapes global discourses on human mobility, development, and social transformation. Through research, teaching, and outreach, the ACMS is a regional leader for migration on the continent, with partnerships around the world.



School of Public Health

Perinatal HIV Research Unit

The multi-disciplinary School of Public Health at the University of the Witwatersrand produces skilled public health practitioners appropriately trained to address the range of public health needs and challenges within South African and African settings. At the same time, the School nurtures independent academic endeavor designed to advance the acquisition of new knowledge. The School enjoys a reputation of academic excellence, equity, human rights, social justice and responsiveness to the population health needs of South Africa and the African region.

One of Africa’s leading research centres, the Perinatal HIV Research Unit (PHRU) is situated at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Acadmic Hospital—known locally as ‘Bara’— in Soweto, Johannesburg. PHRU engages in research, training, policy-formulation and advocacy concerning, and amongst others, pediatric and adolescents populations, young women and girls, MSM, sex workers, and HIV-positive persons. PHRU is a research unit of the University of the Witwatersrand and a division of the Wits Health Consortium.


Soweto Sex Worker Programme The Soweto Sex Worker Programme is run by the Perinatal HIV Research Unit (PHRU) at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Acadmic Hospital. The programme employs and up-skills sex workers as peer educators, HIV and lay counsellors, data capturers, and drivers. They provide community education and social mobilization, commodity distribution, community based HIV testing, monthly workshops and support groups. The SSWP also offers a basic primary healthcare clinic service, including PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) and Universal Test and Treat.



Project Funders maHp

Wellcome Trust

The migration and health project southern Africa (maHp) at the ACMS is supported by a Wellcome Trust Investigator Award. Involving a series of unique research and public engagement projects, maHp explores ways to generate and communicate knowledge to improve responses to migration, health, and wellbeing in the SADC region. Multiple disciplinary perspectives, mixed methods, and the involvement of various stakeholders—including migrants—are considered central to exploring the production of knowledge and its application.

The Wellcome Trust is dedicated to improving health. We believe this can only be achieved if advances in biomedical research are accompanied by advances in our understanding of the social, cultural, and historical contexts of medicine, health, and wellbeing. Only with an understanding of those contexts can we address the practical, political, and ethical challenges that are raised by the global burden of illness, disease, and health disparity. Know My Story is supported by a Wellcome Trust Investigator Award held by Jo Vearey.




The SeaM Project (SeaM: Security at the Margins) is a three-year partnership between the University of Edinburgh and the University of Witwatersrand. Our aim is to use innovative methods to explore (in)security on the urban margins in South Africa. The partnership is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) of the UK and the South African National Research Foundation (NRF).

The DAAD is the world’s largest funding organisation for the international exchange of students and researchers. Since it was founded in 1925, more than 1.9 million scholars in Germany and abroad have received DAAD funding. It is a registered association and its members are German institutions of higher education and student bodies. Its activities go far beyond simply awarding grants and scholarships. The DAAD supports the internationalisation of German universities, promotes German studies and the German language abroad, assists developing countries in establishing effective universities and advises decision makers on matters of cultural, education and development policy.




“Before you judge me, know my story!” The 14 sex workers involved in the KNOW MY STORY project took pictures, created collages, and wrote th...


“Before you judge me, know my story!” The 14 sex workers involved in the KNOW MY STORY project took pictures, created collages, and wrote th...