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Rhodes > English Language and Linguistics > Latest News

Listening to asylum-seekers' stories

Date Released: Mon, 13 June 2011 11:33 +0200

The xenophobic attacks that swept the country in 2008 have prompted plenty of research about the ways in which South Africans treat immigrants.  In the Rhodes Linguistics department, Leigh Crymble completed an excellent Master's thesis on representations of migrants in the South African media. Sociologists and anthropologists have written plenty of articles on the subject. But apart from studies of migrants in the media, South African linguists have not really contributed much to the debate on improving conditions for immigrants to South Africa.

That is why Bridgitte le Du, a Linguistics MA student, is interested in studying the stories of asylum-seekers in South Africa. While the South African Constitution upholds the rights of refugees, applicants for asylum have to navigate their way through a Home Affairs system that is overloaded and includes immigration officials who can sometimes be contemptuous and downright abusive towards them. They can remain in limbo for six or seven years due to backlogs in the system. And South African society in general is still far from friendly to African asylum seekers, thanks to negative 'foreigner discourses' from the government and media.

Bridgitte aims to interview asylum-seekers at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University Refugee Rights Centre, inviting them to talk with her about their experiences of coming to South Africa and particularly about their stories of applying for asylum. Then she aims to analyse these, using a mixture of the Transitivity and appraisal methods of analysis from Systemic Functional Linguistics, as well as Critical Discourse Analysis. Her aim is to discover how these people make sense of the concept of 'belonging' and the process of identifying with different countries and groups of people in the light of their experiences in South Africa.

Bridgitte says that “linguistics has a role to play that it's not yet playing” in helping us understand the way immigrants think and feel about South Africa. Her research has great potential to highlight the need for our government and society to uphold refugees' rights.