Metropolitan Nomads: a journey through Joburg's Little Mogadishu

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METROPOLITAN NOMADS A JOURNEY THROUGH JOBURG’S LITTLE MOGADISHU Edited by Nereida Ripero-Muñiz With photographs by Salym Fayad

First published 2017 by The MoVE Project African Centre for Migration & Society (ACMS) University of the Witwatersrand Creative Commons: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND

This MoVE Project must be credited when shared. The work cannot be changed in any way, and it cannot be used commercially. ISBN 978-0-9946707-5-5 Editor: Nereida Ripero-Muñiz Exhibition curation: Nereida Ripero-Muñiz and Salym Fayad Publication design: Quinten Edward Williams Copyeditor: John Marnell Series editors: Jo Vearey and Elsa Oliveira

Photographic series by Salym Fayad. Photographic series captions by Nereida Ripero-Muñiz unless indicated otherwise. All quotes from research by Nereida Ripero-Muñiz except the quote on p. 90 which is from an interview with Salym Fayad. Images on pages 56, 57 and 65 from Instagram (@ best_of_somalia / @proud_putlander). Images on pages 83 and 84 courtesy of Somali Broadcasting Corporation and Radio Mogadishu.

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. Metropolitan Nomads: A Journey Through Joburg’s Little Mogadishu The project received ethics approval H 121004) from the University of the Witwatersrand Research Ethics Committee (non-medical).

MoVE Social Media


Project Context

Photographic Series

Daniel K. Thompson Foreword 11

Nereida Ripero-Muñiz & Salym Fayad Metropolitan Nomads: A Journey through Joburg’s Little Mogadishu

Zaheera Jinnah Intersecting Realities: reflections on Metropolitan Nomads 15 Nereida Ripero-Muñiz & Salym Fayad Introduction



Reflections on Process Introduction About the Reflections


Muna Bullale, Abdiqani Gure, & Nereida Ripero-Muñiz In Conversation: “What Matters is that we Understand Each Other “


Saytoon Hassan My Experience


Salym Fayad & John Marnell Fragments of Spaces: A Photographer’s Perspective


Project Members Ignacio Priego Jimeno A Personal Journey into Somali Music Nereida Ripero-MuĂąiz Challenges in the Field Jo Vearey (Re)presenting research: The opportunities and challenges of using documentary photography


Introduction People and Organisations




Project Partners


Project Funders




“As a Somalian, we don’t leave our culture behind. Anywhere you go, you know this person is a Somalian. The way we dress and everything … for me it’s really important. I can’t leave my culture, I’m still a Somalian and I will always be Somalian.”

FOREWORD Daniel K. Thompson Researcher, Department of Anthropology, Emory University (Atlanta, USA)

The Somali-dominated section of 8th Avenue, Mayfair, is a space of constant flux – of migrant journeys within and beyond South Africa, of congregation during Islamic holidays, of sanctuary at times of xenophobic violence. While some inhabit the space only temporarily, many others have stayed for years, building homes, establishing businesses and raising families.

Mayfair is cut of the same fabric as South Africa’s fragmented post-apartheid social context: it is characterised by a combination of social stigma and self-enforced segregation, in this case for Somalis and other groups from the Horn of Africa (including many Oromo Ethiopians). The neighbourhood is also a node within a universe of interconnections centred on Somalia and the ethnic Somali ‘homelands’ in Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti – a region that for the past three decades has seemed a ‘stateless’ void in a vortex of migrant mobility.

Somalis have carved out enclaves across South Africa. These spaces offer familiarity and mutual support, while also linking the local Somali population to the economic networks of the far-flung diaspora. People’s attempts to make a home in a frequently hostile land generate a capricious interweaving of violent exclusion and peaceful solidarity, of disheartening unemployment and dynamic enterprise.

Stereotyped media depictions of Somalia have helped entrench negative perceptions about the Somali diaspora. For many people, particularly in migrant-receiving countries, the figure of the Somali migrant is synonymous with, at best, a deprived 11


independence and creativity. It is a proud mark of distinction from migrant-receiving societies, one that manifests itself in the performance of cultural practices (clothing, marriages and so on) and in sanctioned behaviours in various domains (domestic, work and so on). Many Somalis express pride at their nomadic heritage, describing their migrant journeys as extensions of pastoralist mobility across a grander scale – an ongoing search for greener pastures. Like narratives of nomadism, cultural practices and structures (such as clan

refugee and, at worst, a depraved ‘terrorist’. Representations of Somalia often portray the country as the epitome of disorder and violence: the ‘failed state’ of the 1990s blurs into the rise of al-Shabab extremists in 2006 and the headline-making Puntland pirates after 2008. Such simplistic representations are often pinned on Somali refugees, regardless of their personal history or current reality. For many Somalis, however, ‘Somaliness’ (Soomaalinimo) evokes a culture of 12

Exhibition Events Live jazz infused with traditional Somali music was performed at the exhibition shown in the Atrium, South-West Engineering Building, Wits.

systems) undergo a combination of continuity and change in the diaspora. Somaliness is expressed, contested and transformed in shared virtual spaces such as Facebook and WhatsApp, and in the interlinked homes and neighbourhoods that form physical nodes of the Somali diaspora.

re-creation of the social body of Somalia, connecting people to imaginaries of a once and (potentially) future state. Imaginaries and practices that constantly reconstruct the homeland in displacement are not identical across the diaspora. The identities of Mayfair’s ‘metropolitan nomads’ connect to imaginaries and social realities of the Horn of Africa and of South Africa, in ways that make them both distinctively Somali and distinctively South African.

A variety of social practices across diverse scales – from localised social interactions to national and international business and family networks – allow for the endless 13


“I was born into the culture and the religion, I was born Muslim and I was born Somalian. I was born in both at the same time. From the start it was the same to me They go together. I was born and I was told you are Somalian and Muslim.�



Zaheera Jinnah Researcher, African Centre for Migration & Society, University of the Witwatersrand

From 2009 to 2012, I conducted ethnographic fieldwork with Somalis living in Mayfair for my PhD. During this time I developed an intimate relationship with a few people and some key spaces. I was struck by how people transformed over time and in different audiences. How women who were quiet at home became animated in shops and cafes; how respondents I knew well provided different narratives of their lives when introduced to ‘outsiders’, such as officials from the UN or researchers from outside of the country. When Nereida Ripero-Muñiz approached me with the idea of a photography project in Mayfair, I was excited by the possibility of seeing the neighbourhood through a new lens. While Metropolitan Nomads captures in vivid detail the richness of Mayfair and its inhabitants, it also documents the changing

landscape of the neighbourhood and firmly embeds the Somali narrative into the history of the space. The exhibition captures both the transiency of the association of Somalis with Mayfair and their efforts at forging a sense of belonging. This is a theme I encountered repeatedly in my own work and which manifested in different ways: through narratives of identity and meaning, through plans for the future, through efforts to sustain the present – different ways of being and doing that are reflected in Metropolitan Nomads. The exhibition also raises questions about how places are represented, how we – as researchers, journalists, photographers and students – engage with communities and how we might co-produce knowledge through such encounters. My point of entry and engagement with Mayfair was always through


a group of businesswomen, and often from private and individual spaces; this perspective shaped my understanding of everyday life within the neighbourhood. The exhibition, on the other hand, speaks from a bolder and more public account of Mayfair. As these realities intersect, they hint at how multiple perspectives and methods can enrich our understanding. Places change. Spaces unravel. And people metamorphose. It is striking to note how much Mayfair has changed, not only in the longer history of the area, but also in the recent past – a period in which Somalis have staked a stronger claim to the area and made this visible through the everyday material culture captured in these images.

