“Umzi ka mama Rhodes University PhD research project,” February 19, 2021, produced by Phemelo Hellemann and Thingo Mthombeni, video, 27:55,
The omission of Fingo Village women’s names from official deeds records silenced their voices. African women faced gender and racial discrimination that denied them fundamental human rights and limited their participation in urban life. Title deed records constitute one type of public record where African women’s names were omitted for centuries by the colonial and apartheid governments. Under apartheid, African women occupied the social status of minors; as such, the government denied them urban land rights. This African feminist study enlists narratives of a sample of seven African female heads of households residing in Fingo Village who are also property owners. Fingo Village is an atypical environment where African people had a rare legal advantage of owning title deeds dating back to 1855.
This study employed an interdisciplinary approach by mixing oral history methodology and applied theatre methods to record, interpret and present Fingo Village women’s narratives of family property inheritance and the significance of title deed documentation in the suburb. This multiple technique approach created opportunities for authentic dialogue between the researcher and the participants beyond the inherent limitations of public history oral interviews.
The findings showed that the GAA era saw many families revert to communal tenure practices as a strategy to evade forced sales; as such, this gave rise to undocumented family property transfers. Additionally, the findings revealed that though customary practices are often patriarchal, there are circumstances favouring women as the preferred family property custodian. These are embedded in the social status of women who are traditional healers, firstborn daughters, and those from families with just daughters. This study contributes to the growing literature that advocates for positive representation of African women’s stories by using active research methodologies that strengthen partnerships and shared authority between the researcher and the public. This methodology could inspire other researchers to explore theatre techniques to create more profound and meaningful engagements with their participants.