Immigrant children use art to show how prejudice hurts

“I have never been to the DRC. I speak Sesotho fluently and a bit of Afrikaans but I am treated very differently by my peers.”

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Learners from schools across Cape Town participated in a week-long art therapy workshop at Bertha House. The event aimed to help children born to immigrant parents deal with identity and livelihood challenges. Photos: Tariro Washinyira

Human rights organisation Africa Unite hosted an art exhibition featuring paintings and photographs by 15 young people from Malawi, Congo Brazzaville, Zimbabwe, Rwanda and Democratic Republic Congo (DRC) to express what being a young migrant means to them.

The event at Bertha House in Mowbray aimed to create greater understanding and empathy for learners who migrated to South Africa in search of a better life.

In July, the organisation also hosted an anti-xenophobia summit where immigrant learners could share their experiences of prejudice and being victimised by their peers.

GroundUp spoke to four learners who shared their stories through paintings and art at the workshop.

Esther Nkulu is 18. She is in matric at Gardens Commercial High School. She moved from the DRC to South Africa in 2009. She remembers vividly sitting on her mother’s lap during the journey to South Africa. When they arrived in Cape Town, they lived in Philippi. She says her mother was retrenched during the Covid pandemic and they now survive on piece jobs.

She has asylum documents which she renews every six months. She is worried that only having these documents limits her prospects of getting a bursary for university.

“I was struggling to find my identity but the art therapy helped me. When you are called a ‘makwerekwere’ you don’t know how to react. Being among a group of 15 migrants who shared similar stories and who went through the same pain has brought me comfort,” she said.

Nkulu’s dream is to one day set up her own non-profit organisation to assist refugee children.

Her mother Kisinda Kaseya told GroundUp, “I saw all the exhibitions and I am very happy. I can see the benefits of art therapy in her. She is a new person.”

Joyce Banda, 20, is in grade 11 at Salt River High. Her parents have been refugees since 2005 after relocating from Malawi. “It is painful to be told you are not South African and are not eligible for this and that,” she says.

Banda said painting allowed her to express feelings she had kept to herself for a long time. “I accepted myself and learnt not to take things personally and to respect others. My aim is to become a fully independent woman and work as a television personality.”

Akiba Kassy, 17, is a grade 11 learner at Gardens Commercial High School. She was born in the Free State to Congolese parents and moved to the Western Cape in 2017. She is the second born in the family of five. Her mother runs a salon in Cape Town and her father has a liquor store in the Free State.

She said painting helped her express questions she’s had about her own identity. “I have never been to the DRC. I speak Sesotho fluently and a bit of Afrikaans but I am treated very differently by my peers. The challenges my parents faced with getting documents as asylum seekers or the lack of job opportunities sent me into depression … I am more happy with myself now.”

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TOPICS:  Human Rights Immigration

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