Mwangaza Mama

Page 1

MWANGAZA MAMA Edited by Elsa Oliveira and Rebecca Walker


MWANGAZA MAMA Edited by Elsa Oliveira and Rebecca Walker

First published 2019 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.

About the editing process Participants had the opportunity to select pseudonyms if they wished. Therefore, some of the names used in this publication are not the actual names of those involved. All of the participants involved in this project were over the age of eighteen years. 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.

ISBN 978-0-9922133-8-1 Editors: Elsa Oliveira and Rebecca Walker Publication design: Quinten Edward Williams Series editors: Elsa Oliveira and Jo Vearey Printed in Johannesburg, 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. Mwangaza Mama The project received ethics approval (H16 11 42) from the University of the Witwatersrand Research Ethics Committee (non-medical). The names of the editors are listed in alphabetical order. Rebecca Walker was the lead investigator.

MoVE social media

Project Context Sara Kindon Foreword Rebecca Walker and Elsa Oliveira About the Mwangaza Mama project Johanna Kistner “I am coming here to get strong� Elsa Oliveira and Rebecca Walker Making sense of experience

Featured Stories About the quilts and stories


Patience Orphans or not, children are children


Helena It is time for change


Prisca Children with disabilities


Agape Being in a foreign country without family


Jolie Life without blood family


Jolie Who should I trust with my children?


Kabibi A child of rape






Mary Stigma kills 72

CONTENTS Reflections About the reflections Loren B Landau and Kabiri Bule Connection or constraint?

Project Members 77

About people and organisations


Project partners


Project funders



Alison Koslowski Impressions from the Mwangaza Mama project stories


Peace Kiguwa Holding space through haunting


Okenge Patience Two roles


Glynis Clacherty Sewing away the sadness


Thulisile Zikhali Researching migration, motherhood, and mothering


Taiwo Afolabi Caring and listening


“Mwangaza Mama represents a celebration of our interconnectedness and the resilience of the human spirit. It provides an opportunity to stop, to think, and to feel with those whose visual and written stories are gifted here: to ‘listen with our hearts’ and to move beyond categories that divide us in order that we might consider how to ‘find a way to love’ differently through and beyond research.”

FOREWORD Sara Kindon Associate Professor, School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences, University of Wellington, Aotearoa, New Zealand

I first travelled to Johannesburg, where Mwangaza Mama took shape, in November 2016. The African Centre for Migration & Society at Wits University had invited me, and New Zealand-based colleagues, to share our experiences of using Chilean ‘arpillera’ tapestries in research with women migrants at an arts-based methods symposium. It was at this symposium that I reconnected with one of the editors of this book, Elsa Oliveira. I had met Elsa earlier that year at a similar symposium in Coventry University’s Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations (CTPSR), while I was their Inaugural Visiting Fellow. I was immediately drawn to her sharp mind, political commitment, and infectious energy as she shared her creative research with migrant sex workers. Through Elsa, I also came to know Rebecca Walker’s important work on the intersections between gender, precarity and healing within South Africa.

Together, Rebecca and Elsa’s collaboration with women migrants to Johannesburg through Mwangaza Mama is significant in its process, and in the product that is this book. It resonates with much of my own participatory geographic scholarship over the past 30 years in Costa Rica, Indonesia and Aotearoa. However, as participatory and visual methods have been popularised internationally within research and community development, I’ve become increasingly concerned with widespread claims that they ‘give voice to’ and empower participants when they are often applied in mechanistic ways, which often only serve the interests of dominant groups. Wonderfully, what is special about this publication of Mwangaza Mama is that Rebecca and Elsa do not fall victim to claims of empowerment, though clearly 9


the storytellers in this book’s pages gained confidence, connections, and capabilities through their involvement in the project. Neither do they seek to exert their privilege by interpreting the women’s quilts, simplifying their accounts, or seeking to develop a grand narrative about gender and forced migration. Instead, through their combination of reflexive sensitivity and creative curation, they bring to life the colour, texture, and contradictory experiences of the women’s journeys, alongside narratives from colleagues working in related areas.

futures. They beguile through their apparent innocence and charm, providing pleasure, intrigue, ‘food’ for contemplation, and appreciation of quilting as a means to generate different kinds of knowledge. However, when read with their accompanying narratives of horrendous violence, abuse and misfortune, and the accompanying narratives of those seeking to support them, they also unsettle and demand quiet contemplation. It is the book’s painful and intimate beauty that is so powerful. It stands as a testament to the ‘thinking through the heart’ that happened during the participants’ time together: the trust built then and shared here. For this reason alone, the book matters. Then, when we consider how forced migration is usually dealt with, through quantification and technocratic solutions that overlook its experiential, emotional, and embodied dimensions, we can recognise the book’s true worth for it quietly challenges stereotypes of migrants’ vulnerability and victimhood, or their potential for manipulation and threat that fuel xenophobic fears over national insecurity and resource scarcity. It challenges the fixing of people into categories of ‘local’ and ‘outsider’, ‘Self’ and ‘Other’. It resists the hardening of borders and hearts, which foreclose contemplations of questions about why people are compelled to leave land and people they love, or how our common humanity is affected by such unprecedented levels of displacement.

The result is that Mwangaza Mama, like the quilts it showcases, is a rich tapestry of interwoven threads that eludes simplistic readings, and escapes closure. This complexity excites me and offers a helpful example of how to carry out ethical, ‘carefull’, and creative research. Through the book’s accessibility on-line, Elsa and Rebecca also extend the reach of the project’s threads and transformative space into readers’ homes, workplaces, and communities. The book calls us into intimate relationships with its authors. This intimacy is significant. The beautiful creations of the Mamas on the cover and following pages use bright colours, beads, glitter, different textures, and compositions to communicate their lived experiences and/or visions for better 10

Mwangaza Mama represents a celebration of our interconnectedness and the resilience of the human spirit. It provides an opportunity to stop, to think, and to feel with those whose visual and written stories are gifted here: to ‘listen with our hearts’ and to move beyond categories that divide us in order that we might consider how to ‘find a way to love’ differently through and beyond research. I invite you to take your time with this book, to honour the abundance and generosity that lies within, and to reflect how it can inform your own responses. Mwangaza Mama exemplifies compassionate knowledge construction in action. It offers us hope.



“The women’s narratives, stories, and artwork clearly reveal a tricky balance between needing to remain visible enough to gain a footing in the city and invisible enough to elude persecution and harassment.”

ABOUT THE MWANGAZA MAMA PROJECT Rebecca Walker Post-doctoral researcher, African Centre for Migration & Society, Wits University

Elsa Oliveira Post-doctoral researcher and co-coordinator of the MoVE project, African Centre for Migration & Society, Wits University

the ACMS, an interdisciplinary research centre at Wits University, and the Sophiatown Community Psychological Services (SCPS), a local non-profit organisation that provides assistance to migrants and non-migrants in the greater Johannesburg area.

Mwangaza Mama is a creative storytelling project that was undertaken in collaboration with a small group of cross-border migrant women living in Johannesburg. All of the participants travelled to South Africa as asylum seekers after fleeing their birth countries—Angola, Burundi, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)—due to war, persecution, and other forms of extreme human insecurity.

Inspired by previous MoVE projects, the main aim of Mwangaza Mama was to learn more about migrant women’s everyday experiences of the city by including them in the production of knowledge about issues that affect them. It was also informed by our collective commitment to supporting issues of social justice, and builds on our previous experience of using arts-based methods with diverse migrant communities in both rural and urban areas of South Africa.

Taking place from February 2017 to February 2019, the two-year project forms part of a larger body of work being conducted at the African Centre for Migration & Society (ACMS) that is exploring ways of doing research differently (for example, see Oliveira & Vearey, 2018). It involved partnership with 13


explained during a group discussion about the title: “This name shows that our group is supportive of one another and all women in the world”.

Over the years, each of us have used a wide range of visual and narrative approaches (e.g. photovoice, body-mapping, creative writing), alongside other qualitative methods (e.g. ethnography, narrative interviews) to explore issues linked to migration and mobility, gender and sexuality, health and wellbeing, and informal livelihood strategies. Since 2010, Elsa has worked with migrant women, men, and transgender persons involved in sex work, and with LGBTQ+ refugees and asylum seekers in three South African provinces (for example, see Oliveira, 2016). Becky’s arts-based research with women and children who lived in an inner city Johannesburg based shelter also informed the conceptualisation and design of Mwangaza Mama (for example, see Walker & Clacherty, 2014). The inclusion of less traditional research approaches in our work has offered each of us multiple opportunities to expand research engagement beyond academia.

During the Mwangaza Mama workshops, the women spoke of their journeys to South Africa and the deep longing they feel for loved ones and places. They described their everyday experiences in Johannesburg and shed light on the physical, social, and imagined borders they encounter, traverse, and negotiate. Most narrated intense struggles of rejection and abuse, such as being refused free public health care services, different forms of gender-based violence, and difficulties in getting their children a place in school due to xenophobic discrimination, lack of documentation and/ or not having enough money to pay school fees. These and other experiences blister the surface of what it means to survive and thrive in Johannesburg, a place that is at once hopeful and hostile, caring and brutal.

The women in our group selected the project title about halfway through our time together. “Mwangaza” is kiSwahili for “light”, but some also describe it as meaning “joy”, “love” and “caring”. While most of the participants are also mothers, they told us that the word “mama” is a term of respect commonly used in South Africa, and other parts of the continent, when referring to a woman, regardless if she is a parent or not. As Prisca, a woman from the DRC,

As the following pages of this publication show, women migrants in Johannesburg often experience their lives in a prism of hypervisibility and invisibility. The women’s narratives, stories, and artworks clearly reveal a tricky balance between needing to remain visible enough to gain a footing in the city and invisible enough to elude persecution and harassment. Indeed, it is their agency, defiance, and tenacity that define the Mwangaza Mama project. 14

We invite you to spend time with the visual and narrative stories that the Mwangaza Mamas produced for public audiences. Take time to reflect on their rawness and detail; look, read, interpret, and consider the messages they wanted to share with you.

