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Gender and Sexuality in Africa: Personal Narratives

Interviews available through Aluka

Aluka's Struggles for Freedom: Southern Africa*

Life Narratives of Crossroads Women Benson Interviews (South Africa)

This collection contains oral narratives that document the life history of South African squatter women involved in movements for urban survival (in particular, housing) over the last 40 years by linking and comparing two moments of collective organizing by African women in the shack and township settlements of Crossroads in Cape Town. The role, power, and subsequent demise of African women's leadership in Cape Town s informal settlements is a central theme in these interviews.

By Matt-80 (Own work) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

By Matt-80 (Own work) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons


Displaced Women in Harare, 1974-1980

During the liberation war, particularly between 1974 and 1980, thousands of rural people, mostly women and children, fled from the war-torn countryside of Zimbabwe to the sanctuary of Harare (the capital city) where they lived in zvikweshe shelters (plastic shacks) in an open space at the Mbare Musika long-distance bus termini. Throughout that war, women found themselves squeezed between a repressive colonial government and coercive nationalist guerrilla armies. War-induced violence led to massive displacement throughout the country as rural people fled to the safety of urban centres where they lived as squatters.

By Matwin2015 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons


*You will need to login with your Emory ID and password since Aluka is accessible via a subscription purchased by Emory University Libraries. 

Analyzing interviews

  1. All participants in the interview have overt and hidden agendas.
  2. Interviews are interactive even though they might have power imbalances between the participants. Interviews are dialogs that neither the interviewer or interviewee fully controls.
  3. Negotiations take place before and during the interviews. Oftentimes in African studies these are complex between "inside" informant and "outside" researcher. 
  4. Interviewees judge interviewers on the appropriateness of their subject and questions.  Sometimes interviewees refuse to answer the question as it is posed. How questions are formulated and subjects approached matters.
  5. Transcribed interviews have missing elements that influenced the interview process. 

Making sense of the story

These transcribed interviews are primary sources.  They contain "raw" data that you need to interpret and deconstruct.  Here are some tips for mindful research strategies. 

  • Learn about the historic context of the events, people, politics, and places discussed so that you can make informed research choices. Don't get bogged down!  Both of these topics have vast scholarly literature associated with them.  
  • Try and uncover information about the interviewer's agenda, biases, and the circumstances of the interview. 
  • Find a topic/ theme that the interviews you have chosen all discuss. Ask yourself: What did you find interesting in the interviews?  What do you want to find out more about? 
  • Identify the passages that address your topic/ theme.  Compare and contrast these.  What new insights does each interview contribute to the topic/ theme. 
  • Craft an initial research question and then search for secondary sources that can help you answer it.  Modify your question as needed. 
  • Your selected secondary sources should shape your interpretation of the primary sources.  You do not necessarily have to agree with other scholars interpretations.  If you do agree, ask yourself: what new insights about these sources am I providing?  If you disagree,  summarize the other scholars' views and articulate what you disagree with and why.


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