A research project that focuses on African migrant women undertaken by the Urban Futures Centre (UFC) at the Durban University of Technology (DUT) has been applauded for the way in which it is tackling issues of inclusivity, gender and xenophobia head-on.
The project is spearheaded by the Urban Futures Centre in partnership with the Democracy Development Program (DDP), Refugee Social Services (RSS) and the African Solidarity Network (ASONET), and it is geared towards bringing to the fore the challenges and hardships that women coming to Durban for the first time experience in the city centre. The project profiles the experiences of 30 women who flee their home countries hoping for a better life in the coastal town of Durban. The project methodology draws on an oral history technique, which involved holding intimate, in-depth conversations with women from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe, and Somalia (among others), and it also includes testimonies from women who have migrated to the City from the heart of Zululand and the South Coast of KwaZulu-Natal. These conversations were subsequently turned into a theatre performance entitled: “The Last Country”. The play is directed by award-winning director Neil Coppen and acclaimed local actress, Mpume Mthombeni. The play also features powerful performances by actresses Philisiwe Twijnstra, Nompilo Maphumulo and Zinhle Bobi.
“The project explores women migration particularly focusing on women’s experiences of arriving in the city. By migrating, we don’t mean just refugees coming from the DRC or some other African countries. We also refer to ordinary women coming from Zululand and other parts of KwaZulu-Natal. The project looks at what the problems are, and the challenges these women face in the City. How we can make Durban a safer city and more welcoming for them is important,” explained Coppen.
Coppen shared more insight into the objective behind the play, noting that the project team is looking at ways to engage government officials from relevant departments, as well as a wider public audience, so that more people can listen to the women’s stories. Coppen reiterated the importance of visiting government offices throughout the county to showcase the play in an effort to influence policy regarding migration, inclusivity and how immigrants are treated.
“The Urban Futures Centre has worked with a group of women training them up to go and interview other women. From these stories, we turned it into a play. Everything in the play is real, it’s true stories. Through this play, we hope that people will develop empathy, change perceptions and be more welcoming. We employ theatre as a powerful story telling instrument to ignite empathy and we know how impactful such a medium is in articulating the struggles faced by many, while at the same time, stimulating and encouraging proactive responses and solutions from participating audiences and stakeholders,” added Coppen.
The Last Country was showcased both at DUT’s Courtyard Theatre and at the Denis Hurley Centre and it received overwhelming support from members of the public and students. Additional performances are being planned for February 2018.
Pictured: Neil Coppen who directs the theatre performance – “The Last Country”. The production explores the experiences of women who have migrated to Durban from neighbouring African countries, as well as local migrant women who have travelled from Zululand and the south coast of KZN. The project is spearheaded by the DUT’s Urban Futures Centre.