we will be exploring innovative research methods and the opportunities and challenges they bring. The key questions we reflect on are what ethical and practical challenges do particular methods raise? What do they tell us about power relations in research?



Poking the wound – research, stories and process – thinking through the complexities

By Rebecca Walker (Postdoctoral Researcher, African Centre for Migration & Society, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa).

Since February 2017 myself and a colleague have been working with a small group of migrant women who live in inner-city Johannesburg. Referred to us via a local psychosocial NGO, the women all agreed to be participants in our arts-based research project exploring the experiences of women who are migrants and mothers in Johannesburg. All of the participants are asylum seekers from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Burundi. They all arrived in South Africa over the past ten years having had to flee war and poverty in their home countries and crossing many borders in the hope of finally finding safety and more secure lives in South Africa. All of the women are mothers to young children. They are also all parenting alone – their husbands have either been killed, gone into hiding or are simply absent.

Update from the field: Maternal healthcare experiences of Zimbabwean and South African women in Jo’burg

Tackson Makandwa, a Life in the City Doctoral Fellow, African Centre for Migration & Society, University of the Witwatersrand, gives an update from his fieldwork exploring the maternal healthcare experiences of migrant women in Johannesburg.

This blog gives an update on my PhD fieldwork and it is also part of a series of blog posts on the A to Z experiences during my fieldwork journey. This journey began with the process of seeking access to the research sites. However, in this post, I will simply give an introduction to what I am working on and an overall update of what I have achieved so far. My PhD research focuses on the maternal healthcare experiences and help-seeking behaviors of migrant women in urban spaces. This includes both internal and cross-border migrants relying on the public healthcare system and without medical aid (on the healthcare margins) in Johannesburg, South Africa. The research is qualitative in nature. Healthcare facilities were my entry point for accessing participants. I collected primary data from public healthcare facilities (clinics and hospital) in inner-city Johannesburg, South Africa, under the Mother, Child and Women’s Health Services section. I targeted both clinics and hospitals in region F, which is one of the 7 health regions in the City of Johannesburg. I got access to women attending their antenatal care (ANC) appointments, immunization schedules for their babies or postnatal care. I conducted interviews, observations and solicited for diaries over a period of 18 months from May 2016 to October 2017.

My participants were cross-border Zimbabwean migrants and South African women who have moved from South Africa’s other nine provinces into Gauteng province, particularly inner-city Johannesburg and key informants such as healthcare providers and department of health officials. The inclusion criteria for the women was that they had to be 18 years and above, self-identify as Zimbabwean or South African, be pregnant and attending ANC in public healthcare facilities or have delivered in the past 2 years having attended ANC in inner-city Johannesburg public healthcare facilities. I managed to conduct 70 interviews and 4 diaries – detailed in the table below, which includes repeated interviews with migrant mothers. The repeated interviews were done with pregnant mothers whom I followed until they gave birth. I conducted one detailed interview during pregnancy and one post-delivery, combined with informal discussions during their monthly ANC appointment dates.

I interviewed migrant women and key informants in inner-city Johannesburg Region F facilities, covering suburbs of Hillbrow, Yeoville, Beria, Jeppestown, Rosettenville, and Turfontein. These neighborhoods have a higher concentration of a heterogeneous migrant population who are ethnically and socioeconomically diverse. Since the study focuses on the maternal health care experiences and help-seeking behaviors of a particular population category, that is, internal and cross-border migrants, relying on the public healthcare system and without medical aid, it was fitting for this study to be conducted in a migrant dense area as this made it easier to identify participants.

The inner city was also convenient for several other reasons. First, this research builds on my Master’s thesis that I conducted in inner-city Johannesburg in 2013. Secondly I worked as a researcher in a project, which focused on the impact of migration on the South African public healthcare system, and the fieldwork was done in public healthcare facilities in Gauteng, including facilities in inner-city Johannesburg and the Limpopo province. Thirdly I am an active member of the Johannesburg Migrant Health Forum, which works to ensure that migrants’ rights to access health are realised. Hence it was relatively easier to obtain useful contacts to my study and to be accepted as a researcher around the facilities and migrant community. More so, being a migrant in the city and in South Africa, the inner-city that is home to a huge cohort of African migrants from within and beyond its borders made me feel at home within a broader context marred by imminent dangers of xenophobic violence and criminal activities.

Throughout this journey, I have managed to present part of the findings in two academic spaces. I presented in one of the works in progress presentations conducted at the Humanities PhD Resident Fellows Seminar Series and at the International Urban conference held in Cape Town in February 2018 (1 -3 February 2018). I also have some work in progress – a special issue paper under review (Special issue on Global Health Action), which is part of one of my PhD chapters. I am also looking forward to making a poster presentation at Africa in the World: Shifting Boundaries of Knowledge Production Conference this month (May 25 -29) in Johannesburg, South Africa. I will be constantly posting updates on the A to Z of my PhD fieldwork and writing process (I will call it writing “Johannesburg from within”).