Different views The Metropolitan Nomads photographic series offers multiple views into Somali cultural practices in Mayfair. 16


“Men prefer women to emigrate because they either work or send money home or they have children and receive benefits from the government of the countries they are staying. Women have become the survival kit of the Somali society.�

INTRODUCTION Nereida Ripero-Muñiz Researcher and lecturer, School of Literature, Language and Media, University of the Witwatersrand

Salym Fayad Photographer

Somalis are often misrepresented in the mainstream media, their lives and experiences reduced to one-dimensional narratives: that of the helpless refugee, or the lawless pirate, or the religious extremist connected to al-Shabab (Ripero-Muñiz and Fayad, 2016). Metropolitan Nomads was conceptualised as a response to this trend: it sought to capture the ways in which Somali migrants, as urban refugees, renegotiate their cultural and religious practices in a foreign metropolitan context. The images presented here are also a representation – one that does not claim to tell an absolute truth, but rather seeks to foreground the complexities and nuances of everyday life within this particular community.

The present volume is a compilation of images from and reflections on Metropolitan Nomads: A Journey through Joburg’s Little Mogadishu, a multidisciplinary collaborative project that began in 2014. Originally envisaged as a once-off exhibition, Metropolitan Nomads quickly grew into a long-term project. Since first being displayed in Johannesburg in July 2015, the exhibition has travelled to multiple locations in South Africa and abroad,1 and some of the images have been published in journal articles and photo essays.2 Thus this book serves as an archive of sorts, bringing together the various iterations of the project. The project’s aim was to document – through interviews, photographs and video recordings – daily life in Mayfair, a suburb of central Johannesburg and a major hub for Somali migrants.

The Somali diaspora is one of the largest originating in sub-Saharan Africa. The sheer size of this migrant population has given rise to many 19



misconceptions. In the popular imagination, there are vast hordes of Somalis heading to the West. While thousands have indeed crossed borders and oceans to reach Europe and North America, the majority have settled in other African countries (UNHCR 2015). After Kenya and Ethiopia, South Africa hosts one of the largest Somali communities on the continent, with an estimated 41,000 people now living here (UNHCR 2015). Few of these people arrived by air; the majority crossed the intervening borders with the aid of mukhalasiin – human smugglers. Some boarded cargo ships in Kenya and disembarked secretly at Mozambican ports, before being smuggled into South Africa; others made the treacherous journey by land. The majority arrive with little more than a family photo album, ready to start from scratch. The Somali population in South Africa is concentrated in townships (areas formerly designated for occupation by black Africans under apartheid) located on the periphery of large urban centres. Here they make a living running spaza shops – small informal

Daily lives Metropolitan Nomads provides a rich, visual insight into the daily life of Somali migrants in Mayfair. 21


Endnotes 1. University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, July 2015; University of Helsinki, Helsinki, August 2015; Wits Anthropology Museum, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, October 2015; 18591km Art Exhibition, Silent Green Kulturquartier, Berlin, November 2015; OSISA Art Gallery, Johannesburg, March 2016; Centre for the Study of Governance Innovation (Govinn), University of Pretoria, Pretoria, May 2016; Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations (CTPSR), Coventry University, Coventry, May 2016; Carleton University, Ottawa, October 2016.

convenience stores. Anti-foreigner sentiments are often directed towards Somali people, who are blamed for ‘stealing’ jobs or putting local businesspeople out of work, and this makes the community especially vulnerable during outbreaks of xenophobic violence. In the past, Somali shops have been attacked and looted, and their owners driven from their homes. But not all Somalis live in townships. A few thousand – especially women – have established themselves in the Johannesburg suburb of Mayfair, an area widely perceived as a safe haven. It is here that people flee during serious eruptions of xenophobic violence, such as in 2008, 2013 and 2015. It is also here that many ‘Somali’ cultural practices are maintained and reimagined.

2. Ripero-Muñiz and Fayad 2016; Fayad and Ripero-Muñiz 2015; Ripero-Muñiz 2015; RiperoMuñiz and Fayad 2015a; Ripero-Muñiz and Fayad 2015b.

Mayfair has also become a place of reference for Somalis starting the route south from Mogadishu or Nairobi. The neighbourhood marks an entry point to a new beginning in South Africa, and to the Somali community in this country. For some, Mayfair is the final destination, but for most it is a transit point in a chain of relocations; yet another stop before heading elsewhere – another city, another country, another continent. This global odyssey is fuelled by buufis – the hope of resettlement – the ever-present feeling that drives Somalis to relocate, move, explore, open themselves up to new and better opportunities somewhere else.


References Ripero-Muñiz, Nereida and Salym Fayad photos by. 2016. ‘Metropolitan Nomads: A Journey through Jo’burg’s “Little Mogadishu”’, Anthropology Southern Africa, 39 (3):232-240, DOI: 10.1080/23323256.2016.1215251. Ripero-Muñiz, Nereida. 2015. ‘Mayfair: “A Somali Island In Johannesburg”’. Itch. The Creative Journal. Volume 15. Available from http://itch. Fayad, Salym and Nereida Ripero-Muñiz. 2015. ‘Metropolitan Nomads: Somali Women of Mayfair.’ Buwa! A Journal on African Women’s Experiences, no. 6: 18–22. Ripero-Muñiz, Nereida and Salym Fayad. 2015a. ‘Mayfair, el barrio somalí de Johannesburgo’, EL PAÍS, Planeta Futuro, Blog Seres Urbanos. Available from Ripero-Muñiz, Nereida and Salym Fayad. 2015b. ‘Metropolitan Nomads: A Journey through Joburg’s Little Mogadishu’, Afrikan Sarvi, 2. Available from 266-metropolitan-nomads-a journey-hroughjoburg-s-little-mogadishu UNHCR.2015. Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2015. Available from http://



PHOTOGRAPHIC SERIES “The Somali community survives because of the women, because women were taking care of all aspects of life as the men were busy with the war. The men in Somalia were controlling because they had money. But life is changing now.... Before women didn´t have anything, but now is changing. After the war the men don’t work, they are confused they don’t know what to do, where to start…. But all the women are working.... Somalis survive because of women, if not they´d had long disappeared.”

