Son of the Soil… Daughters of the Land

Dill, L., Vearey, J., Oliveira, E. and Martinez Castillo, G. (2016) “Son of the Soil…Daughters of the Land”: poetry writing as a strategy of citizen-making for lesbian, gay, and bisexual migrants and asylum seekers in Johannesburg AGENDA 30(1) 85-95 [OPEN ACCESS]

South Africa’s Constitution, Bill of Rights, and Freedom Charter are globally ground-breaking for providing provisions of non-discrimination, and, of particular note, on the basis of sexual orientation. Since the introduction of these protective frameworks, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and queer (LGBTIQ) communities, allies, and advocates in the country have won major legal battles on these issues; however, in spite of these successes, LGBTIQ communities continue to face hostility and violence. As a result, South African LGBTIQ individuals often travel to urban centres, such as Johannesburg, in the hope that these spaces will be more tolerant of their sexual orientation and gender identity; the reality, however, suggests otherwise. Moreover, despite South Africa’s designation as a safe haven for LGBTIQ communities, migrants from other African countries — where same-sex relationships are criminalised — are overwhelmingly met with xenophobic verbal, emotional, physical, and political violence.

This article describes the authors’ engagement with nine lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) migrants and asylum seekers from Zimbabwe, Malawi, and elsewhere in South Africa during a weeklong poetry workshop exploring their lived experiences in Johannesburg. This workshop followed a body mapping and narrative writing workshop held previously with the same participants. This article investigates the themes identified from the body mapping process that guided the poems produced: migration, violence, citizenship, and freedom. The poetry created during the workshop illuminates how lesbian, gay, and bisexual migrants in Johannesburg work on a daily basis to build social trust as they demand to be seen and recognised, to enact their rights, to make and remake homes, to show up in public as Black people, as LGB individuals, and as human beings. We explore these strategies of citizen-making as informed by the LGB poets with whom we had the opportunity to work.

About Jo Vearey

Jo Vearey is a Professor and the Director of the African Centre for Migration & Society, University of the Witwatersrand. She holds an Honorary Fellowship with the School of Social and Political Science at the University of Edinburgh, and a Senior Fellowship at the Centre for Peace, Development and Democracy at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. In 2015, Jo was awarded a Humanities and Social Science Wellcome Trust Investigator Award. Jo holds a MSc in the Control of Infectious Diseases (LSHTM, 2003), a PhD in Public Health (Wits, 2010), and has been rated by the National Research Foundation as a Young Researcher. In 2014 and 2015, Jo received a Friedel Sellschop Award from the University of the Witwatersrand for outstanding young researchers. She was a Marie Curie Research Fellow in 2013, at the UNESCO Chair on Social and Spatial Inclusion of Migrants, University of Venice (SSIM-IUAV), Venice, Italy.

With a commitment to social justice and the development of pro-poor policy responses, Jo’s research explores international, regional, national and local responses to migration, health, and urban vulnerabilities. Her research interests focus on urban health, public health, migration and health, the social determinants of health, HIV, informal settlements and sex work. Jo is particularly interested in knowledge production, dissemination and utilisation including the use of visual and arts-based methodologies.

Jo has a range of international collaborations, including an ESRC-NRF funded project with the University of Edinburgh, a WOTRO funded project with the VU University, Amsterdam on migration and sex work, and partnerships with the University of Massachusetts Boston and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine‘s Faculty of Public Health and Policy and Gender, Violence and Health Unit.

CV | Publications