References Oliveira, E. (2016). Empowering, invasive or a little bit of both? A reflection on the use of visual and narrative methods in research with migrant sex workers in South Africa. Visual studies, 31(3), 260-78. Oliveira, E., & Vearey, J. (2018). Making research and

Funding for this project was made possible by the Migration and Health Project Southern Africa (maHp) at the ACMS, the Wellcome Trust, Security at the Margins (SeaM), and Life in the City, an initiative at the Wits School of Governance.

building knowledge with communities: examining three participatory visual and narrative project with migrants who sell sex in South Africa. In M. CapousDesyllas and K. Morgaine (Eds.), Creating social change through creativity: Anti-oppressive arts-based research methodologies, (pp. 265-287). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Walker, R., & Clacherty, G. (2014). Shaping new spaces: An alternative approach to healing in current shelter interventions for vulnerable women in Johannesburg. In I. Palmary, B. Hamber, & L. Núùez (Eds.), Healing and change in the city of gold, (pp. 31-58). New York: Springer International Publishing. Walker, R., & Oliveira, E. (2015). Contested spaces: Exploring the intersections of migration, sex work and trafficking in South Africa. Graduate Student Journal of Social Science, 11(2), 129-153.



“For the past two years we have witnessed the amazing transformation of nine migrant women: two of whom are researchers at Wits University and the other seven from various countries across the African continent.�

“I AM COMING HERE TO GET STRONG� Johanna Kistner Clinical Psychologist and Executive Director, Sophiatown Community Psychological Services

In our organisation we have learnt to treat any researcher who approaches us with the request for access to clients with a certain degree of suspicion. In whose interest is the research? Who will benefit from the research? What do the women or children who have come to us for emotional (and often material) support have to gain by participating in a research project, often opening up their wounds for all to see only to be abandoned once questionnaires have been filled out or interviews completed? How many more studies need to be done before anybody anywhere acts on what has already been researched, published, and disseminated? How many more times must poverty-stricken, foreign-born women complain about the ill-treatment they receive at public health clinics, about the torturous excursions they make to Refugee Reception Offices every three or six months, and about the battles

they face with school officials who employ ever more devious means to keep their children out of school? Who will hold the client after the researcher has gone with vague promises of sending the final report once it has been passed through the various echelons of academia? In an effort to address some of these concerns, we, at the Sophiatown Community Psychological Services (SCPS), have come up with a very simple principle: if, and only if, the proposed research is of therapeutic benefit to our clients, and if the commitment to this exceeds all other agendas, will we be happy as an organisation to open our doors to researchers. The Mwangaza Mama project is probably the one research process that has fully honoured this principle. 17


For the past two years we have witnessed the amazing transformation of nine migrant women: two of whom are researchers at Wits University, and the other seven from various countries across the African continent. One of the participants, Patience, a woman who works at our organisation, was also the project translator. The other six participants continue to come to the SCPS for support services.

other women in the group and with the process of making art and telling stories. The genuine sense of caring and compassion that has developed between the women who took part in Mwangaza Mama has been a privilege to observe. While the historically and emotionally laden barriers of race, rank, nationality, and ethnicity are still deeply embedded in the consciousness of everyone involved, these were criss-crossed again and again as the women reached out to one another in times of crisis, consciously sharing aspects of their personal experiences, and subconsciously a lot more through their artwork. The Friday morning meetings have become part of the ritual and routine of life that few want to miss out on. As one woman put it: I am not coming here to waste my Friday. I am coming here to get strong to face the reality outside.

Seven of the nine women who took part in Mwangaza Mama are also mothers, and all who participated (researchers and research participants) have engaged with each other's stories and daily struggles in the shared experiences of womanhood, motherhood, and/or “other�-hood, often transcending the inevitable dynamics of power through authentic relating and caring. Most of the women we invited to participate in the project see me for weekly therapy sessions. These individuals have allowed me into the intimate spaces of their trauma, much of which are re-activated daily on the streets of Yeoville, Bertrams, and Berea.

As this research and the group process draws to an end, my wish is that its richness is conveyed in the stories presented here by those who took part, and in the findings that will eventually make their way into the public realm. I also hope that the Mwangaza Mamas continue to draw strength from the solidarity of woman and motherhood, and that they continue to take pride in the ownership of the narratives that they have authentically shared with the world, reminding us that each story, each feeling, and each act of caring truly matters.

Their stories of suffering and courage, of hope and despair, and of lives shattered and dreams reclaimed are deeply embedded in my heart. Yet, when they come to see me between Mangwaza Mama meetings, the women bring new insights and emotional richness into our conversations, often drawing from their engagement with the 18

The workshop site Sophiatown Community Psychological Services is located in Bertrams, an inner-city suburb of Johannesburg.



“Working alongside the women in our group has re-affirmed our commitment to an engaged, reflexive scholarship. Yet, at the same time, we continue to grapple with how best to conceptualise this type of research practice, including how best to support participants in moments of acute duress.� 20



Elsa Oliveira Post-doctoral researcher and co-coordinator of the MoVE project, African Centre for Migration & Society, Wits University

Rebecca Walker Post-doctoral researcher, African Centre for Migration & Society, Wits University

Participatory arts-based methods in social science research are fast becoming accepted as viable and credible means to better understand the experiences and life-stories of population groups that are politically, socially, and economically marginalised (for example, see Capous-Desyllas & Morgaine, 2018). Arts-based approaches allow research participants to control the ways they are represented. They also provide new ways of “seeing” population groups that are often hidden from view, or who are mostly known through how “outsiders” perceive and represent them.

There are many different kinds of stories in the world. There are the stories we keep hidden inside us, the stories we share with other people, and the stories that are told about us, and the places we live or come from. Stories have been told for thousands of years in different styles and formats, and for varying reasons and intentions. From cave paintings to theatrical productions, academic writing to musical lyrics, historical accounts to virtual realities—telling and listening to stories, both fictional and nonfictional, has always been critical to the ways in which we make sense of our lives and the world around us. Sometimes, stories are presented as factual, such as when certain media outlets report on a particular topic or event. Other times, stories take on more experiential forms of representation such as dance, poetry or gossip.

The Mwangaza Mama project was purposively designed to allow room for different kinds of stories to emerge and be reflected upon. Rather than choosing a 21


For the remaining 18 months, the core group of seven women featured in this publication, consistently attended the fortnightly workshops.

specific art medium before beginning the project, we felt that it was important to offer the women in our group an opportunity to experiment with different art forms and expressions.

With the exception of one participant, the other six women are also mothers, and all are parenting alone—the fathers of the children were either killed during conflict in their home countries, are in hiding, or have disappeared.

Our desire to prioritise the participant’s voices, and to nurture a collaborative workshop space that positioned them as experts of their own lives, came from the understanding that migrant women produce knowledge through their lived experiences. This recognition of women’s agency and power, coupled with our slow-approach to research, offered everyone involved in the project time to get to know one another and time to build trust and confidence. Validating different forms of knowledge and expertise also opened up the intellectual and practical space for the women to help guide the pace and direction of the group.

Despite the fact that all of the Mwangaza Mama participants arrived in South Africa as asylum seekers, and have lived in the country for a significant number of years, only one has refugee status. The other six are still waiting for decisions to be made on their asylum applications or are appealing rejections. Telling stories and making quilts Project workshops typically took place twice a month, on Friday mornings, from 10am to 1pm, while the participant’s children were at school.

The Mwangaza Mamas The project initially began with six women, all of whom were referred to us by Johanna Kistner, Executive Director of the Sophiatown Community Psychological Services (SCPS). About eight months in, one participant dropped out after she decided to move away from South Africa in the hopes of finding work elsewhere. It was also around this time when we invited two other women to take part, one of whom was Helena, an Angolan-born woman who initially took care of the young children that attended project workshops with their mothers.

We began each day with a brief check-in and then worked on our individual quilt pieces together, sometimes chatting, other times in silence, and often with music playing in the background from one of the participant’s phones. Breakfast and lunch was provided, which we ate together as a group, and each participant was reimbursed for her travel costs to/from the workshop space. 22

Facilitator quilts Elsa and Becky made their own individual quilt pieces. 23



During the first few months of the project, we invited the women to participate in a wide range of creative storytelling activities, such as multi-media collaging, painting, drawing, narrative writing, and simple body-mapping exercises. Prior to one of our workshops, we decided to buy some fabric and thread. When we presented these materials to the group we quickly learned how much everyone enjoyed working textiles. Shortly thereafter, the women came up with the idea of making a collective quilt to share with public audiences. Each of the seven participants (including the two of us) created 1-2 individual quilt pieces, approximately A2 in size. Some of the women built on previous storytelling exercises that were conducted before we began working with textiles whereas others developed the content of their visual stories over time, as the project progressed over weeks, months, and years. After everyone had completed their individual quilt pieces, we laid them down onto a large piece of fabric so that the group could begin discussing their placement and how everything might fit together for display. This final production phase of the project filled the workshop space with a sense of wonder and excitement. The conversations took place over a series of workshops, with each person weighing in what they wanted the final artefacts to convey.

Making quilts Most of the women completed their individual quilt pieces during project workshops, but a few also took them home to work on in their own time. 25


Negotiating borderlands The women often spoke of the material and immaterial borders they encounter and traverse while they worked on their individual quilt pieces.




Many details were discussed during the final production phase of the project. The women identified final touches they wanted to make, such as embroidering a border around each individual quilt piece and the names of the artists who had created them. They decided that two collective quilts would be easier to display than one large quilt, and suggested a third quilt be made that included the project name and logo. They also brainstormed the colour of fabric used on the background of the collective quilts, the type of fabric that is stitched around the borders of the collective quilts, and the colour of the lettering that spells out the project name. As Prisca explained, "Two quilts are better because we have many individual quilt pieces. Black for the background will help our art stand out, and we picked blue African fabric for the borders because we are African and blue represents hope and joy, like the sky and water. Red for the letters because when people read Mwangaza Mama we want them to feel the love and strength of this group."

When we asked the women where they would like to see their visual and narrative stories displayed many identified government buildings, hospitals, churches, and other local and international spaces. As Kabibi, a mother of four children from the DRC explained: “It is important for people to learn about the things we are facing. Maybe then people can learn about the life and not ignore. Maybe if people hear from us things can change for the better. This is our hope.”

The Mwangaza Mamas produced a total of three visual artefacts for public audiences: two collective quilts that feature everyone’s visual stories, and one smaller quilt that features the project name and logo (Walker, 2018). The latter, an image drawn by Becky’s sister, Rachel, was printed on canvas and then glued onto the black background fabric. In addition to creating visual stories, each participant also wrote 1-2 narrative stories of her choosing to share with public audiences.

Although we deliberately sought to keep group conversations open so as to avoid dominating the workshop space, there were also times that we arrived with topics and/or questions in mind we hoped the women might discuss. Some followed up on previous group discussions whereas others were informed by local and international news or events. For example, on Africa Day, Elsa asked the women to share their thoughts about what day represented to them.