“Mayfair, a Johannesburg suburb, is a place where the lives of hundreds of Somalis intersect; a space of opportunity for some, a place of refuge for others, and a home away from home for the Somali diaspora in the city.�



Nereida Ripero-Muñiz Researcher and lecturer, School of Literature, Language and Media, University of the Witwatersrand

Salym Fayad Photographer

Using photography and an ethnographic approach, Metropolitan Nomads takes an intimate look at the everyday life of Somali migrants in Johannesburg, where collective stories of migration and survival interweave with the individual desires and hopes of seeking a better life outside a country shattered by decades of internal conflict. Metropolitan Nomads: A Journey through Joburg’s Little Mogadishu is a collaborative project between researcher Nereida RiperoMuñiz and documentary photographer Salym Fayad, supported by the African Centre for Migration & Society (ACMS) at Wits University.




Mayfair, a Johannesburg suburb, is a place where the lives of hundreds of Somalis intersect; a space of opportunity for some, a place of refuge for others, and a home away from home for the Somali diaspora in the city. This is a multi-layered site where Somali migrants, as urban refugees, renegotiate their cultural practices in a foreign, metropolitan context; where spaces and customs that were left behind are recreated in the daily life of the neighbourhood.



Electric fences and high walls are a common view in Johannesburg, a city where public and private space can be violently demarcated by physical boundaries that only make more apparent the social and racial divides of the post-apartheid city.


South African Indians started moving to Mayfair, a white suburb under apartheid, in the late 1980s. Somalis also began to settle in the area in the early 1990s because of the religious connection with the Indian Muslim population.



Stories circulate amongst Somalis in East Africa about the prosperous life to be found in South Africa. However, after arriving in the country, Somali refugees find educational opportunities are expensive and often inaccessible and the only jobs they can find are working for other Somalis or Ethiopians, providing barely enough to survive. Many of them end up living in shared rooms in Mayfair.


Most of the belongings migrants carry from Somalia are lost along the journey. Among the few personal items that they manage to bring with them are family photographs taken in Somalia.




Somalis in South Africa are known for running spaza shops, small convenience stores in townships. Commercial activity in Mayfair is centred around Amal, a busy shopping mall at the heart of the neighbourhood, where shops are mainly run and owned by Somali women who buy some of their products from Chinese-owned malls in the city. Many of the goods are imported from Nairobi and Dubai.






Most Somalis living in Mayfair have transited or lived in the Kenyan capital, creating connections between communities in Nairobi and Johannesburg. A dozen travel agencies cater for Somali travellers, migrants and businesspeople moving back and forth between Johannesburg and East African cities.


Mayfair has changed significantly in recent years. Through their commercial activity, Somalis have transformed the urban landscape. They have also reproduced cultural and religious practices in the daily life of the neighbourhood. The streets around the Amal shopping centre burst with life. 8th Avenue, popularly known as

Jahanama or Hell Street, has transformed very quickly over the past half-decade. In January 2012, just a couple of lodges, cybercafĂŠs and restaurants could be found in the earea. Today, these businesses have doubled in number, making 8th Avenue the liveliest street of the neighbourhood.



The streets around the Amal shopping centre burst with life. 8th Avenue, popularly known as Jahanama Street or Hell Street, has transformed very quickly over the past half-decade. In January 2012, just a couple of lodges, cybercafĂŠs and restaurants could be found in the area. Today, these businesses have doubled in number, making 8th Avenue the liveliest street of the neighbourhood.


Mayfair is also known as “little Mogadishu”, not only because of the large number of Somalis living there, but also because of the way they recreate Mogadishu’s street life and social spaces. At Ibrahim’s café, traditional Somali artefacts are displayed on the walls, referencing cultural practices, traditional values and Somalia’s pre-civil war history.



The transformation of the urban space occurs through material reproductions and also through social, cultural and religious practices, routines and street life. These expressions of Somaliness transform spaces into very distinctive places, in which collective identities form transcending national borders.




Muslim Ethiopians from the Oromia region also inhabit Mayfair’s streets, bringing their own cultural practices to the neighbourhood.


Business activity and everyday life in Mayfair were deeply affected by the waves of xenophobic violence against foreign migrants in South Africa at the beginning of 2015. Hundreds of Somalis moved to the area, which is seen by many as protective nest because of the large number of Somalis residing there.



In May 2015, Boqor Burhan Boqor Muuse, a traditional leader from the Puntland region, visited South Africa as part of a tour of African countries sponsored by the Somali diaspora. The aim of his visit was to address the issue of xenophobic violence facing the Somali community in South Africa. He also met the Zulu king, Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu, who is considered one of the instigators of the xenophobic wave of March 2015.




Somaliness and Islam are deeply interconnected and constitute the two main pillars of collective identity for Somalis.


Prayers during Eid at the park in Bird street. The Muslim community of Mayfair come together during the Islamic celebration regardless of ethnic or national differences.



Many Somali women face pressure from the community to marry Somali men, a practice that intends to ensure the continuity of the clan, which is patrilineal. Some women are starting to contest this and other cultural practices, such as Female Genital Cutting (FGC), due to their direct access to the Qur´an, which allows them to question and transform some expressions of their Somaliness.




The todoba is a ceremony celebrated seven days after a wedding, only attended by women, in which they dance and sing buraanburs to the newly married. In the past, buraanburs were composed for each ceremony, and included verses that referred to specific episodes in the lives of the newly married, their families and their clans. Nowadays the same chants are repeated in every occasion praising the deeds of the married couple´s clans.




Somalis are eager users of social media, both to communicate across borders and to share images and experiences that contribute to the construction of a collective identity in the diaspora.




Somali collective identity is also expressed in the virtual space of Instagram, where religious messages alternate with cultural images and motivational quotes. These provide an insight into the subjectivities of individuals belonging to the Somali diaspora and contribute to the formation of a collective identity that takes place in the virtual space of social networks.




Even if new technologies play an important role in the daily life of Somalis, the custom of being photographed at a studio still takes place on special occasions, such as the Eid al-Fitr holiday. These photos are later sent to relatives back in Somalia and around the world.




RELECTIONS ON PROCESS “Giddigeeda noloshaada ha ahaato garabka sare OO guur marka aad gaarto oo wiil is-gacashataan Ninka ha guul gullin guryankaaga yaan la maqal Gurboodka ururi gacalkiisa gogol u fidi Goyaasha u uumi oo raaxo heer ka gaar Oo gurrac haddii aad aragto gurigiisaba uga guur Gunaanadka iga guddoon gaamur duco gin-giman Golaha aakhirana jannadii ku hayso gogol“ May your life be lived at the highest level When you begin to date and are ready for marriage. Do not nag him, and let not your grumbling be heard; Open your house and spread mats for his people. Apply incense at home, and dress and indulge him with pleasure, But if he rewards you with mischief, move out from his home. Accept this conclusion of my bestowing prayers to you: I wish you paradise in the life hereafter.