Tackson table
Interviews conducted and diaries completed

This research is funded through MaHp, SeaM and a “Life in the City’ doctoral fellowship with the Wits School of Governance and hosted by The ACMS.

Narrative inquiry as a decolonising methodology

As part of the #MethodsMatter Blog Series, this week, we spoke with Prof Hamdan, based at the University of Dammam, who has written on Narrative Inquiry as a decolonising methodology. Her use of narrative inquiry stemmed from her PhD, which explored how Arab Muslim women in Canada reflected on their lives and their gender roles.

Prof Hamdan had realised the potential power of narratives when she had started reading bell hooks’ book Teaching to Transgress. ‘It had a high impact on me as an educator, a Muslim minority, as a teacher, and as a pedagogue’, she explained.

“Let me tell my own story”: Poetry as a Decolonising Methodology

As part of the #MethodsMatter Blog Series, we caught up with Dr Duduzile Ndlovu, based at the African Centre for Migration & Society (Wits University), who has written her PhD titled “Let Me Tell My Own Story”: A Qualitative Exploration of How and Why ‘Victims’ Remember Gukurahundi in Johannesburg Today, using poetry.

Storytelling as methodology

Joanna Wheeler shares with us why storytelling is both powerful and complex as a research approach. Joanna is currently Marie Skłodowska Curie fellow at the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations at the University of Coventry. Her podcast was recorded by the ESRC National Centre for Research Methods.

Development meets demolition

‘This was my dining room’, said Happy, as she stood on platform of broken tiles; all that remained after her house had been demolished in March this year. VusiMuzi informal settlement – where Happy had lived for 23 years – had been the site of an attempted re-blocking exercise by the City of Ekurhuleni.

Reblocking changes the structure a settlement by moving the size, shape or location of peoples’ homes, in order to create space for roads and services. Shack Dwellers International have argued that the process can both improve people’s living conditions and increase community cohesion. In Vusimuzi, however, the community has been left divided.

A 23-year-old resident, who wished to remain nameless, recalled the first time that he heard about reblocking: ‘The councillor came here and he just promised the good things: He promised to connect electricity, he promised flushing toilets, he promised nice streets.’

Residents in Vusimuzi were initially enthusiastic: some had been living in the area for over two decades, when they had bought their sites from a local Induna, explained Rebecca Malahlela, a committee member of Abahlali baseMjondolo Tembisa. Since arriving in the area, they had not seen any service delivery. When Rebecca’s daughters completed their Matric homework, their lamps were fueled by informal electricity connections. ‘I want my kids to have a bright future’ Rebecca explained, ‘but the government has failed us’. Whilst residents watched hyper-modern buildings and infrastructure spring up around the city they were, in Happy’s words, ‘left using candles and fire’.

Early support for reblocking fractured, however, as the project progressed. The City insists that they held meetings before any demolitions, and that community members were both informed and willing to move. The residents I spoke to, however, claim that representatives from the city refused to listen to their ideas for the redesign and moved ahead without due consultation. As the young man I talked with explained, ‘they should have listened to the community… the community leaders were saying we know this place for a long time and we don’t want to be moved like this’. The original layout of the settlement and ideas for its future reconfiguration, he alleged, were overridden by the city’s own plans for redevelopment. The demolitions, he claimed, began without warning.

It was late March when ‘contractors’ arrived to demolish Happy’s house. ‘They did not have a name. They just came: the people with the overalls’. Happy claims that she had no time to save her possessions or her materials: her five-room house was destroyed, along with her furniture. ‘What could I do?’, she asked, ‘I am an old woman. I was just standing and looking. If you are alone and the people, they are a crowd, you have no power to say ‘no’’. For the next week, during torrential rain, Happy lived in a tent provided by her local church.

‘I still feel the pain’, Happy explained. ‘I had a nice garden here. I had a beautiful home and I was proud of my home and now I am living like this’. As she spoke, she gestured to the two rooms that she had patched together from the zinc that was donated by her employer and the boards she purchased herself.

Community resistance in Vusimuzi ultimately brought reblocking to a standstill. The street that Happy’s house was demolished to create lies incomplete. But she has not be allowed to rebuild. Now, her neighbour parks his car where her yard used to be. The toilet that she dug for herself lies on the other side of partially formed street. Her neighbours use it without her permission: she struggles to keep it secure and clean.

Meanwhile, in the midst of the disruption, others had built in the gaps between existing housing. Reblocking is supposed to create new spaces of order. But Happy argues that her settlement was ordered before. Now, with the plots disrupted and new densification occurring, life is less dignified and less safe. Today, the noises of everyday life and the flames of accidental fires are free to jump between people’s homes. Happy, however, feels that she has lost the freedom she worked so hard to build: ‘I am 59 years old. I am tired. I don’t know who can help me to fix the pain I can feel. It is only God now’.