Narratives in a Time of Crisis (2022)

Narratives in a Time of Crisis is a MoVE (method.visual.explore) project that uses citizen journalism as a participatory (arts-based) research strategy to prioritize the perspectives, needs and concerns of international and domestic migrants involved in sex work in South Africa. Also known as guerilla journalism, democratic journalism and street journalism — citizen journalism is premised on the idea that ordinary people, not professional journalists, can be creators and distributors of news and information. Building on a long-standing partnership between Sisonke and the African Centre for Migration and Society (ACMS), Narratives in a Time of Crisis invited a small group of individuals to share their stories of love, hope and hardship following one of the world’s harshest Covid-19 lockdowns. The stories shared on the project website are rarely featured in mainstream media. They are stories from the margins that give insight into the ways people live, cope, work and survive.


A citizen journalism project

Duration: August to December 2022
Location: Johannesburg, South Africa
Facilitator: Greta Schuler (ACMS)
Coordinator: Yonela Sinqu (Sisonke)
Project manager: Elsa Oliveira (ACMS)

At the heart of this community-based project is a desire to interrupt the echo chamber of stories told by a handful of reporters about incredibly diverse people and places.

Similar to other contexts, Covid-19 has magnified the inhumane treatment of migrants in South Africa, particularly against foreign-nationals and those working in the informal economy sector, such as sex work. Before the pandemic, some migrant groups were blamed for the country’s struggling public healthcare system and high prevalence of communicable diseases. Tragically, this anti-poor and xenophobic rhetoric persists. Prejudiced policies and practices severely impact the wellbeing of migrants, but to what extent and in what ways? Read the citizen journalists’ stories to learn more.

Our stories

Stories are essential to human cognition. They are personal, experiential, universal, cultural, and timeless. They give us access to a universe of experiences and allow us to see the world from other people’s perspectives. Stories also carry the culture and values of our society. They inform the political, economic and social narratives in which we believe and upon which we act. Take some time to engage with the citizen journalists’ stories and learn what sex workers in South Africa have to say about their lives, experiences and occupations.


The authors

These citizen journalists live in the Johannesburg area but come from other places. Two are South Africans, originally from the Eastern Cape Province. One is from Zimbabwe. They share some experiences, all identifying as women and migrant sex workers. They are members of the Sisonke National Sex Workers Movement in South Africa. They also lead diverse lives outside of their shared experiences and live in different areas of the city—from Hillbrow, close to the city center, to Alexandra, a township in the suburbs. They each offer their unique perspective of life as a migrant sex worker in Johannesburg today.

The authors of this citizen journalism project use pseudonyms to protect their identity and that of their family and friends. Please use our project email if you like to get in touch with the authors:

Our funders

Funding for Narratives in a Time of Crisis came from Open Society University Network (OSUN), the National Research Foundation (NRF) and Migration and Health Project Southern Africa (maHp).

About Elsa Oliveira

Elsa Oliveira is a postdoctoral researcher at the African Centre for Migration and Society (ACMS), Wits University, where she is also the co-coordinator of the MoVE (methods:visual:explore) project.

Since 2010, Elsa has been involved in a wide range of participatory arts-based projects with diverse migrant populations in rural and urban areas of South Africa. She has a PhD in Migration and Displacement and is interested in the areas of gender, migration, sexualities, wellbeing, and informal livelihood strategies.