“Umzi ka mama Rhodes University PhD research project,” February 23, 2021, produced by Phemelo Hellemann and Thingo Mthombeni, methodology video, 16:51.
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.
The first phase of the research involved engaging with the literature about the title deeds history of Fingo Village and conducting oral history interviews that served as data. In the second phase, the interviews were analysed and packaged in a documentary format. The third phase was a playback theatre inspired session in a 10-minute performance based on themes from the participants’ filmed interviews.
Additionally, the performance was a catalyst for forum theatre activities that allowed the participants to interact with the performer and suggest solutions to the dilemma posed by the performer regarding family property use. The participants were decision-makers and family property relations experts within this imagined context. In the fourth phase, the image theatre adaptation and memory work activities were essential tools. The tools aided the visuals and information from an existing Fingo Village exhibition as additional resources that prompted dialogue and discussions. The exhibition encouraged participants to share their personal experiences and memories of the Group Areas Act (GAA) era.
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.