Talking back Group discussions were an important part of the project, and they often developed organically, while we stitched, glued, threaded, painted, and embroidered our individual quilt pieces. As the women got to know one another better, we noticed that group discussions became more candid and spontaneous. In fact, there were times the women took charge of discussions and our roles shifted from project facilitators to moderators.


Although most agreed in the importance of celebrating Africa’s independence and recognised developing shared goals across the continent as critical to accelerating transformation, many also struggled and/or refused to commemorate the occasion. For Patience, a woman from the DRC, who was both a research participant and the project translator, Africa Day brought to the fore the injustices she and others experienced in their birth countries: “I celebrate being African everyday. I love that I am a black woman. Black is beautiful. I love my spongy hair and the colour of my skin. Africa Day is the idea that we are brothers and sisters but we are not. Look at all of us here—we are in South Africa because of war in our countries. I can’t celebrate this day because I don’t know what it means.”

because we are too much afraid. We pay bribes to people who are supposed to help us, and even our communities sometimes treat us badly. Look, the Somali people are also too much afraid of opening up their shops and they are Africans. I’m an African but here in South Africa they say I’m a kwerekwere. If it’s like this then what is Africa Day? I’m not understanding so it’s too difficult for me to celebrate this day.”

Experiences of xenophobic violence and discrimination also made it difficult for some of the women in our group to celebrate Africa Day. As Helena, an Angolan-born woman who has lived in South Africa for more than 16 years, explained: “I am also proud to be African, but for me this is not a day I’m celebrating. Africans don’t love one another and the Africa Day people are not talking about this. I’m so many years in South Africa and still I don’t have refugee papers. I have to stand in long queues at Home Affairs for many hours and sometimes they tell me to come back tomorrow or they only give me a one-month permit. Foreigners are always hiding. Even in South Africa we are hiding

Group conversations offered us insights into the issues and experiences that were important to the women. They also provided a platform where the women could discuss and debate their various positions around a topic or issue. Some discussions even influenced the content they included in their visual and narrative stories. For example, Kabibi embroidered, I will speak with confidence and no fear like Winnie Mandela after a group discussion when she stated: “They say a woman must not talk, but when you see Winnie Mandela people are respecting. She is an example for women to follow. I want to be like Mama Mandela. She spoke with confidence and people listened.

Another occasion that sparked emphatic group discussions was when Winnie Mandela died. The group spent several workshops discussing the role(s) Winnie played in local and international politics, the different ways she is represented in the media, and how she challenged misogyny, racism, and nationalism in her public and private activism.



She stayed in her community. She didn’t run away. She stayed with the people and even helped kids with school fees and other things. And the migrants, she even fought for the migrants. We lost a big woman in the world.”

their final works might be viewed or shared. We discussed the benefits and risks of social media platforms and offered ideas and tools they could use to help protect their anonymity. From the onset of the project, all of the women stated that they did not want any images that clearly identified them to be used in this publication or any other platform. Both of us also believe that obtaining consent is part of an ongoing process, rather than a once off consent protocol typical in many research studies. Therefore, we held one-on-one discussions with each participant at least twice during the final production phase to ensure that any additional risks were identified and addressed.

Working towards a final product In the early stages of the project, neither of us had seriously considered the idea of producing an Ebook. As the group developed over time however, it became obvious to everyone involved that we needed to work towards a “final product”—something that could archive the strong and defiant voices of the Mwangaza Mamas and the time everyone spent together. As Prisca explained: “The quilts, our stories, and the book are things we can see when the project ends. We can hold the book in our hands and remember. We can also share it with people who do not believe us.”

Group discussions about “going public” also included us asking and re-visiting questions such as: What is a story? Who tells stories? How are stories told? What purpose do stories serve? Is there ever a difference between the stories we tell ourselves and the stories we share with other people? What are our expectations when we tell stories? What are your expectations for telling the stories you have chosen to share with public audiences?

We were excited that the women wanted to produce their own visual and narrative content to share with public audiences. At the same time, in order to responsibly support them in this endeavour, we knew it was critical that we engage them in a series of facilitated group discussions. Drawing on the strengths and lessons learned from previous MoVE projects, we understood, for example, the importance of discussing what “going public” actually entails. Throughout the project, we spoke candidly with the women about the physical and virtual spaces

These questions sparked lively discussions that elucidated the power of stories, storytelling, and audiences. Many of the women expressed strong sentiments towards the negative stories that are often told in the media, and by politicians, about migrants, 30

refugees, and women migrants. Although their sentiments ranged from visible frustration to sadness and rage, all seemed to agree that stories serve multiple and varying purposes, from informing and debriefing, to resisting and convincing, to creating and perpetuating myths.

inflicted on their bodies. All of the women have experienced and witnessed extreme forms of physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual violence. They have lost children, parents, husbands, brothers, sisters, and friends, and all live in perpetual fear of further loss and hardship.

Throughout the project, the women reflected on the stories they heard growing up, the stories they tell children, and the reasons some stories are passed down through generations. They also explored the ways that stories are often shaped and moulded by who is telling them and who one imagines is their primary audience. Stories told to immigration officials or the police, for example, are often very different to the stories we tell loved ones or even ourselves.

When Judith Butler (2004) speaks about grief in relation to tragedy and the forming of ties, she explains that sharing loss with others enables a tenuous “we” in of all of us. This “we” creates new forms of connection through which we can share our struggles and everyday existence. Understanding grief and trauma in this way has helped us to reflect on the power of stories, and the lives that were shared with us during the project. We also witnessed, and personally experienced, a vast array of important human connections that arose out of shared experiences of love, loss, deceit, defiance, struggle, and resistance.

Working with trauma Across the globe, asylum seekers and refugees face increasingly complex challenges. Foreign-born nationals living in South Africa, particularly those who are poor, black, and gender and sexually non-conforming, struggle to gain access to the formal employment sector (for example, see Walker & Oliveira, 2015). Many also face hostile barriers when seeking basic support services, such as housing or legal assistance (Kihato, 2013). For the women in our group, these everyday challenges are compounded by their experiences of past or present trauma, such as childhood abuse, rape, and other gross human rights violations that are

Holding space Working alongside the women in our group has re-affirmed our commitment to an engaged, reflexive scholarship. Yet, at the same time, we continue to grapple with how best to conceptualise this type of research practice, including how best to support participants in moments of acute duress. According to Beltran and Begun (2014), the mimetic re-telling of life stories and the process of public witnessing to pain 31


and suffering can be transformative and healing for everyone involved. During the workshops, the participants often spoke of the importance of having spaces they can go to receive support and comfort. For many of the women in our group, the project provided them a space where they could listen and share. As Helena explained during a group discussion about the participant’s involvement in the project: “I know that I can talk or not talk when I’m here and it’s ok. I even come when I’m feeling sick because I want to be here. I go lie down in the bed over there and someone will bring me tea and biscuits, and check to make sure I’m ok. It’s so nice to have this space—to listen to what other people say while we busy making quilts. Like this we get power from each other. It’s also too important for me to talk when I want because then I can let go and know that I’m not alone.”

also meant that we could reach out for support if someone was in crisis. Knowing that the women had other spaces they also went to for support and assistance, and having a space where we as facilitators and researchers could also go if we needed to debrief, was fundamental to the success and integrity of the Mwangaza Mama project. It’s all about process The creative artefacts produced by the Mwangaza Mamas for public audiences are undoubtedly an important outcome of the project. Equally important, if not more important, however, is the process that led to their making. It is difficult to put into words the process the goes into a project like Mwangaza Mama. Besides the obvious preparations that went into the workshops, and the time everyone spent doing and undoing, making and re-making their visual and narrative stories, the process also involved less tangible, more ephemeral aspects.

Although the fluidity and openness of the project allowed the women to speak freely about difficult moments in their lives, there were also times we wondered if we were out of our depth, particularly when stories of trauma surfaced. What has continued to amaze us however, is a group’s capacity to offer support and understanding in difficult moments. How we collectively responded to trauma by listening empathetically and being present with the narrator is something we found reassuring in this and other projects. Having the support of the SCPS, and holding project workshops on the same grounds,

The process created both material and immaterial spaces in the group: the anticipation of seeing one another, sharing hugs when we did, and genuinely asking how one another were doing. It was the space heaters we huddled around in winter, the deep sighs of relief, and the subtle glances and nods. It was the anger and frustration that was often shared, the contagious or uncomfortable laughter, and the not knowing 32

what to do or say at times. It was the WhatsApp messages that were exchanged, the pieces of fabric and thread that covered the workshop floor, and the glitter we found on our clothes many days later. It was a collage of different moments, people, ideas, tensions, and contradictions: encounters that were experienced, sometimes all at once, as both silencing and deafening. The process was also about knowing that one day the project would end. Everyone understood and accepted this reality. We worked side by side with this knowledge in our minds and hearts, and with the awareness that our time together was also creating something intangible that would extend beyond the material life of this project.

we are empathetic, but because it raises questions of unequal power dynamics in the research process. While it is true that our financial abilities made it possible for us to provide material assistance in moments of acute duress, it is also true that we needed the women to participate in our research. As feminists working in contexts of extreme inequality and poverty, we argue, that it is neither possible nor ethical to remain neutral or “distant”. Ignoring the women’s very real experiences of hunger, homelessness or sickness is unconscionable to us. To view the research process as uni-directional, where researchers have all the power and participants have none, is infantilising and patronising. It also simplifies notions of power and discounts the dynamic ways that power-balances shift at different points in all relationships.

Reciprocity It is impossible to speak of the process of Mwangaza Mama without also reflecting on the importance of reciprocity, a practice that challenged both our thinking and our politics in unanticipated and fundamental ways.

In most cases, when participants were facing extreme hardship, we worked closely with the SCPS to find a possible solution.

Sometimes reciprocity took the form of taking calls in the evenings or weekends, speaking with a participant long after the workshop day had ended, and sharing details about our own lived experiences. Other times, reciprocity took the form of providing material assistance, such as buying food and diapers, paying for electricity or assisting the women with emergency medical costs. There may be some who find this level of engagement problematic, not only because

Although there certainly were moments that each of us made a conscious decision to step beyond our “traditional” research roles, we also believe that rigid research boundaries are inadequate to deal with precarious contexts, lives, and realities. The idea that the production of knowledge should be neutral or detached is strewn in layers of privilege, colonialism, and imperialism (for example, see Tuhiwai Smith, 1999). 33



Thinking through feeling and making Arts-based methodologies allow for journeys of selfunderstanding that are relational and not restricted by the limits of categories while proposing challenges to normative ideologies and discourses. 35


Social science research—we argue—needs to re-evaluate what it means to conduct ethical research in contexts of precarity and uncertainty. It also needs to recognise the importance of reciprocity.

of needing to remain hidden and outside the gaze of those who might identify them. Their stories then, serve as symbols of the dialectical character of living in the margins—the ongoing negotiation between wanting to be visible yet also needing certain degrees of invisibility. This tension brings into focus critical issues about the politics of representation, and the ways in which these are implicated in the research process. The women’s participation in the research process influenced what they chose to reveal. Their visuals and text therefore, must be understood as embedded in the political, social, and economic contexts of the margins.

