Reflecting on SA’s Refugee Policy: An Art Series by Zimbali Mncube

Self-taught artist and research intern at the Foundation for Human Rights (FHR), Zimbali Mncube reflections on cross-border displacement and migration as a result of climate change and political conflict. The body of work aims not only to reflect but invoke political questions around climate change, its effects, and the role of policy to protect the most vulnerable in times of crisis.

A part of the work was inspired by interrogating South Africa’s Refugee Policy through an ongoing research project for the Foundation for Human Rights (FHR) and the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The work is sequentially presented and begins by zooming in on the cyclone Kenneth which struck Mozambique in 2018. The cyclone is colourfully drawn with layers of oil pastels as it may appear under a thermal satellite image. The bright colours are used to represent the Cyclone’s force as it approached the land. Its effects on the developing country were not as colourful.

Looking Inwards I: The Eye (2019)

The cyclone led to the loss of lives, destruction of infrastructure, internal and cross-border displacement, and provided a breeding ground for infected Anopheles mosquitoes which are responsible for spreading Malaria. The aftermath of the tropical cyclone saw an increase in Malaria cases in some districts in Mozambique. Pregnant women and children are the most susceptible to Malaria as they have weaker immune systems. The situation is not unique to Mozambique; Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest cases of Malaria in the world. These are some of the harsh realities that the first three drawings in the series reflect on.

In interrogating recent amendments to South Africa’s (SA) Refugees Act (RAA), one cannot help but notice it’s anti-refugee and regressive changes. In the context of climate change, political instability, and historical Pan-African unity espoused by the African Union, the RAA seems to position South Africa away from the continent, towards narrow nationalism. This
positioning puts refugees and persons displaced by climate change at risk and with limited states to flee to. It also undermines the roles that some foreign nationals play in South Africa’s economy.

Corner Bree (2019)

Corner Bree and the Bree Taxi Rank in the Johannesburg CBD are some of the spaces in which businesses by mostly foreign nationals are thriving; hair salons, street vendors and taxi drivers are some of the jobs which play a role in sustaining their livelihoods and contributing to the economy.

SA’s refugee policy and positioning are similarly taken by European countries in response to refugees that make their way to these countries through the Mediterranean Sea. Refugees often make the deadly voyage to counties such as Italy, however, most die tragically at sea, and those that make it are criminalized by regressive refugee policies.

Looking Inwards II: Breeding Ground

Featured works are created using oil pastels on paper except the piece titled “Corner Bree”, which was created with charcoal pencils. The process took Mncube roughly a year from February 2019 to February 2020 and it coincided with a research project on refugees which is set to be published by the UNHCR.

Looking Inwards III: The Aftermath (2019)
SA’s Refugee Regime (2020)
The Deadly Voyage (2020)


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