Accepted paper:

Storytelling as political strategy: complicating narratives on migration and gender in Durban, South Africa


Kira Erwin (Durban University of Technology)

Paper short abstract:

In South Africa negative stories about migrants and refugees exist in popular and political discourse. This paper explores how a piece of theatre, developed from the oral histories of women migrants, used storytelling as a political strategy for counter-hegemonic narratives on migration in the city.

Paper long abstract:

In South Africa negative stories about African migrants and refugees are common. Exclusionary narratives in the media, popular and political rhetoric portray people perceived as 'foreign' as doing crime, and taking jobs. That these stories contradict each other, and are refuted by research, has done little to lessen migrants' experiences of discrimination. The popularist story about migrants and refugees is that they should "go home". But storytelling can also be a powerful political strategy to counter hegemonic narratives that serve unequal relations in the contemporary social order. This paper discusses how a piece of documentary theatre in the city of Durban, titled The Last Country, performed alternative migration stories for a broader public around the city. The theatre script was developed from 30 oral histories of migrant women, these included women from other African countries who arrived in Durban on different visas and refugee status, as well as South African women who are internal migrants to the city from rural areas. Purposefully blurring the essentialising lines of equating migrants with the idea of foreignness. The Last Country tells the everyday stories of women arriving and living in the city, and attempting to make it a place something like home. The play was performed for a broad, as well as a targeted audience, and was followed by an audience discussion. This paper explores how interdisciplinary collaborations use storytelling as an empathetic and a political strategy to create counter-hegemonic stories on what it means to live together in this South African city.

panel His02
Storytelling and social order in Africa