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Presentation of paper at International Conference

5 Aug 2015 - 09:45

The UCT Refugee Rights Unit is proud to announce that Ncumisa Wille has been selected to present a paper at the University of Georgia's African Studies Institute 3rd Annual International Conference on Africa and its Diaspora, which will take place in Atlanta, USA from 5 - 7 November 2014.

Ncumisa is a candidate attorney within the Unit. During her LLB at UCT she achieved top marks in the Refugee Law elective. Her passion for the subject has continued. Ncumisa is currently working on an MA in Global studies through three universities, UCT, the Albert Ludwig University of Freiburg in Germany and Jawaharlal Nehru University in India.

With the theme for the International Conference being "Gender and Development: Relics and Innovations in the African Realm", Ncumisa's paper entitled "Conflicting African Masculinities and the Objectification of Women in a Xenophobic South Africa" will no doubt be well received.

Abstract

Goffman tells us that the concept of stigma originated from the Greeks, it was used to refer to "bodily signs designed to expose something unusual and bad about the moral status of the signifier. The signs were cut or burnt into the body and advertised that the bearer was a slave, a criminal, or a traitor - a blemished person, ritually polluted, to be avoided, especially in public places"(1963:2). He contends that in our contemporary society the concept of stigma is generally used to refer to the disgrace itself than the bodily manifestations of it (1963:2). Employing Goffman's idea of stigma, this paper will argue that the xenophobic attitudes held by many South Africans towards African foreigners have resulted in the stigmatization of South African women who marry African migrants. Such women are labelled deviants, blemished, polluted and spoiled by the African migrant. Categorized as a deviant results in the loss of 'social value' by women so defined and an effective reduction in de facto and de jure citizenship rights - on the popular place and in the eyes of the state. I argue that in this xenophobic discourse African migrants are viewed as surplus bodies, undesirable persons and sub-humans. Aligning oneself with them results in the loss of status and what Goffman calls "a spoiled identity". Over and above the stigmatization of the female body is the commodification of her body. In this discourse the woman's body is seen as a South African resource that should be "used and enjoyed" by a South African man. Women who challenge this notion by marrying outside are labelled deviants. Through a set of interviews with South African women married to foreign men, the paper presents first hand, the predicaments of the stigmatized and discriminated deviant woman. Her social status declines with being discredited. Within this power contestation, the paper depicts how the women are active agents who openly challenge this social norm through collective agency and everyday forms of resistance, and negotiate the 'male-fight' not by negating patriarchy but by skilfully manipulating it. Although dominated and stigmatized they still find agency to choose their own paths.