“Islam is a way of life, It´s a complete way of life. From the beginning to the end that´s what you are supposed to do. People who don’t know about Islam maybe see another wrong picture, but Islam is a way of life.“


Personal reflections from the project team paint a rich picture of a collaborative approach to documenting the lived experiences of Somali migrants in Mayfair, Johannesburg. Contributions focus on the methodological and ethical tensions that can emerge when bringing together differing professional practices, and on the importance of community-engaged and participatory approaches to visualising people and places. These reflections highlight the opportunities and challenges faced when exploring alternative approaches to producing, curating and publicly representing knowledge about migrant populations and the places in which they live and work.



In Conversation: “What Matters is that we Understand Each Other “ Muna Bullale, Abdiqani Gure, and Nereida Ripero-Muñiz Participants and researcher

Muna and Abdiqani are Somali migrants living in Mayfair. Both of them supported the photography fieldwork for Metropolitan Nomads, and in the process formed strong bonds with the project team. Here they reflect on the experience of taking part and the sometimes difficult task of navigating community expectations. For Muna, who was also able to attend the exhibition at the Wits Anthropology Museum, seeing the images on display was an exciting validation of her Somali identity and heritage. Nereida: What did you think about the exhibition? Muna: It was very smart. Amazing, too! Do you know why? Because things that people did not know about our lives came out; you brought to light what has been hidden. There are many people who do not realise our culture is there. Nobody saw [our lives] as you did. I have not seen anyone else publishing about us in this way. People think that we live a very harsh life, that we are suffering all the time. Some people also think we are dumb, that we know nothing. But in the selection of photos [for the exhibition] you see so many

“Everything is possible” The sentiments of Muna Bullale – project participant – are reflected in Instagram images from users in the Somali diaspora that highlight cultural images, religious messages and aspirational quotes. 64


were not a bad person, that you were only showcasing how Somalis live, how they enjoy, how they do things. It was there on display, and it was nice to see.

things. You see our traditions, our culture, our weddings – so many things with so many people. The exhibition was amazing. I was so happy to see something that has never been done before. [My photograph] was in the exhibition, too!

Abdiqani: The first time I saw these people [Nereida and Salym] I thought they were FBI agents from America. Many people were saying, ‘Hey, avoid these people! They will change your tradition or your religion.’ But I realised you were doing something nice.

Nereida: Do you think people from Mayfair also liked the exhibition? Muna: Yes. The ones who went – Ibrahim, Aisha and Africa – all loved it. It was amazing. You also played Somali music at the launch and that was very nice. It was really, really amazing. I was so happy and proud, because it is not something you usually see. Initially, some people [in the community] thought the project was a bad idea. When you started out, some people thought you were spying on Somalis. People thought you were doing something bad. They would not believe us when we explained that this lady [Nereida] was our friend. We explained that you were just trying to get to know us, and that we also wanted to get to know you. That is what we said you were doing – nothing more, nothing less – but some people still did not believe us. In any case, there were some people who believed you, like Saytoon, Abdiqani and Africa. We were a team. Do you remember? In my shop, you were one of us. We used to explain what you wanted to do and some people understood, but others did not. They had a bad idea in their minds. And then the exhibition came out and we could see everything: that you were not lying, that you

Muna: Some people suspected you were spreading another religion, like missionaries. Others thought you were spying on the Mayfair community. Abdiqani: And that you wanted to know about our traditions so that you could take us to the FBI and arrest us. [Some people thought] you would tell a story that we were al-Shabab. But we knew you were good. Muna: Skin colour does not matter. What matters is that we understand each other. It does not matter where you come from or what you are doing. I am glad we got to know each other and became friends. I even ended up going to a party at your house. Do you remember? I was chatting with your teacher from the university. Nereida: Yes, he was my supervisor. It was good that you met each other. Muna: He asked me which school I went to 66

and I told him I have never been to school. He was so surprised. The party was so good; I enjoyed the experience. I was alone – no one else from Mayfair was there – but I was not afraid of you or your friends. That was a good thing. Abdiqani: When I saw you at the [Somali] wedding that night, I was happy. You were dancing and playing. Your friend was taking photos. I believed, and everyone else did too, that we could be friends. And I was telling people that you were just taking pictures, that you were getting to know our traditions. Muna: Some people still ask me about you. When some people see me in your car, they say, ‘Hey, Muna, you have gone too far. Now you have become a white lady.’ And I tell them that you are my friend. They ask me: ‘How come you became friends with a white lady? How did you guys get to understand each other?’ I tell them religion does not matter and skin colour does not matter. What matters is to understand each other. Even if we do not speak the same language, we can communicate in English. Nothing is impossible in this life. Everything is possible, if you try.


My Experience Saytoon Hassan Research assistant

I moved to Johannesburg in 2007, after leaving Somalia to marry a man living in Mayfair.

began to hear positive things. I learnt about our rich culture and traditions, our beautiful poetry, and about who we used to be. That is when I decided to ask more about my people and our history.

In 2012, I was introduced to Nereida RiperoMuĂąiz by my friend Zaheera Jinnah, who worked with Nereida at the ACMS. Nereida was looking for a research assistant to help with interviews for her PhD and I agreed to help out on the weekends.

Then the photography project started. It was really nice working with Nereida and Salym. I was comfortable going around Mayfair with them and enjoyed the process of taking photos. I am very glad I was part of the project. I thought an exhibition was a good idea, but it was difficult to convince others. Most people in the community did not agree to take part in the project. They asked questions about the interviews and wanted to know how taking part would benefit them. People were also concerned about what would be done with the videos and photos.

I learnt a lot from those interviews, especially about my own culture. I grew up during the civil war, after the Somali government had collapsed, and so I never had a chance to learn about my heritage. At school, they taught us Middle Eastern history and culture, but never anything related to Somali culture. After the Somali government collapsed, everything was gone, including our culture and what we used to be.

I left South Africa in 2015, so never got to see the exhibition in person. But I still keep in touch with Nereida; she has become one of my favourite people in the world. I am so glad we met and became friends.

Since leaving Somalia, I have mainly heard negative things about my country and my people. When a non-Somali hears where you come from, they usually think two things: al-Shabaab and pirates.

