Woman is the thread: maHp intern covers the Mwangaza Mama book launch

[Featured image: Title quilt of the project by the women, with the logo drawn by Rachel Walker.]

As an intern with less than one month with the African Centre for Migration & Society (ACMS), I feel that I only touched the surface of the amazing work being done at the Centre. However, I was afforded the opportunity to witness the launch of the Mwangaza Mama book. Because of the intimacy of the event, I felt extremely lucky to be there. Seeing the quilts in person and the extraordinary women who made them had a very powerful impact on me. After reading the book, it was very moving to see their work in the place where it was created and interact with these women with such powerful stories.

Caption: Cover of the Mwanagaza Mama project book.

The launch was held on 29th May at the Sophiatown Community Psychological Services (SCPS), the same place where the Mwangaza Mama project took place for nearly two years. The first thing I noticed when I walked into the space was a feeling of comfort. Despite being an outsider, there was a safe and familiar energy that I sensed among those there. The respect, trust, and love between the women and the researchers were palpable. They all expressed their excitement to be together and I could clearly see time and investment that had been put into the project by everyone.

Several of the women spoke about the pride that they felt in seeing the book in print and all of them spoke about how it made them feel visible —

“When I got in, I was like nobody.” “This book has shown us that we are somebody, that we can make something.”

The women shared how excited they were to show the book to their children, their family, their friends. Somebody even joked that they would like to take a copy of the book to the South African Home Affairs Office.

The Mwangaza Mama participants also mentioned the strength in womanhood and solidarity. This really struck me because in many ways it is these aspects that has characterized my own experience(s) in South Africa — my program was composed of 13 women; numerous times my interactions and exposure on this trip have shown me the transformative, revolutionary impact that women can have in the world. “I had things in me that I could not get out to anyone,” explained Prisca, describing her emotions before being a part of the project, “a big mountain — I started cutting it down bit by bit, piece by piece during the project.” “I am not alone,” said Helena, speaking to the importance of solidarity in the group.

‘Women is the Heart of Africa’, personal quilt by project participant.

Speaking to one of the co-facilitators of this creative arts-based research project, maHp/ACMS postdoctoral fellow Becky Walker a few days after the book launch, I learned that the workshop process was not always calm or easy; there were often crises that had to be resolved when the group met. However, on this Wednesday afternoon, everyone focused their energy on celebrating, both the book launch and their time together. It was a bittersweet moment to witness this: the project was coming to an end, but everyone expressed joy and gratitude for what the group has meant in their lives, how they have grown, and what they created because of it.


[The photos on this blogpost were taken by the author at the launch event.]

The Author

Elena Olivieri intern

Elena Olivieri is an undergraduate student at Pitzer College in California, majoring in International Political Economy (IPE) and Middle Eastern/North African Studies, with a focus on migration. She has interned at the ACMS for a month as an independent project during my study abroad program in Southern Africa. Together with Elsa Oliveira, she has created a series of blog posts to showcase the work that the ACMS, and in particular the MoVE (method.visual.explore) project at the ACMS has done and is currently doing. One of the things that drew her to the Center is its commitment to Participatory Research methods as a way to bridge the divide between academia and lived experiences, which is what she is to highlight and explore through her internship and this blog.