Research is not a one-directional activity, but a reciprocal relationship that is built on various power dynamics that cannot be mitigated through static boundaries. The type of social science research we conducted in Mwangaza Mama requires a dynamic understanding of power, and the recognition that reciprocal relationships are built over time. Speaking with public audiences The visual and narrative stories produced by the women for public audiences weave through many strands of their lives. During the final workshop phase of the project the women crafted their narrative stories with intention. They wrote and re-wrote them and the group supported one another through various iterations and revisions.

A few of the Mwangaza Mamas identified specific people they want to read and engage with their stories. Some of these identified people are family members who abused and shunned them. Other participants identified governmental officials, such as the police, and a few identified church members and community leaders. Most of the women also stated that they want their stories to be shared “with the world”. As Patience explained: “Each one of us has some power to change things in our lives, but we don’t have the power to change our countries. We want the outside world to learn about us, and we want people who might be facing similar experiences to know they are not alone, and that situations can change. We are also telling these stories because we don’t have the power to change political situations so we are pleading with

Participatory arts-based methods, such as those used in this project, allow us to see the intersecting social, political, and economic issues that shape and influence everyday life. The women’s textile collages and written stories challenge hegemonic discourses of gender and citizenship. They also confront stereotypes of migrants, womanhood, and motherhood. Yet, the women created their artefacts in a context 36

those in positions of power to listen to us and bring about the right changes”.

References Beltran, R., & Begun. S. (2014). ‘It is Medicine’ Narratives of Healing from the Aotearoa Digital Storytelling as

It is our hope that the Mwangaza Mamas courage, wisdom, and knowledge(s) are reflected in these pages. Their visual and narrative stories not only illustrate the complexities of survival, they clearly reveal the need to listen to those living in society’s interstices. For when we do, we quickly learn that women migrants do have agency, but the degree to which they are able to overcome structural constraints is largely determined by their context. In other words, agency and structure are in constant interrelationship. The women’s images and words offer us an opportunity to get in touch with our realities and social worlds, and the lived experiences of other people in ways that demand critical reflection. They allow us to reflect on how stories are told. Different ways of telling create different kinds of narratives that support new forms of awareness and activism.

Indigenous Media Project (ADSIMP). Psychology and Developing Societies, 26(2), 155-179. Butler, J. (2004). Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence. London: Verso. Capous-Desyllas, M., & Morgaine, K. (Eds.) (2018). Creating social change through creativity: Antioppressive arts-based research methodologies. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Kihato, C. (2013). Migrant Women of Johannesburg: Life in an in-between city. Johannesburg: Wits University Press. Oliveira, E. (2016). Empowering, invasive or a little bit of both? A reflection on the use of visual and narrative methods in research with migrant sex workers in South Africa. Visual studies, 31(3), 260–78. Tuhiwai Smith, L. (1999). Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. London and New York: Zed Books. Walker, R. (2018). Mothering in the City [blog]. https:// Walker, R., & Oliveira, E. (2015). Contested spaces: Exploring the intersections of migration, sex work and trafficking in South Africa. Graduate Student Journal of Social Science, 11(2), 129-153.



FEATURED STORIES “These stories emphasise how as individuals within families, and as individuals within institutions such as our Churches and our places of education and our welfare systems, we need to be consciously standing firm against prejudice in its many manifestations.� Alison Koslowski Impressions from the Mwangaza Mama project stories

“While the historically and emotionally laden barriers of race, rank, nationality, and ethnicity are still deeply embedded in the consciousness of everyone involved, these were crisscrossed again and again as the women reached out to one another in times of crisis, consciously sharing aspects of their personal experiences, and subconsciously a lot more through their artwork.” Johanna Kistner “I am coming here to get strong”


This section features the creative works produced by the Mwangaza Mama participants for public audiences. It begins with a series of photographs, each depicting one of the three final collective artefacts that were made during the project. It then goes on to showcase the individual quilt pieces and narrative stories that each of the seven participants created and wrote. The women’s textile collages and text shed light on a vast array of topics, taking the reader on a visceral journey of intense pain and hardship to self-actualisation and self-power.

impressions of Johannesburg and describes the difficulties she faced in maintaining employment without the support of family to help care for her son. Jolie’s first story calls on government to implement policies to address the endemic levels of gender-based violence in South Africa. She then goes on to describe a personal experience of deceit and exploitation. Kabibi shares some reflections of her experiences raising a child born as the result of a brutal rape. Marie speaks of the dangers associated with the stigma surrounding and HIV and AIDS and highlights the importance of community support and treatment.

Patience begins with a personal account of losing both of her parents and describes the family decay that followed their death. Helena writes about marriage and offers advice to women who are also single parents. Prisca describes her experiences of caring for a child with disabilities and urges people to support those who are also facing similar challenges. Agape shares her first

Each author offers complex, honest, and thoughtful reflections that demand the readers attention.



Title Quilt Mixed-media on fabric 115 cm x 112 cm 42




Collective Quilt I Mixed-media on fabric 292 cm x 164 cm 45


Collective Quilt II Mixed-media on fabric 283 cm x 160 cm 46



Orphans or not, children are children Patience I was born into a big, beautiful family where I received love and support. I lived in a very big house in Bukavu, in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I was a good student and happily attended a Catholic school called Nyalukamba. Everything was beautiful. Until the day that life decided to take away my lovely parents. Both died in Kinshasa, my father first and then my mother, two years later. I was in my early teens, and the oldest girl in a family of nine, when my parents died. This is when everything turned against me and my siblings. My father’s family took everything that belonged to us. The houses my father built, our photo albums, my parent’s clothes. They even took the life insurance money that my father organised during his living years. They took everything and divided it between themselves, leaving me and my siblings with nothing. Patience The more valuable a thing Mixed-media on fabric 61 mm x 34 cm

I didn’t go to school for two years after my parents died. My uncle refused to pay school fees. He said he didn’t have money, but that was a lie. I believe that it was his wife who stopped him from helping me. She wanted to keep me as the maid of her house.

Patience Orphans or not, children are children Mixed-media on fabric 55 cm x 52 cm

The abuse was too much. 48



Sometimes, people don’t want to take care of other people’s children so they accuse them of witchcraft as a way to chase them away.

There were some days that me and my siblings didn’t eat—my uncle and aunt refused to feed us. When this happened, I would go with my late brother, Gulain Elembe, to the market to look for food that had fallen on the street from the delivery trucks. Sometimes we were lucky and found a piece of dry fish and mielie-meal, and other times we found nothing.

My two beautiful sisters, and my little brother were accused of being witches by my aunt, the same person who wanted to keep me as the maid of her house. They took my siblings to a revival church where they were kept for seven days without food or water. They shaved their heads, beat them, and on the last day, the church leaders forced them to drink water while holding them down, stepping on their tummies to make them throw up. They said this is what needed to be done to remove the “spirit of witchcraft.”

One day, I went to another uncle to ask him to pay my school fees and he said that I must sleep with him first. This uncle worked for the government, and he didn’t pay my school fees because I refused to have sex with him. His condition to pay my school fees was that I sleep with him. What kind of uncle, what kind of man, what kind of human does this?

Thank God all of my siblings survived this horrible abuse because it doesn’t always happen. A lot of children die during these ceremonies. My little cousin who was six years old, her name was Chanel; she died at home after one of these rituals. Other children run away because their communities keep treating them badly. They call them names like “witches” and say things like, “You are the one who killed your parents” or “You eat them, you witch.” It is awful. Sometimes the children who are accused of witchcraft also get beat over and over again. Many of these children leave. They run away from the places they live. One of my sisters did. She rather live on the streets than see my aunt who was so mean to us for no reason.

Things just kept getting worse. My sisters and brothers were getting very sick. We weren’t eating properly or receiving medical attention when we needed it. In the Congo, we believe in witchcraft. Sometimes it is used for good, like when parents seek spiritual powers to keep their families safe from outside spirits. Other times, it is used to hurt and harm people, like if someone is jealous they can perform a ritual in the hopes of making someone suffer, like make them poor or cause them sickness or trouble. There is also a big problem in the Congo about accusing children of witchcraft, especially children who are orphans. There are many reasons for this. None of them are good

My sisters and brothers who went through the witchcraft ceremony became very sick with 50

tuberculosis and malnutrition. I suffered a lot taking them to the Bondeko clinic. For six months I carried them to the clinic because they couldn’t walk. Sometimes my brother would help me, the same one who looked for food with me on the streets. Each of us would carry one of our siblings so they could be treated, so that they could get better. Imagine this, I was 15 and my brother was 13 years old and we carried our two younger sisters and one brother for more than five kilometres because no one cared if they lived or died.

Mimie and Sister Robecia, and others, helped change our lives. Thank God for them.

I never gave up hope though. I was always dreaming that one-day things could be different and that I would be able to take care of me and my family.

Second, I want to tell other orphans that no matter what people say you must believe in yourself. Don’t give up. You are not useless. You are a child like other children: bright, beautiful, intelligent, and special. It might feel dark some days but one day the light will shine. You just hang on.

I am sharing this story for many reasons. First, I want to tell my family that being an orphan does not mean that we don’t have a life or a future. We do have a life! And we dream, and we are also successful. I also want to tell them that my parents houses and their money were never meant for them. We were young children and our parents worked together for our future. Not for theirs.

After too much suffering, I decided to tell Father Alois what was happening and he and other Catholic Church members came to our house for a home visit. When they learned the truth about the abuse, and saw the conditions we were living in, they refused to let my aunt and uncle participate in any more Catholic church activities. This caused them a lot of shame and eventually they moved to another place that was very far away.

I also want to say that it is wrong to accuse orphan children of witchcraft. If you don’t have money, or you don’t want to take care of them, there are many children’s homes that you can take them to be loved. If you feel the children are a burden, take them to a place where they will be safe and looked after. Don’t abuse them. Don’t sell them on the streets. Don’t be a hypocrite. So many of you go to church and pretend that you are serving God but inside there is no truth.

