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Caroline Kihato’s Migrant Women of Johannesburg Launched with Christa Kuljian at WiSER

Migrant Women of JohannesburgWednesday 26 March saw the launch of Caroline Wanjiku Kihato’s Migrant Women of Johannesburg: Life in an in-between city. In front of a packed seminar room at WiSER (the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research), Kihato spent an intriguing hour in conversation with WiSER Writing Fellow and author Christa Kuljian. WiSER’s Catherine Burns chaired the session.

Kihato, who is from Kenya and who worked as a street trader on her arrival in South Africa, conducted most of her research between 2004 and 2008. In her book, she looks at the experiences of migrant women in the inner city – women who came from Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Congo Brazzaville, Nigeria, Rwanda, Burundi, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe to make a life in Johannesburg.

The discussion between Kihato and Kuljian, whose book Sanctuary: How an Inner-City Church Spilled onto a Sidewalk was published last year, centred on Kihato’s research methods, which had a strong ethnographic component, as well as the image of Johannesburg as a city in the liminal space.

She spent time just “hanging out” with a group of migrant women, Kihato explained, and also gave them disposable cameras to document their lives. The result is a book shaped by personal narratives and visual material. The use of photographs presents the reader with the domestic spaces – women’s homes – that are rarely seen.

Kihato’s research includes findings on the dynamic between hawkers and police – as she calls it, an “elaborate performance” – experiences of xenophobia and the brutal realities of domestic violence.

A slideshow was also presented at the event and included photographs of a woman doing her young daughter’s hair before school, a bathtub spattered with blood, and a notice to appear in court, given to Kihato by a street trader who had summarily ignored a fine from the metro police.

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