I am now living in the USA, the country I always dreamt of going to. I left in search of a better education and work opportunities, not just for myself but also so I can support

When we started interviewing people in Mayfair, asking them about Somali culture, I 68

my family. The journey here was long and very difficult. I know that not everyone can undertake such a journey, and I thank God I made it. I was, at first, happy to be here. But things have become difficult with President Trump. I feel very disappointed, especially after everything I have been through. I have applied for a green card, but the process can take months. I am also not sure if I can bring my son to live with me here. For now I am just waiting to see what happens. It’s hard – you come all this way and then your dreams can be taken away. I am scared now and hardly go anywhere, just to work and back. Most people are nice, but there are some who do not understand. They just see a Muslim woman in a headscarf. I wish I could share my story with everyone. I would like to write a book about my experiences, or maybe even make a movie. This is another dream I have, and I know I will make it happen, inshallah.



Fragments of Spaces: A Photographer’s Perspective Salym Fayad Photographer

John Marnell African Centre for Migration & Society, University of the Witwatersrand

Salym Fayad was responsible for the remarkable images showcased in this collection. Here he reflects on the experience of working on Metropolitan Nomads. This is an edited version of a longer discussion. To read the full interview, please visit

Later, in 2012, when a drought was ravaging the Horn of Africa, I travelled to northern Kenya to document the situation at Dadaab, the largest refugee camp in the world. Half a million Somalis were living there, having fled their homeland because of famine or the threat of violent repression by fundamentalist militias. Some had been in Dadaab for twenty years; others – in their thousands – were streaming in. My understanding of the situation, of the complex realities of those seeking refuge, began to shift as I was exposed to more and more stories. Instead of a mass of anonymous refugees, I began to see individual faces, to appreciate the nuances of each person’s experience.

John: To kick us off, perhaps you can talk me through how you became involved with Metropolitan Nomads. What were your initial expectations? What did you – as an individual – hope to get out of the project? Salym: Metropolitan Nomads was not my first project exploring issues of migration. In 2008, I started working on a project documenting migrants who were crossing into South Africa at Musina, on the border with Zimbabwe. Some of the people I met were Somalis. I remember a few of them telling me they had travelled most of the way from Mogadishu on foot. This was my first contact with what I have come to recognise as a significant aspect of Somali identity: a fierce determination to embark on new projects, even if these carry a high risk.

I was intrigued by the objects that were being brought along. Some of the items were functional, but others revealed their transporter’s hopes, passions and values This interest carried through to Metropolitan Nomads. In the early stages of the project, I tried to photograph objects brought by Somali migrants to Johannesburg. After a few attempts, I realised this was not going to be possible – many people had lost their 70

belongings along the way, or had been robbed by bandits or human traffickers. But many had managed to hold onto an item of incredible personal value: a pocket family photo album. This was the inspiration for the studio portraits featured in Metropolitan Nomads.

disciplines use different tools, and combining these can create new approaches and exciting collaborations. When a research project kicks off, it is impossible to know what the results will be, or what images will emerge.

As an individual, I expected to have a closer look at how aspects of Somali culture were being translated, adapted and transformed. I wanted to know what parts were disappearing, surviving or mutating within this new environment.

As a photographer, I had to think carefully about how I would approach my role, as well as how I would navigate the spaces we were working in. I saw my role as an observer and documenter: I was there to capture moments that could, hopefully, enrich mainstream perceptions of Mayfair and its inhabitants. The neighbourhood is full of complexities and I wanted to capture these nuances, these shades of meaning.

John: I would love to know a bit more about the process of taking the photos. Obviously, as a photographer, there are particular things you are looking for in an image and these might not always be the same things that a community member or researcher is interested in. With this in mind, how did you approach your role in the project? Was there much community input into whom or what would be captured? Salym: I do not think there is an obvious difference. Researchers from different

Community input was vital to realising this goal. Our relationship with the community deepened as the project evolved. Those community members who were close to us began to understand the depth of our interest, the closeness we wanted to reach. With their help, we began to access different spaces, to dig deeper into Somali life in Mayfair. We were able to document a range


of activities, including weddings, community assemblies and traditional ceremonies. John: The series shows many facets of Somali life in Mayfair. Was this important to you? If so, how did this shape your approach? What were you hoping to achieve by taking these particular photos? Salym: I attempted to capture, as much as possible, a multidimensional view of Mayfair and its inhabitants, and this is reflected in the diverse situations and people portrayed. I hoped my approach would lead to a richer, more nuanced understanding of Mayfair within the wider community. I wanted to create a diverse portrait of the neighbourhood, one that invites viewers to question their existing perceptions and inspires them to explore further. John: One of the obvious themes of the series is culture, particularly the preservation of cultural identity. As an outsider to the community – and someone who does not identify as Somali – did you find it difficult to navigate the terrain of culture? Exhibition opening This spread and next spread Metropolitan Nomads was first shown at the Wits Anthropology Museum, proving an opportunity for engagement with different audiences.

Salym: Expressions of culture are a key way in which people reaffirm their identities and so often emerge more strongly within foreign contexts. They are also tools of social cohesion and communal healing in times of crisis. A key facet of my work involves documenting cultural expressions, from music performances 72




Celebration The opening night of the exhibition at the Wits Anthropology museum. 76

to traditional ceremonies, and so it was a privilege to participate in different cultural events in Mayfair. This ranged from witnessing a traditional todoba ceremony, to attending events at which contemporary Somali electro-pop music was played and danced to. These events, although very different in nature, allowed me to witness the social dynamics of Mayfair at play. Being in these spaces, as well as interacting with community members, helped us navigate the intricacies of life in the neighbourhood. John: Somali people are often represented in stereotyped or negative ways – for example, the Somali pirate, the bloodthirsty warlord or the helpless refugee. Did your awareness of this practice impact how you approached the project? Were you trying to present a certain formulation of ‘Somaliness’? Salym: I was deeply interested in exploring different aspects of Somali culture and society, especially those aspects that are rarely examined, precisely because they do not align with the one-dimensional representations that dominate media coverage. In exploring the Somali community in Mayfair, I hoped to uncover different perspectives and experiences, and to document – in some way – a very complex reality. It was my desire to capture moments in the lives of people who have made a foreign environment their home. These people face particular challenges in the South African context, where conditions for

African foreign nationals can be particularly hostile. Through the photos I tried to capture fragments of spaces, but also gestures and interactions. I wanted a glimpse into the lives of those who populate this specific context. John: I have read in some of the literature that there was resistance from the community during the early stages of the project. In one article, Nereida says, ‘People in the neighbourhood showed deep mistrust towards us.’ From your perspective, as the photographer, how did you deal with these suspicions? Salym: It is normal to encounter defensiveness when working on a project of this nature. In my opinion, the people of Mayfair were very receptive to the project. The community asked many questions, which should be expected and encouraged, and we answered these to the best of our abilities. Some people seemed genuinely surprised; they were curious about a research and photographic project involving Somalis that was not concerned with xenophobic violence or terrorism. John: The issue of informed consent always comes up with visual research projects. I would love to hear your take on how this issue was handled for Metropolitan Nomads. Did you feel that university ethics requirements impacted your ability to do your work? Do you have any advice for



In progress An initial showing of Metropolitan Nomads took in the Atrium, South-West Engineering Building, Wits.