My dream of a better life started to be a reality after these people came to the house. The Catholic church leaders took us, and me and my siblings lived together in one house. They also provided us with food and clothes and even sent us back to school. God sent us angels. Father Alois, Father Francois Lehelleye, Sister

Lastly, I want to tell people who ask children for sex in trade of school fees that this is rape. It is disgusting. You are asking to ruin someone’s life. 51


It is time for change Helena Once upon a time there was a lady with a boyfriend in the DRC. The boyfriend found her with a two and a half year old daughter. They started dating and later they had a son together.

accept the new child because he was the one who wronged her. They started again to stay together and they had another son. When the first daughter of that lady turned 16 years old, the step-father wanted to rape her. He kept saying things like, “I love you so much I will marry you because you are more beautiful than your mother”. People kept saying he had sex with the girl and because of these rumours the couple separated.

When the political fighting got worse in the DRC, the man fled and took refuge in South Africa. He made contact with the lady and told her, “I couldn’t return home because my life was in danger”. Her told her to head to Lubumbashi, where he had organised for people to receive her and bring her to South Africa.

Suffering started again. Now that lady was with four children and no job and no money.

She did as she was told and ended up in South Africa. When she arrived she tried by all means to contact the man, but he was out of reach. His number wasn’t going through. That was the beginning of her real suffering.

For me, what I can say about this story is that it is time to change. You don’t have to follow men and make your life about men. There are clinics where you can get family planning. Don’t let love control you. You are the one who decides how to love. Be wise and think before you make children. And by the way, if you find yourself in a situation where your man abandons you—stand up, do not rely on him, and learn to be independent. It is better to suffer alone than to rely on a man. You will end up with eight children with more than three or four fathers and all of them will run away. You will be left alone as a single mother. This can be so difficult.

She found herself with two children in a foreign country, no job and no money. So she moved in with another man who offered her a place to stay. Later on she had a child with that guy, but then he chased her away. After a while, the previous boyfriend, the same one who left her in the DRC and told her to come to South Africa, appeared and begged for her forgiveness. He said he would


Helena It is time for change Mixed-media on fabric 109 cm x 52 cm



Children with disabilities Prisca I want to tell the story about children with disabilities. Black people assume that if a child is disabled they are a witch or a monster. No one will touch them. They think they are contagious. This is an important story that I’m sharing. It comes from my own experience. We need to educate people. No one plans to have a child with disabilities, but it happens. It’s part of life. It is difficult to find support. Children with disabilities have special needs, which are specific to their condition. My child, for example, will always need to wear pampers, and will always need help bathing because he can’t sit up on his own. He’s getting bigger and heavier, and soon I won’t be able to carry him. Despite these challenges, my son is wonderful and he makes me very happy. We have unconditional love for one another and he expresses himself in very beautiful ways.

Prisca Children with disabilities Mixed-media on fabric 73 cm x 51 cm 54



People mock. This is the other thing I have experienced. Some people will not touch or hold a child with disabilities, especially pregnant women. Some think that by sitting next to you or your child, that they will also give birth to a child with disabilities. There are also those who look at my child and mock him. Or, they mock me. Some people even ask questions such as, “Why is he like this?” , “Why is he not talking”, “Why can’t he walk?” Others will look down at you as a mother; they treat you as though you are low class and not worthy. They shun you, ignore you, and pretend not see you or your child. Sometimes, even your own family will not support you. Or , they will blame you for giving birth to a child with disabilities. My family said that I was a witch, and that the father of my son was part of a cult. They said this is why I gave birth to a child with disabilities. Some people in my family don’t let their children come next my child because they believe their kids are “normal” and mine is not. For example, one day my eldest sister said, “You are the first in our family to have an abnormal child”. My son is not abnormal! He just has disabilities. Even my husband, the father of our son, left us. He said, “no one in my family has a child like this”.

Prisca Children with disabilities (Detail) Mixed-media on fabric 17 cm x 12 cm

I have always been the one to blame for giving birth to Miracle, a beautiful boy who was born with different abilities. 56

During my pregnancy everything was ok. I had even gone for a check up on the same day that he was born. The doctors said everything was fine, but I felt very tired so they gave me another appointment. But when I got up to put my clothes on I fainted. The nurses immediately took me to the theatre and said that the baby was in distress; they said he had brain damage. I asked the doctors to explain why this was happening but they didn’t tell me anything; they probably didn’t know.

can get into a car accident and never be able to walk again, or have a stroke and never talk again, or be given the wrong medication that damages their brain. Some people can even get shot and be paralysed forever. People with disabilities are human beings who feel, laugh, love, and care. We need to respect them and their parents. We need to accept the reality that some people are born with different abilities. It is also important to not shift the blame to mothers. Instead, it is important to help them because it’s not easy raising a child with disabilities, especially if you are poor and a single parent.

After my husband saw the child he demanded a DNA test to prove that he was the father. He didn’t like what he saw. He didn’t accept that he could be the father of a child with disabilities. He never even held the baby, and never visited him again at the hospital during the two months he was there.

Miracle has taught me the importance of compassion and faith. I will never give up on him. I also know that God is there for me, and for Miracle, and everyone else who lives with disabilities.

No one wanted to name my little boy. Not even his father, the person who was supposed to give him a name. After some time, I decided to call him Monateso Miracle. In Ebo this means “God is with him”. Miracle’s older brother, Leonard, was born premature. His father loves him and is proud to say that he is his son. But he won’t do the same for Miracle, only because he is different. I take strength and faith from the bible. In the book of Genesis it says that God creates us in his own image. This means that Miracle is an image of God. Yes, he was born with disabilities, but anyone can face similar problems. A person 57


Being in a foreign country without family Agape Images were made under another pseudonym: Diana.

Hello! My name is Agape. I am a 25 year old single mother of a small handsome boy who is five years old. I am the last born in a family of five kids. I am starting my story from my childhood. My family was so beautiful. All of us lived together, loving and caring for one another. I am missing those days a lot, every single day of my life. Truly, I am saying this from the bottom of my heart. I never thought that one day I would live far from my family, or be separated from them. I also never thought that I would live in another country or that I would be called a foreigner, and not treated as a human being. My life has never been the same since I had to leave my country. My first time in Johannesburg I didn’t know anyone. I had no place to go and I was carrying an unborn child in my womb. It was so hard. I had no food to eat, nowhere to sleep, no water to drink, and nobody to talk to. When I tried to speak with someone we couldn’t understand each other because of language differences. It was hard. It felt like there was nowhere to go.

Diana Being in a foreign country without family Mixed-media on fabric 50 cm x 53 cm 58



Diana Being in a foreign country without family (Detail) Mixed-media on fabric 18 cm x 11 cm


him by my side because he does not bother anyone. Nevertheless, it would be much easier if I lived near my family. But this is not possible, for so many reasons.

I have learned to live on my own and to “forget” the past. But not always. It’s not possible to forget the past, and it’s not easy to be far from family and living in a different country.

Family is important. They are the ones who raise you and know you better than anyone else in the world. Even when you live far away, they are still loving and missing you. And wishing to spend time with you.

I was so highly depressed when I arrived in South Africa because of such a hard life: shelter to shelter, jobless, and struggling. And an unfinished education that I wished to have completed.

My child often asks me, “Where is my granny?” He says, “Who is my uncle?” He wants to know his family. He asks “Who do I belong to?”, “Who is going to be my brother?”

Being undocumented also made (and makes) my life harder in Johannesburg. Especially, as a single mother far from my family. It really makes finding and keeping work difficult.

When he asks me these kinds of questions I feel so much pain.

My first job in Johannesburg was selling clothes in a shop at China City. I worked every day, including Saturday’s and Sunday’s for R250 a week. I worked under depression because I could not find anyone to help take care of my son. This eventually caused me to lose my job.

I miss my family. I wish I could be with them each and every day. I also wish that my son could be with them. The point of my story is that I would like everyone to know the importance of being able to live in the same country as your family, and not taking them for granted. I have a family and they give me strength, but they live very, very far away. If we lived closer to one another my life would be different. I know many people who live near their families but they fight and don’t care about one another. I wish they could know what it feels like not to be able to see them.

After a long time of being desperate, without work or money, I found another job. But my family circumstances remained the same. I worked weekends and couldn’t find someone to help care for my child. Eventually, I lost this job too. If only I had family that lived near me, I would never have lost these jobs. Luckily, I found a way to work for myself and send my child to crèche. I can even work with 61


Life without blood family Jolie I think I’m going to tell you my own story. I will start by explaining the way I was growing up. I never had a good life. I suffered a lot. All of my siblings died. Six of them—all of them older than me. In the DRC, I was staying at my uncle’s house. He was not my blood family; he was a friend of my late father. His wife had a friend who lived in South Africa. Each and every time this woman came to visit us she saw how badly my uncle and aunt were treating me. I did everything at their house. I did the washing, the cooking, the ironing, the cleaning. I planted cassava, pounded mielie, slaughtered chickens. I did everything and still, they were very mean to me. They called me bad names and never appreciated me. One day, my auntie’s friend called and told me to come to South Africa. We used to talk on the phone a lot. She said she knew a man in South Africa who was looking for a wife. So, I moved and got married. What I’m telling you today I don’t like to share with so many people face-to-face because it’s too painful. 62

Jolie Life without blood family Mixed-media on fabric 51 cm x 48 cm



I got married because I was struggling. I was always stressing and thinking about my siblings and my parents, and I wanted to get out of that uncle and aunts house.

My husband did not leave me when the old mama said this stuff, but later he did. I think maybe he kept that story in his heart. I started to come for counselling because life was hard. Now I look and feel better. I also receive other kinds of support, like small food to feed my kids.

I didn’t have any shoulder to cry on and this has always made me sad. Maybe if my sister was alive she could help me. Now my only source of support is God.

The reason I’m sharing this story is to tell about living a life without family, and being alone in the world. I got married out of desperation, not out of love. I didn’t know what to do and where to go because of the suffering.

I didn’t even tell my counsellor about this woman, the one who told me to come to South Africa for marriage. This lady who told me to come, she’s an old mama. She thought that because she introduced me to my husband that I also needed to do everything for her. Like I did at my uncle’s house.

Life is still hard and I’m trying to do the best for me and my kids. I wish that old mama had treated me better and hadn’t spread lies that caused the separation of me and my husband. He has never come back. He left me to care for our two children on my own.

