A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
Guest Blogger: Christen Faver, MA in African Studies
For my research I was very fortunate to be invited to join the Living Artists Emporium (hereafter referred to as LAE) in Johannesburg, South Africa. My BA degree was in Arts and Culture, and I decided that I wanted to continue down this path by focusing my research on the artist community. This decision led me to the acquaintance of Eric Botha, the business head and entrepreneur of LAE. I cannot den y that I was very fortunate to be allowed to travel for my internship during the COVID19 pandemic. This was largely attributed to my dual-citizenship, being both from South Africa and the Netherlands. I used the blessing of my passports to attend the call of my hometown.
I know The Leidener would like to use my experiences in order to encourage and inspire readers, and I feel as though I cannot pass on the opportunity to share about the last two months as I encountered the most heart-wrenching and eye-opening time. In part, this has to do with the subject-matter of my research. From a young age I became part of the South African diaspora, as my parents sought greener pastures in the United Arab Emirates. This then led me to question the experiences of foreign nationals on the opposite end, those residing in South Africa. Therefore, my research aims to understand the social, legal and economic barriers to entry that foreign nationals face when entering the cultural industries in South Africa.
What I did not expect is the depth of experience that I would be facing during my research internship. The vast difference between swimming in the Caledon River with Lesotho-nationals to talking to artist Danisle Njoli about spending all his savings on a guide who could take him to the shallowest parts of the Limpopo River in the hope of avoiding crocodiles, made my understanding ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ national borders tangible. Another barrier that was recurring during my interviews was that of crime. This is largely due to the fact that undocumented foreign-nationals cannot open a bank account. At LAE artists can request to be paid via an ATM. This then poses security challenges as some are mugged after withdrawing the money and others do not have secure spaces to keep their money in their homes. This was something that I was able to relate to as my accommodation, and family home, was broken into and robbed during February. It is for this reason, that I am having to do my last month of my internship remotely online. I would not like to make this a tale of woes, but I would like to communicate how disheartening it can be when encountering these types of situations. My admiration for those who have been beaten down and set-back but decide to continue. It hurts. It hurts when artist Splash Motong showed me his stab wounds – having his phone and salary stolen. It hurts to hear of Dani(sle) feeling dehumanized as immigration officers threw stones at him when he was forcibly removed and taken back to Zimbabwe. I do not think any formal research training can prepare you for the real-life stories and encounters that take place.
That being said, rest assured as I have been informed that I am the only researcher to have ever encountered these issues. I would not like to discourage you from choosing South Africa – only to prepare you. Along the way I found friendship, a mentor, a reminder of family and a sense of belonging in the struggle of being an outsider in your own city.