John: Photojournalism is routinely criticised – whether rightly or wrongly – for being voyeuristic or exploitative. Metropolitan Nomads captures a number of intimate moments (between relatives, friends and community members) that would not normally be seen by outside observers. Were you concerned at all about capturing these private moments? What steps did you take to ensure your subjects were comfortable with the images being taken?

how we can better navigate these ethical concerns in future projects? Salym: Informed consent is crucial. For Metropolitan Nomads, we were initially advised that verbal consent was sufficient to carry out the project. Release forms are important, but they can sometimes generate awkwardness or mistrust. Some people react negatively when they have to sign a form confirming something they have already agreed to verbally.

Salym: Metropolitan Nomads manages to transmit a sense of intimacy, and this was only possible because of the community members who took us by the hand and helped us navigate community expectations. To be witness to intimate moments (in any context) is a great privilege.

If challenges emerge, they need to be dealt with through open dialogue. Participants need to have an opportunity to raise any concerns and to seek clarification about the use of images. This was the approach we adopted. 80

We were invited into all of the spaces that were documented. We were invited to the table – both literally and figuratively – to share in the conversation, food and music. We were treated as guests in such situations. I am deeply grateful to the whole community for allowing us into these spaces and for sharing these moments with us. It was this relationship that made Metropolitan Nomads a success.

On display Metropolitan Nomads has been displayed and discussed in a range of international events, providing wider audiences with insights into the lives of Somali migrants in Mayfair.


A Personal Journey into Somali Music Ignacio Priego Jimeno Concerts SA Project Coordinator, SAMRO Foundation

In July 2015, I was invited by Nereida RiperoMuñiz and Salym Fayad to DJ at the opening of the Metropolitan Nomads exhibition. At the time, my knowledge of Somali music – sounds hidden between the rich historicity of Ethiopia and the trendy appeal of Nairobi’s current sound culture – was restricted to two examples. The first was a groovy band from the seventies called Dur Dur, 1 whose music I was introduced to via a vinyl reissue put out by Awesome Tapes from Africa. 2 The second, a diasporic rapper named K´Naan, 3 had been on my radar for some time: his hit single ‘Wavin’ Flag’ was chosen as the promotional anthem for the 2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup. These two threads – the effervescent music scene between independence and war that crystallised in urban centres and the current articulation of Somali music within the diaspora – continue to inform my developing understanding of Somali music and culture.

Somali sounds From the late 1960s to the early 1980s, Somali folk music was blended with regional sounds (afro-beat, taarab, maqam) and international genres, including funk, rock and reggae.

I have since discovered the rich and cosmopolitan musical ecosystem that existed in Somalia in the late sixties, seventies and eighties. During these decades, Somali folk music, which draws on African, Arabic and some Indian elements, was blended with 82



both regional sounds (afro-beat, taarab, maqam) and Western genres (funk, rock and reggae) by pioneering bands like Dur-Dur, Sharero, 4 Iftin 5 and Magool, 6 and by the supergroups of Waaberi Muqdisho and Waaberi Hargeysa. Contemporary Somali music epitomises the tension at the heart of most so-called ‘world music’: an almost schizophrenic split between the music created for a local (Somali) audience and for an international (Western/Global North) audience. Information about, and recordings by, the most successful Somali artists are hard to come by for non-Somali listeners. Yet, at the same time, there are a handful of Somali artists who are creating music for different audiences, including the Western market, and by doing so are defying and reshaping public perceptions of Somali identity and culture.

Somalia sings A journey into Somalia’s history can be made through listening to Somali music produced in the 1960s, 70s and 80s.

The examples of K´Naan, Cold Specks 7 and Faarrow 8 – three quite different diasporic musicians based in Canada – present an image of what contemporary Somali musicians are creating. A quick search on an alternative music download platform like Bandcamp brings up very few Somali musicians, yet at the same time reveals a plethora of non-Somali bands with variations of the name ‘Somali Pirates’ (in multiple languages – except Somali). These bands come from every corner of 84

the world and mostly play hardcore punk. Regrettably, music produced by Somalis in the Horn of Africa is still not readily available on most download platforms.

Endnotes 1.

Attempts are underway to bridge tradition and modernity: reissues and compilations such as Light & Sound of Mogadishu by Afro7 Records; 9 respectful archival work like that seen on the Au Revoir, Mogaishu 10 mixtape; beautiful compositions drawing on traditional styles, like those by Sahra Halgan; 11 and experimental forms and sounds, such as the industrial digital punk of Skowls. 12 All of this makes one want to be able to listen to more Somali music.


Here I have described briefly the beginnings of my journey into Somali music. It must be taken into account that my access has been determined – and limited – by two key factors: first, not being able to understand the Somali language; second, not getting firsthand information from Somali people. I have relied exclusively on my pre-existing exposures and whatever information I could find on online resources written mostly in English. I look forward to enriching my knowledge on Somali music with future fieldwork research.



4. 5. 6. 7. 8.

10. au-revoir-mogadishu-vol-1 11. 12.



Challenges in the Field Nereida Ripero-MuĂąiz Researcher and lecturer, School of Literature, Language and Media, University of the Witwatersrand

during and after the fieldwork, with a focus on issues linked to the use of photography. Of particular interest is the difficulty associated with obtaining (ongoing) consent for the display of images in public spaces, including online platforms.

In 2016, I completed my doctoral research on identity constructions among Somali migrant women in Nairobi and Johannesburg. This had involved four years of ethnographic fieldwork, during which time I developed close relationships with members of the Somali community in Mayfair.

At the beginning of the project, Salym and I encountered hostility from segments of the community. People were scared of the camera and suspicious of what we might do with the resulting images. These concerns were understandable, given the negative press coverage that Somalis are routinely subjected to, and it took considerable time and effort to dispel people’s fears and to build familiarity and trust.

In my last year of fieldwork, I was approached by Salym Fayad, a documentary photographer and friend, who was interested in interviewing and photographing Somali elders on the topic of xeer, Somali customary law. But what emerged from our first visit to the neighbourhood together was an idea for a collaborative exhibition about Mayfair. The project would capture everyday moments in this vibrant inner-city neighbourhood, looking specifically at one of the main areas of my PhD thesis: how collective identities and cultural practices are performed and transformed in diasporic spaces. By sharing the lived realities of Somali migrants with a bigger audience, we hoped to challenge prevailing stereotypes about this frequently misrepresented population group. And so Metropolitan Nomads was born.