At first, I would go to this mamas house everyday: do all the washing and cleaning. Also the ironing. But after some time I was feeling tired, and I told her I couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t take care of both her house and mine. Because of this, the old mama decided to phone my husband and make up lies about my family. She accused me and my siblings of being witches and prostitutes, and said he should leave me. It was not okay that she did this. If she wanted to help me she shouldn’t have had expectations. There was no way that I could take care of two houses and she didn’t need to make problems and lies. It hurt me a lot.


Jolie Life without blood family (Detail) Mixed-media on fabric 17 cm x 28 cm



Who should I trust with my children? Jolie You know what? Life is very difficult, especially here in Johannesburg. Each and every day you hear that someone has raped a child. This happened to one of my friend’s children in Yeoville. It’s very scary because I have two girls and I’m a single mother. My question is—who should I trust with my children? This keeps troubling me!! Everyday, when my children are not at school, I always move around with them because I don’t trust most people in Johannesburg. I had one friend that I trusted, she used to look after my children when I went out. But now she is no more. May her soul rest in peace. I would like to tell people that rape children that you are making us feel scared and angry. And I would like to tell the people in power that I would like them to help by punishing rapists in a way that is going to make them too scared to rape.


Jolie Who should I trust with my children? Mixed-media on fabric 44 cm x 35 cm



A child of rape Kabibi Images were made under another pseudonym: Rebecca.

I have four children. I grew up with a lot of children around me because my father was polygamist. My stepmother raised me and she made my life miserable every single day. I got married when I was young. I had a good relationship with my husband. We were very happy. He was an activist and fought for human rights in our country, but the government of the Congo didn’t like what he was doing and they told him to stop. There is no law in my country and they warned him of danger if he kept doing his work. My husband refused to stop because he was committed to building our country. He also accepted that there might be blood. There was so much blood. A lot of blood has been shed. My husband was willing to sacrifice himself so that his country and its people could be free.

Rebecca A child of rape Mixed-media on fabric 52 cm x 50 cm 68



I am very sad to say that the government killed my husband. When they came to our house to murder him they also raped me. I was raped by a lot of men. They took the dead body of my husband AND left me and my children who were hiding in their rooms.

At first it was difficult for me to accept my child of rape. I suffered a lot. But after some time I decided that I needed to love her. Now she is six years old. She is so strong and beautiful. I love her with all of my life. I feel this is an important story because all parents who have a rape child need to love and care for those children like they do other children who are born out of love. I tried for an abortion, and I didn’t even like my daughter when she was born. When she cried I would speak to her as though she was an adult. I would shout and tell her to clean herself; change own pampers, and leave me alone. But then people counselled and helped me, and I realised that she is my blood, my family.

I fell pregnant from this rape. I only realised this four months after it happened because I was still having a period. I tried to get rid of the child but it didn’t work. I was too far along. When this happened, people were laughing at me. In the Congo when a woman is raped they treat her very badly. Some people think that she deserved to be raped; that it was her fault or that she asked to be raped. Some people even think that rape corrects certain behaviour. They blame the rape on you, saying that you were raped because you talk too much or because you do too much or because you are different. Jealous people also sometimes celebrate when a woman is raped—they mock and laugh at you and enjoy watching a woman suffer. This way of thinking is shameful and wrong. It isolates rape survivors from their communities, and it means that women suffer alone too much.

Maybe my story is hard for people to understand. It was not my choice to be raped, but it was my choice to find a way to love someone who came into this world Innocently, without asking to be born.

There is no need to do this to a woman. We should support one another and not tolerate violence of any kind. Instead, there is no support in the Congolese community. When someone is raped there is no medication, no treatment, and no person will assist you.


Rebecca I will speak with confidence and no fear like Winnie Mandela Mixed-media on fabric 50 cm x 40 cm



Stigma kills Mary I lost my uncle who was sick with HIV and TB in February of this year. When he died, my family had a fight with his children because of the properties he owned. I wonder why my family did not advise my uncle to go for treatment? They just waited for him to die so that they could take all of his possessions. I would like to tell everyone, including my family members, that there is treatment for HIV and AIDS, and that if you take it people will live longer. We need to support each other in times of trouble.

Mary Stigma kills Mixed-media on fabric 105 cm x 52 cm 72



RELECTIONS “Social science research should haunt us; it should disrupt our safe pedagogies of knowing and understanding the world. We must be disrupted enough to want to change the social realities presented to us and to disengage from our passive roles as mere recipients of the research process. Only in doing so will we ever begin to actively engage the world for social change.� Peace Kiguwa Holding space through haunting

“It is difficult to put into words the process the goes into a project like Mwangaza Mama. Besides the obvious preparations that went into the workshops, and the time everyone spent doing and un-doing, making and re-making their visual and narrative stories, the process also involved less tangible, more ephemeral aspects.� Elsa Oliveira and Rebecca Walker Making sense of experience


are involved in arts-based projects. Others write about the importance of listening to the voices of those whose life-worlds are under investigation. A few contributors also reflect on the humanising and therapeutic aspects of practice-based research practices.

Mwangaza Mama contributes to body of research that is being conducted with diverse migrant communities all across the globe. Like the work created by the Mwangaza Mama participants, this book is itself a collage, one of ideas, processes, contradictions, and most importantly, different people. The following reflections come from academics, graduate students, researchers, and the project translator. Each offers unique insights into the role of participatory arts-based research in expanding public and private understandings of the complex lives of migrants, women, and women migrants. Some of the contributors share their thoughts on the methods used in this project and the impact the work can have on readers, viewers, and other participants who 77


Connection or constraint?: Migrant social networks and precarity in cities of the South Loren B Landau Professor, African Centre for Migration & Society, University of the Witwatersrand

Kabiri Bule Doctoral Candidate, African Centre for Migration & Society, University of the Witwatersrand

This is in an urban age. The post-industrial cities of Europe and North America may have shaped how we understand the modern global city, but the urban future will be forged in the rapidly growing cities of the “global south” (UNDESA, 2014). For those concerned with our collective direction, it is cities like Peshawar, Nairobi, and Johannesburg that will chart our future. Neighbourhoods and sites within their urban edge are becoming destinations and transit stations for citizens, migrants, and refugees (Landau et al., 2017). Even where the displaced are proportionately less—such as in South Africa’s primary cities—they join with other migrants in reconfiguring social and economic life. In many cases, they move almost invisibly into cities, disappearing among longer-term residents who may share class, language, religious or other commonalities.

where they receive direct assistance from international and domestic humanitarian and development organizations. Millions more—a number that is growing by almost all estimates—seek to find passage, protection or profit in urban communities. Apart from the few who are granted asylum, poor migrants tend to make their lives in relatively poor communities where there are few public services formally available to them. Indeed, in many such spaces, few public services are available to long-term residents. In such sites, the ability of displaced persons to feed, house, and clothe themselves is central to their protection, economically contributing to host communities, and reducing dependence on humanitarian aid. In the absence of direct assistance or as a complement to limited aid, displaced persons—like other newly urbanized migrant populations—must rely on informal or social resources to meet their immediate requirements and further their broader ambitions. Drawing on more than a decade

Of the millions of people who have migrated worldwide, a small percentage live in purpose built camps and settlements 78

Formal group membership is remarkably low. With the exception of limited membership in Kenyan religious organizations, the populations surveyed in our research in Kenya, Turkey, and Pakistan almost never participate in regular or formalized groups. These include both cultural and economic associations.

of work exploring the experiences of displaced people and migrants in cities of the South, this short note reflects on how social networks can lead to self-reliance and a means of negotiating the precarity that characterizes the spaces in which these people often live. Our conclusions are complex and somewhat murky. In many ways this reflects the socially and politically complex environments in which the urban displaced seek protection. If nothing else, data from our research confirm that social networks are critical to how migrants make their lives in such spaces, but that they vary remarkably depending on social, economic, and geographic context (Landau et al., 2017). The experiences of men and women differ within and between sites so dramatically that further research is warranted to explain these variations.

Social networks are both a remarkable asset for many but are either unavailable or a source of fear and a hindrance for others. The same kind of networks that may provide succour can also work to constrain or suppress people. Their relative accessibility and desirability seems connected to gender roles and the politics of the community in question. Where communities of origin are fragmented and in conflict, refugee social networks are the weakest. In-group networks that initially offer protection through the exchange of information, housing, and other (usually non-material) support become less effective

Three general findings appear to reflect conditions, albeit to a lesser or greater extent, across our research. 79


as people seek long-term sustainability. Confirming long-standing sociological findings, economic security is connected closely to people’s ability to forge social connections beyond co-nationals. Language acquisition is often critical to creating these ties.

References Landau, L., Bule, K., Malik, A., Wanjiku-Kihato, C., Irvin-Erickson, Y., Edwards, B., & Mohr, E. (2017). Displacement and Disconnection? Exploring the Role of Social Networks in the Livelihoods of Refugees in Gaziantep, Nairobi, and Peshawar. Retrieved from displacement-and-disconnection-exploring-role-social-

These findings provide few firm conclusions. If nothing else, they illustrate our need to understand the multiple social worlds that migrants occupy and their values. The contributions in this E-book help to do just that: to reveal how people in highly vulnerable positions make sense and navigate the worlds they occupy and help create. More particularly, they reveal how gender is enacted as a resource, a source of power, and a means of control. They do so by sensitively revealing stories and account from people who barely register in scholarship even as statistics, let alone fallible and agential humans with fears and aspirations. For those seeking to understand migration, cities, or social networks, it is these sorts of insights that provide the perspectives we need.

networks-livelihoods-refugees-gaziantep-nairobi-andpeshawar UNESA. (2014). World Urbanisation Prospects: The 2014 Revision: Highlights. New York: UNDESA .


Migration and social worlds Social networks serve a critical role in the lives of migrants all across the globe.



Impressions from the Mwangaza Mama project stories Alison Koslowski Professor of Social Policy and Research Methods, University of Edinburgh

My contribution to this project is to be a reader of the stories. I have not yet met these impressive women in person, but thanks to the outputs of the Mwangaza Mama project, I can bear witness to their narratives. I hear the authors’ voices and have started to bring their stories to life in my own imagination. I am grateful for this sharing. Thank you Agape. Thank you Jolie. Thank you Helena. Thank you Kabibi. Thank you Marie. Thank you Okenge Patience. Thank you Prisca.

A lack of kindness in personal relationships is a common theme in the stories: sometimes between men and women, but also between men and between women. The men in these women’s lives have not typically contributed to their happiness. I wish we could talk to these men to try to better understand their unkindness. Helena talks about the need for women to be independent as a way of self-protection, but as she acknowledges, teamwork can also be so much easier than managing alone.

These are powerful and moving short stories. They tell of both abuse and resilience. They expose experiences that I presume the perpetrators would rather have remained hidden. These stories of abuse are written in such as a way as to see their authors rise above those who have done them harm; they are courageous tales of remarkable and humbling resilience.

The stories also tell of how key the prior knowledge and experience of kindness, compassion and joy are for the incredible resilience showcased here. This knowledge sometimes emanates from time spent with families of origin, now far away. Unconditional love for children is recounted as a powerful source of comfort and joy in the here and now. Thus, whatever comes to pass for these children as they meet their own challenges in the world, they will also have this prior knowledge of kindness and love to draw upon. This is a powerful gift that these mothers give their children.

The stories tell of abuses of power; the abuse of not sharing knowledge which might prolong life; rape and sexual abuse; domestic abuse; child abuse (accusations of witchcraft); and murder. Thus the stories tell of loss, bereavement and fear. 82

For me, the project highlights that concepts such as ‘Mwangaza’ are very much needed as frames for our social policy and sociological analyses in academia. In the English language, we might refer to kindness or non-violence; a suitable word in Sanskrit could be ‘ahimsa’. These stories emphasise how as individuals within families, and as individuals within institutions such as our Churches and our places of education and our welfare systems, we need to be consciously standing firm against prejudice in its many manifestations. I was particularly moved by the story about children with disabilities and how wisely the mother of Miracle refuses to concede this as being a family tragedy. See the person, not the disability. Similarly, see the person, not the abuse. See the person, not a characteristic that somehow justifies an act of unkindness. This is the message I take from these powerful short stories.


Holding space through haunting: The untold possibilities of visual research Peace Kiguwa Senior Lecturer, Department of Psychology, University of the Witwatersrand

In her critical book, Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination, Avery Gordon (2008) reminds us of a now forgotten purpose of social science research: to make the intangible tangible, to make the circumstances and everydayness of lived experience so real that we see it. This seeing must serve the purpose of haunting.

of research that inadvertently serve to undermine any socio-political analysis of the world. How can we represent our research in a way that allows participants to tell their stories without censor, without “over-interpretation� on our part, without the anonymity that results in sanitization? How do we represent research in a way that does not leave us paralyzed with apathy, fatalism, and despair? How do we speak about our data so that it is possible to imagine a different world? So that participants are accorded the dignity and voices that they have? So that we challenge the arbitrary divides that have been drawn between researchers and the people whose stories are being told? These questions are important for us as academics, social activists, and researchers. They are fundamental to the relevance of our work and profession. They are questions that we must ask of ourselves every day.

Social science research should haunt us; it should disrupt our safe pedagogies of knowing and understanding the world. We must be disrupted enough to want to change the social realities presented to us and to disengage from our passive roles as mere recipients of the research process. Only in doing so will we ever begin to actively engage the world for social change. This is the purpose of haunting. This is the politics of haunting. This is the ethics of haunting. It is this purpose, politics, and ethics that inspire my affinity for visual research. Still relegated to the margins of so-called scientific research, visual research offers us a promise for reclaiming the politics and ethics of knowledge production. This is because visual methodology rejects those features

The promise of visual methodology lies in its capacity to haunt us—to make visceral the lived experiences of people. To make visceral the structural violence that pervades 84

our society, that is embodied in real-living bodies. In visual methodology we are confronted with concrete embodiments of social life as it is experienced by different people who are implicated in the different structures of violence in society. In visual methodology the politics of social life is made real. Confronted with this realness, we are also confronted with the implications of working with affective data—both from within ourselves and those of our participants. Understanding how such data can be galvanized for sociopolitical change—as opposed to sense of hopelessness—is necessary.

Reference Gordon, A. (2008). Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination. University of Minnesota Press. Minneapolis.

Representing and exploring social suffering for its own sake is not the goal. Visual methodologies help us to engage the world in its materiality as well as symbolic violence. Most importantly, it reclaims the role of the individual as central to how the story is told, according the authority of representation to the person who lives the experience. This is its promise, politics and ethics—to hold space for affective representations of social life in a way that recalls us to the true purpose of social research. 85


Two roles: Project translator and participant Okenge Patience Project translator and participant

When I was first invited to help Elsa and Becky facilitate the Mwangaza Mama project I found myself wondering how I would manage being both the project translator and a participant.

Moving between individual and group work was good, but at the same time, it was also tricky, and sometimes difficult. During the workshops, I needed to be present—meaning I had to really listen to what everyone was saying in case I needed to translate. This meant that I had to listen while also finding the space to think and talk about my own life and the feelings I wanted to share.

I am an employee at the Sophiatown Psychological Community Services (SPCS), where I run children’s groups and also translate. I speak five languages: Kitetela, French, Swahili, Lingala, and English. So, I translate for many people who visit the SPCS. Some of these people include the Mwangaza Mama participants during their weekly one-on-one therapy sessions. As a translator, I am expected to respect and honour very strict boundaries.

From the start of the project, it was important that everyone felt safe and that workshops were experienced as places of comfort and healing. I always felt cared for by Elsa and Becky and by the other participants. Sometimes they would check in with me on the weekends to see how I was doing. They understood that balancing my two roles (translator and participant) was not easy.

For example, I’m not supposed to spend personal time with clients outside of work or share personal information about my life. The expectations of my “professional” role were different in the Mwangaza Mama project because I was also a participant. I was free to talk about my own lived experiences and share my opinions and thoughts about the things that were discussed. I was also encouraged to offer Elsa and Becky suggestions about what we could do to help participant’s feel more comfortable and free.

I learned a lot during my time in the project. For me, the most positive thing was bringing women together. Like the other participants, I am sad the project ended, but I also know that I will keep seeing the women, and Elsa and Becky. It won’t be the same though. For many of us, especially the women who don’t have so many opportunities to get involved in other projects, the time we spent together was really meaningful and special. 86

Patience and her two roles By being both a participant and the project translator, Patience was able to help Elsa and Becky bring the women together, while also having the space to reflect and share her own lived experiences and impressions of the world. 87


Working together Patience and Helena cutting the borders and background fabric of the collective quilts during the final production phase of the project.


Everyone counted the days until we would see each other again. The project gave many of the participants an opportunity to get out of their rooms and do something different with their hands and minds.

tired and sometimes wearing dirty clothes. Now they look amazing! Some wore their best clothes and even put on makeup. They did this because they are more proud of who they are, and because this group really helped everyone feel like there are special and valued. If the women were sick or too tired to participate in workshop activities and still came they would go lie down in a bed that was available in the same room we met. This way they could still participate and be part of the group. This was really special. Everyone would take turns checking on the person, bringing them tea or coffee and fruit and biscuits.

The Mwangaza Mama group spent about 2-3 hours together when we met: eating, talking, and sharing so many things. Over time, I noticed how many of the women became less afraid to speak. Even the children who came to project workshops with their mothers are more confident now. They don’t try to hide in their Mamas laps or run away like they used to. Instead, they hug and greet, and some even make art now. All of the women too. When we see one another it’s like family, we hug and smile and ask how everyone is doing.

When I think back, I feel so proud of the work everyone did. I also feel proud of myself for being able to move between my two roles. I wish there were more projects like Mwangaza Mama. More projects that bring women together so we can gain strength and learn from one another.

I can say that the group made it possible for everyone to grow. This is because everyone felt safe and free. We all know that we can reach out to Elsa and Becky, or anyone else, if we need help, support or just someone to talk to. The way of being comes from the heart because the group was more than just therapy—we made art and shared space.

Many people in the world are from different countries, and some of these countries are/ were in war with one another. This was the case in our project. Many of the women are also from different ethnic groups. We wouldn’t have had the opportunity to learn about one another and build friendships if it weren’t for the project. We learned that everyone is the same, and this is so important because there is too much nonsense in the world that is dividing people and nations. I will never forget the Mwangaza Mamas.

During our time together, some of the women spoke about losing hope, but by coming to the workshops I have seen everyone become stronger. Really, this group brought life back to many people. For example, I remember when we started, some of the women did not look after themselves. They would arrive at workshops looking so 89


Sewing away the sadness Glynis Clacherty Associate Researcher, African Centre for Migration & Society

When I first saw the quilts that the Mwangaza Mamas made I was immediately struck by their colour—they look like a celebration! Many of the individual quilt pieces represent aspects of the natural world—trees, flowers, rivers, pathways, birds. After reading some of the stories the women wrote I also thought, “What a contrast!” Such difficult lives the women live in the harsh and violent city of Johannesburg. Yet, when given a chance to make artwork, the women in the Mwangaza Mama project chose to celebrate the beauty of the natural world. Indeed, if we look closely at their quilt pieces we see women carrying water on their heads, a sickle to cut grass, a dog, little groups of people, children, and adults, families, busy women. Many of the images and stories that the women chose to depict and represent are of their birth countries; of their home communities, villages and towns, and other aspects of the lives they lived before war forced them to run to Johannesburg.

Like the women in the Mwangaza Mama project, most of the children I worked with had previously lived in small rural villages, or if they lived in cities in their birth countries, often visited their grandparents who lived in rural areas. The children and I worked together for a number of years on a project where their artwork focussed around a set of old suitcases on which the children told stories about their lives by pasting visual and narrative artefacts onto and into the suitcases. Their artworks were also full of images of the natural world—trees, birds, rivers, maize, cassava plants, flowers, and fruit trees that grew in a grandparent’s garden. On reflecting on some the reasons why the women and children had chosen to show these colourful memories I recall some research that was also done with refugees from Burma living in Thailand. In this work, Rosbrook and Schweitzer (2010, p.169) explain that allowing refugees to connect with the landscapes they have lost can have a positive psychological impact. “Memories of cherished landscapes may become more than important links to a remembered, lost home. They may also constitute a psychological home—a private space of retreat where emotions can be expressed

The Mwangaza Mamas quilt pieces remind me so much of the artwork that was made by children I worked with some years ago, all of whom were also refugees in South Africa, mostly from Central and East Africa, who also lived in inner city Johannesburg. 90

and development can take place. [...]Positive memories of home can help to create a nurturing psychic space for refugees.”

choirs, children, and sisters. Perhaps what is most significant in this work is that the women who took part in this project chose to represent themselves in ways that demand us to see them as human beings who grew up just like many of us.

I am certain that the artwork done by the Mwangaza Mamas gave them a “nurturing psychic space”. As they cut and stitched and threaded beads they could take a rest from the harshness of their everyday lives, and perhaps slowly begin to thread small pieces of their shattered lives together. For the suitcase children that I worked with, the quiet industry of making art alone but within the safety of the group was important (Clacherty, 2015). As they added prints and drawings to their suitcase in layers ( just as the Mwangaza Mamas) they could reflect on how far they had come while also moving towards reworking their stories. According to Michael White (2005) this process allows one to move from the “thin” story of the victim to the multi-layered story of “survivor”.