Working in a transient environment posed a significant challenge. Somali migrants tend to be on the move, always searching for a better life somewhere else. This made it very difficult to maintain contact with some people. Indeed, a number of participants relocated multiple times, often without providing updated contact information. This reality was further complicated by the xenophobic violence experienced in parts of South Africa in 2015 – a situation

I would like to reflect here on some of the practical and ethical challenges experienced 86

that had significant ramifications for the neighbourhood. Many Somali migrants living in townships fled to the relative safety of Mayfair, causing its population to increase from one day to the next. Once the violence has settled, people returned to the townships or left the country for good. These fluctuations impacted our work: it is difficult to document a place when its inhabitants are constantly changing.

Trusting research Ethical dilemmas in the use of photography in research include developing processes for ongoing consent when images are used in multiple forms.

While the challenges listed above were 87


Exhibition opening The opening night of Metropolitan Nomads at the Wits Anthropology Museum. 88

agreement. When this happened, we were forced to exclude certain images from the exhibition.

frustrating, they were not as complicated as the murky ethical terrain of documentary photography. Despite my many years working in Mayfair, I did not foresee the ethical dilemmas linked to this type of visual research. Photography, like other visual methods, raises complicated questions about the ethical responsibilities of the researcher and the rights of project participants. How does one navigate ongoing consent in the field? How does one obtain consent to photograph a group of people participating in a cultural or social event, such as a wedding? Where is the visual material going to be displayed? Is verbal consent enough?

Tensions also developed around different understandings of ethical practice. The project was a collaboration between a researcher and a photographer – disciplines with quite different ethical obligations – and, as the project developed, it became evident that our expectations did not always align. As the project was embedded within an academic project, the work produced was governed by research ethics. We were required to follow the guidelines of the university’s Human Research Ethics Committee and to adhere to the ethics approval granted for the fieldwork. Documentary photography does not have the same requirements; its ethical considerations are more fluid, with subjects rarely granting informed consent or seeing the final images.

Initially, we asked for verbal consent, explaining that images would only be used for a public exhibition at Wits University. However, as the project grew in popularity, images began to appear in different physical and online spaces. Requests to display the exhibition in national and international forums required me to re-establish consent and so I returned to the community several months after finishing our visual fieldwork. I wanted to make sure the individuals photographed were aware of the situation and were happy for their image to be used in this way. Those who agreed were asked to sign a written consent form clarifying the permission(s) granted. Some participants were uncomfortable with having their images displayed and withheld consent; a few others had already left Mayfair, making it impossible for me to renegotiate the

One particular episode illustrates the challenges we faced. A photo was taken during a todoba, a traditional ceremony celebrated seven days after a wedding, exclusively for women. The image shows a woman dancing with a yellow scarf covering her head and face (see page 87). It is a dynamic and striking image, and for this reason it was used on promotional postcards for the exhibition. One of these ended up in the hands of the woman in the 89


failure to re-establish consent prior to circulating the photo; my photographer colleague did not see any issue with using this image, as for him the person could not be identified; for the woman involved, the experience quickly devolved into a minor personal drama, in which everyone in Mayfair made assumptions about her and her participation in the project.

photograph. She called us immediately, extremely distressed by the use of her image in this way. Her family and friends assumed she had received payment for the photo, and many were calling and asking for money; her husband had accused her of selling her body. We had assumed no one could identify the woman because her face is obscured. In reality, she was easily recognisable because of her clothing. Everyone in Mayfair knew it was her.

This episode not only highlights the different perceptions of the same object (the photograph), but also makes clear the necessity of ongoing and informed consent. This need is astutely noted by Posel and Ross, who describe consent as ‘an active and relatively open-ended process in the research field (rather than something that is all done and dusted ahead of the research when ethical clearance was secured)’ (2014: 5).

The woman had known photos were being taken during that ceremony, but had neither seen this image nor granted permission for its use on promotional materials. We responded by meeting with her in person and apologising for our mistake. We spent three hours inside a car – one of the few private spaces in Mayfair – with her and her brother, carefully explaining what had happened. We took the time to outline our reasons for using this particular image and explained why we considered it an important representation of the project and of life in Mayfair. We ended by asking if she would be willing to provide written consent for further use and, after more questions and answers, the woman agreed.

This experience can also be used as a way to reflect on questions of power and decisionmaking while doing research. Who should have the last word in how a photograph is used – the photographer, the researcher, the subject? Who owns an image? I do not have a straightforward answer to these complex questions, but I strongly believe that the decision lies with the subject(s). People should be free to decide if and when their photograph is used, in which contexts and for what purposes. Consent is not a straightforward procedure, but rather a complex and continuous process based on

This example illustrates the different – sometimes conflicting – ethical concerns present in a collaborative project. As a researcher, I was deeply concerned by our 90

References Posel, Deborah & Fiona Ross (eds). 2014. Ethical Quandaries in Social Research. Cape Town: HSRC Press.

the trust established between researchers and participants. It is only possible when there is honest and ongoing dialogue between all parties. As the photographer Paul Weinberg summarises:

Weinberg, Paul. 2014. ‘The weight of a photographer’s “value backpack”: An interview with Paul Weinberg’ in Deborah Posel & Fiona C Ross (eds). 2014. Ethical Quandaries in Social Research. Cape Town: HSRC Press, pp.250-65.

Whenever we take photographs, we have a responsibility, and that responsibility is to be human, really, finally. You need to make choices and decisions when you take those photographs. It’s not just about your camera and your camera bag. It’s a whole set of values that is going to have consequences and you need to be wired to them and take responsibility. (2014: 252).



(Re)presenting research: The opportunities and challenges of using documentary photography Jo Vearey Associate Professor and MoVE Co-coordinator, African Centre for Migration & Society, University of the Witwatersrand

readings of a research space, of research participants and of the research process itself; they draw the viewer in, encouraging engagement with the narrative in ways that text alone often struggles to achieve.

Metropolitan Nomads is a beautiful publication. It successfully brings together text and image to provide readers with a textured ‘feel’ and vivid insight into the everyday life of Somali migrants who live, work and move through Mayfair, Johannesburg. As part of a larger doctoral study, Metropolitan Nomads provides important opportunities to reflect on ways of documenting relationships between people and place. It also raises significant questions about how we can and should be producing and sharing knowledge.

Documentary photography – as a process of production – can provide complementary opportunities to illustrate the lives of people who engage with the spaces included in a research project. But documentary photography is not – nor does it claim to be – a visual research methodology. By definition, a documentary photographer and a researcher differ in their professional practices and in the ways they record and make sense of the world. As a result, complex questions emerge about the role of documentary photography in research, particularly in the visual (re)presentation of people and place. A key concern relates to differing expectations and obligations when obtaining – or not obtaining – informed, ongoing consent from those individuals made visible through photographs. An associated challenge relates to privacy and safety, particularly the need to anonymise certain people and places. Bringing together

As well as showcasing the visual outputs of Metropolitan Nomads, this collection includes rich reflections from the project’s participants, facilitators and researchers. This combination of text and image helps bring to light the benefits and challenges of using documentary photography in research. A key opportunity demonstrated in Metropolitan Nomads is the ability to make research more accessible – photography enables engagement with audiences beyond the academy through exhibitions (both physical and virtual) and photo essays. The photographs themselves allow for different 92

the different – sometimes conflicting – imperatives of research and documentary photography, and their respective ethical and methodological principles, can create both exciting opportunities and difficult tensions.

“Do no harm” Using photography in research can present ethical challenges when ‘hidden spaces’ – and the people who live and work within them – are made visible.

Guided by the ethical principle of ‘do no harm’, researchers must be cautious when using visual methodologies, particularly when deciding if and how to make otherwise ‘hidden’ spaces and communities visible ( Vearey, 2010: 51). Documentary photography offers exciting opportunities to engage diverse audiences, many of whom would normally have limited exposure to 93


power and privilege in some spaces, while navigating liminality and marginalisation in others. The processes of production that typify the MoVE approach to research attempt to engage with these concerns. (Oliveira and Vearey, 2017)

research, but it also brings with it a raft of ethical challenges. First and foremost, researchers, photographers and curators have a collective responsibility to exercise caution when selecting images for public display. This requires both photographer and researcher to work closely with all involved to ensure images selected for public use do not reveal information that could be used negatively against those featured and/ or their communities. Working inclusively is no easy task: residents, researchers and photographers participate for a range of professional and personal reasons, often resulting in differences in opinion on which images are best suited for public consumption.

Metropolitan Nomads provides opportunities to further interrogate ways of producing and curating knowledge – central tenants of MoVE. Encompassing differing professional approaches to researching, seeing, documenting and sharing, Metropolitan Nomads provides much more than a glimpse into the lives of Somali migrants living in Mayfair. Indeed, its outputs raise significant questions about processes of documenting people and place, about negotiating different professional practices, and about the ethics of (re)presentation.

Like previous MoVE projects, Metropolitan Nomads presents an important opportunity to explore a collaborative approach that offers a different way of (re)presenting research in publicly accessible ways. This commitment to finding ‘different ways of doing research’ is at the heart of MoVE: [MoVE is] committed to exploring the ways in which research processes can be conceptualised and utilised as spaces for social justice engagement, involving ourselves as participants within the process. Doing so, however, requires that we continuously acknowledge and critically reflect on our position(s) in the world: in our own complexity of what it means to have a human experience; what it means to have 94

References Vearey, J. 2010. ‘Hidden Spaces and Urban Health: Exploring the Tactics of Rural Migrants Navigating the City of God’. Urban Forum, 21:37–53. Oliveira, E & Vearey, J. Forthcoming, October 2017. ‘Making Research and Building Knowledge with Communities: Examining Three Participatory Visual and Narrative Projects with Migrants Who Sell Sex in South Africa’. In Capous-Desyllas, M & Morgaine, K (eds). Creating Social Change Through Creativity: Anti-oppressive Arts-based Research Methodologies. Springer.



PROJECT MEMBERS “When you are leaving Somalia your family and friends give you photos. I brought some clothes, some gold, some necklaces and earrings my mother gave me. All that was lost along the way. But I didn’t lose my photos. When you cross a border the mukhalas tells you he will give you your things on the other side. I never got my things back.“

“I’ve never seen this in my life. I’ve passed through a lot of countries, but I had never seen what I’ve seen in South Africa. I’ve passed through Tanzania, I’ve passed through Zambia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Kenya, but I’ve never seen people attacked because they have a shop.“


Many people were involved in making Metropolitan Nomads a reality. Central to the success of the project are the residents of Mayfair; particular thanks go to Saytoon Hassan, Muna Bullale, Amal Kamal, Naima Bulle, Abdiqani Gure, Hanad Mohamed, Ibrahim Qaxwo, Shamso Ahmed, Barlin Mohamed and Ayanle Abdullahi. Ingrid Palmary and Eric Worby are thanked for their support and supervision of the doctoral study from which Metropolitan Nomads evolved. Initial funding for Metropolitan Nomads was received from the National Research Foundation of South Africa, through a Thuthuka research grant awarded to Zaheera Jinnah of the ACMS. The MoVE project of the ACMS supported Metropolitan Nomads as it grew, through a Wellcome Trust grant awarded to Jo Vearey. 99



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

Nereida Ripero-Muniz, PhD (Researcher) Nereida Ripero-MuĂąiz is a lecturer and researcher from Madrid, Spain, currently based at the University of the Witwatersrand. She resided in Amsterdam and London before taking up a lecturer position at the United States International University, Nairobi, in 2007. There she started researching the Somali community residing in the city. In 2016, Nereida was awarded a PhD by the University of the Witwatersrand. Her doctoral thesis investigated identity construction among Somali women living in Nairobi and Johannesburg. Her current research focuses on the transnational cultural links of the global Somali diaspora.

Salym Fayad (Photographer) Salym Fayad is a documentary photographer and reporter from Bogota, Colombia, based in Johannesburg. Since 2008, Salym has worked in several countries in sub-Saharan Africa – Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Kenya, Mali, Somalia, South Africa and Zimbabwe – documenting issues related to music and popular culture, conflict and human rights, and migration and displacement. He also works on projects of cultural exchange involving music and film between Latin American and sub-Saharan African countries that build on the historical, social and cultural links between the two regions. 100

Saytoon Hassan (Research Assistant) Saytoon Hassan left Somalia a decade ago. After travelling overland to South Africa, she lived in Johannesburg for eight years, where she got married, had a son and studied English. She ran her own business in downtown Johannesburg and also worked at several places in Mayfair. Saytoon assisted Nereida Ripero-MuĂąiz for her PhD and afterwards on the fieldwork for Metropolitan Nomads. She currently resides in the USA, where she has been granted refugee status, and where she continues to work and study.



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.



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. Metropolitan Nomads is supported by a Wellcome Trust Investigator Award held by Jo Vearey.


National Research Foundation

This project was supported by a National Research Foundation (NRF) Thuthuka grant for postdoctoral study awarded to Zaheera Jinnah (2014-2016). As a government mandated research and science development agency the NRF funds research, the development of high-end Human Capacity and critical research infrastructure to promote knowledge production across all disciplinary fields. The goal of the NRF is to create innovative funding instruments, advance research career development, increase public science engagement and to establish leading-edge research platforms that will transform the scientific landscape and inspire a representative research community to aspire to global competitiveness. The NRF promotes South African research interests across the country and internationally, and together with research institutions, business, industry and international partners we build bridges between research communities for mutual benefit.