References Clacherty, G. (2015). The Suitcase Project: Working with Unaccompanied Child Refugees in New Ways 13–30. In I. Palmary, B. Hamber, L. Nùñez (Eds.) Healing and Change in the City of Gold. Switzerland: Springer International Publishing. Rosbrook, B. & Schweitzer, R. (2010). The meaning of home for Karen and Chin refugees from Burma: An interpretative phenomenological approach. European Journal of Psychotherapy & Counselling, 12(2), 159-172. White, M. (2005). Children, trauma and subordinate storyline development. The International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work, 3 & 4.

Part of this process for the Mwangaza Mamas was to reclaim the identity of normality they had in the past. Their visual and narrative artefacts each recall a time when they were not “makwerekwere”, unwanted foreigners, refugees, victims of violence, but rather were hairdressers, business owners, member of 91


Researching migration, motherhood, and mothering: From personal experiences to the field Thulisile Zikhali Life in the City Research Fellow and PhD candidate, African Centre for Migration & Society, University of Witwatersrand

I am a migrant mother. I left my daughter in Zimbabwe under the care of my mother so that I could pursue further studies in Johannesburg.

inform both my research interests, and my experiences within the research process. I often find myself identifying with my participants’ experiences of living in the city. Although they appear to be in control of their circumstances, many also struggle with feelings of guilt for not “being there”. They especially blame themselves when their children are not doing well in school. Some also feel that they are not “good mothers”, especially when they struggle to send timely remittances back to their families. I also experience these same fears and challenges.

My decision to relocate, and to leave my child in our birth country, made me realise that mothering from a distance is not without its challenges. Maintaining regular contact with my daughter, and travelling across the border regularly to visit her also got me thinking important questions about being a mother in the context of migration. These experiences, questions, and impressions influenced my Master’s research, which was about Zimbabwean mothers who had moved to Johannesburg in search of work, and like myself, also left children “back home”.

There are times that I feel sad and powerless, particularly when I cannot offer the kind of resources and support my daughter needs. Although working in another country means that we can often support our children in ways that would otherwise not be possible, being a woman migrant, coupled with the responsibilities of being a mother, also means having to figure out ways to negotiate these relationships and categories.

Currently, I am pursuing a PhD that is building on this research, looking more closely at how the intersections of motherhood, migration, and wellbeing shape the lived experiences of transnational mothers in Johannesburg. My personal experiences of mobility, motherhood, and mothering have thus continued to

Talking about mothering inevitably brings to the fore the values that people hold in 92

conversations. While building relationships and earning the trust of respondents is important in all research projects, it is especially critical when someone is doing research on sensitive, and potentially emotive topics.

of the complexities that migrant mothers all over the world experience, celebrate, and endure. Giving the women a platform to reflect on their lived experiences where they could also make their own stories for public audiences supports better understandings of what can be done to support women’s needs.

As the Mwangaza Mama project also reveals, migrant women who are also mothers often struggle with intense feelings. During my own fieldwork, I acknowledge these types of tensions by sharing my own experiences of migration and motherhood with my participants. Sharing (hopefully) shows them that I can relate to some of their everyday experiences and dilemmas. Exchanging and listening to their stories also helps me reflect on my own personal circumstances and privilege. An aspect that I find interesting in both in my research, and the Mwangaza Mama project is that most of the women are single parents, which gives prominence to their mothering role. The Mwangaza Mamas stories are moving, and the quilts they produced are a testimony RESEARCHING MIGRATION, MOTHERHOOD, AND MOTHERING

Caring and listening: A reflection from the field Taiwo Afolabi Director, Onion Theatre Project, Victoria, B.C., Canada and Theatre Emissary International, Nigeria; Research Associate, University of Johannesburg, South Africa, and Lecturer, University of Victoria, Canada.

One of the primary benefits of using arts-based methods in research is the opportunity they offer to create safe and positive spaces. In my own work with displaced populations all over the world, affective-driven methods have helped me to make sense of complex lived experiences through embodied processes. I use theatre and performance art to engage critical thinking. Similar to the Mwangaza Mama participants, the people with whom I have (and continue) to work, reveal the importance of caring and listening. An arts-based approach to research has helped me to become a better reflexive practitioner and facilitator. This is because arts-based methods open hearts. They do this by igniting our capacity to envision new possibilities. They help us to embrace the beauty of others, and the beauty in ourselves, and the contradictions and ambiguities that make for a human experience.

Art-based research There are many dimensions to arts-based research, such as performance, writing, painting, photography, and installation art. These activities can be used in a variety of ways, but are aesthetic approaches to enlarge human understanding.

Arts-based methods demand that we be ethically conscious researchers, and that we foster meaningful relationships both inside and outside the workshop space. 94

In my work, I am constantly reminded that people are drivers of their own paths. Letting go of control in the creative process, then, allows for new visions of change to emerge, and for desired change to be envisioned collectively and genuinely. The process of arts-based research includes moments and experiences of laughter, tears, and bonding; the food we share together; the histories and memories we offer as gifts to one another; the moments of epiphany, and the critical reflections that are offered gracefully, regardless of spoken language. I am grateful to work with displaced populations living in Nigeria, Canada, Sudan, and Iran. Each community has not only been willing to collaborate, they have also been incredibly generous with their knowledge. This is also true of the Mwangaza Mama project: each page, each collage, each word, each story, each gesture poignantly reminds us that there is much more that connects us than divides us.



PROJECT MEMBERS “For many of us, especially those who don’t have so many opportunities to get involved in these kinds of projects, our time spent together was something very special; it was something that everyone looked forward to. The project gave many of the participants an opportunity to get out of their rooms and do something different with their minds and their hands.” Okenge Patience Two roles: project translator and participant

“Mwangaza Mama, like the quilts it showcases, is a rich tapestry of interwoven threads that elude simplistic readings, and escape closure.� Sara Kindon Foreword


Mwangaza Mama would also not have been possible without generous funding from the Migration and Health in Southern Africa (maHp) project, a Wellcome Trust funded project. Security at the Margins (SeaM), a three-year collaboration involving partnership with the University of Edinburgh and Wits University also provided funding. A postdoctoral fellowship from the Life in the City project, Wits school of Governance, was awarded to Rebecca Walker, one of two researchers who facilitated this project.

Many people gave of their time and energy to making the Mwangaza Mama project a success. Seven women from across the African continent worked alongside two researchers from Wits University on a fortnightly basis for more than two years to produce the content that is featured in this book. The participants worked inside and outside the workshop space to create their quilt pieces and write and revise their stories. Everyone’s hard work, commitment, and passion lie at the heart of this important collaboration.

Together funders, researchers, artists, and activists have helped bring the courageous and defiant voices of migrant women living in Johannesburg to the world.

The ACMS and the Sophiatown Community Psychological Services worked in partnership to facilitate, support, and oversee the project, which forms part of the MoVE project: a series of collaborative and participatory arts-based endeavours that are housed at the ACMS. 99


Project Partners MoVE

The MoVE (methods:visual:explore) project is housed at the African Centre for Migration & Society (ACMS) at Wits University. It focuses on the development of visual and other involved methodologies to research the diverse lived experiences of migrant communities across southern Africa.

increased focus on the areas of gender, sexuality, wellbeing, and the development of appropriate policy. Since 2006, researchers at the ACMS have explored the use of creative methodologies alongside other qualitative research approaches. These projects engage participants in the co-production of knowledge through the development of partnerships with diverse migrant communities.

Our approach aims to integrate social action with research and involves collaboration with migrant participants, existing social movements, qualified facilitators and trainers, and research students engaged in participatory research methods. This work includes the study and use of visual approaches, including photography, narrative writing, participatory theatre, collage and other arts-based techniques in the process of producing, analysing, and disseminating research. These inclusive approaches to research facilitate storytelling and self-study, and incorporate various auto ethnographic approaches. Central areas of investigation pertain directly to issues of social justice and migration, with

To date, MoVE projects have been conducted in partnership with migrants residing in informal settlements, with Somali migrants and refugees, with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBTQ+) asylum seekers, and with migrant women, men, and transgender persons involved in sex work. These and other MoVE projects have culminated in a range of research and advocacy outputs, including public exhibitions, engagement with officials, and the development of free downloadable e-books.




The African Centre for Migration & Society (ACMS), formerly known as the Forced Migration Studies Programme, is based at Wits University 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.

The Sophiatown Community Psychological Services (SCPS) is a non-govermental organisation that is located in inner city Johannesburg. It strives to provide culturally and socially appropriate forms of psycho-social support to economically disadvantaged individuals, families, and communities in distress; to build and strengthen networks of support for vulnerable individuals and families in communities; and to continously work with others towards social justice and constructive social change.



Project Funders maHp

Wellcome Trust

The Migration and Health Project Southern Africa (maHp) is housed at the African Centre for Migration & Society (ACMS) at Wits University and is supported by a Wellcome Trust Investigator Award. It involves a series of unique research and public engagement projects and explores ways to generate and communicate knowledge to improve responses to migration, health, and wellbeing in the Southern African Development Community (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. A Wellcome Trust Investigator Award held by Jo Vearey supports the Mwangaza Mama project.



Life in the City

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

Life in the City is an applied research project that is hosted by the Wits School of Governance. It provides PhD and postdoctoral bursaries to students undertaking innovative, multi/ transdisciplinary research on real world problems facing Johannesburg. Rebecca Walker, one of two Mwangaza Mama researchers, received a Life in the City grant for her work with migrant women living in inner city Johannesburg.



Mwangaza Mama is a creative storytelling project that was undertaken in collaboration with a small group of cross-border migrant women living in Johannesburg. Inspired by previous MoVE work, the main aim of the twoyear project was to learn more about migrant women’s everyday experiences of the city by including them in the production of knowledge about issues that affect them. The textile collages and narrative stories produced by the women for public audiences weave through various aspects of their lives, taking the reader on a visceral journey of intense hurt and healing to self-recognition and self-power. Alongside these thought provoking works are re ections by the project facilitators and their colleagues who work in similar areas. Each contribution adds richness to the tapestry of this important book. Not only does it offer readers an opportunity to re ect upon the complex lives of women migrants, a population group that is often hidden from view, it also encourages us to re ect on the ways that stories are told and how different ways of telling can create new forms of awareness and activism.

MoVE is a project housed at the African Centre for Migration & Society (ACMS) at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa.