School of Arts

PhD Explores Zimbabwean Sex Workers’ Experiences

Dr Princess Alice Sibanda.
Dr Princess Alice Sibanda.

UKZN Lecturer, Dr Princess Alice Sibanda graduated with her PhD in Drama and Performance Studies for her research that explored Zimbabwean sex workers’ stories.

Motivated by her work as a sexual and reproductive health rights ambassador and research interests in sexual minorities, Sibanda focused on the misunderstood and ostracised sex workers in Zimbabwe.

‘This is against a background where narratives about sex workers in Zimbabwe and Africa at large are framed from an outsider perspective, fraught with prejudice and myths. I used drama as a platform for sex workers to challenge and shift perceptions,’ she said.

Major insights from the study reveal that sex work in Zimbabwe is queer. ‘Sex workers in Zimbabwe are not just poor, uneducated, uncultured women, nor are all client men. I believe that situated knowledges are a powerful way of influencing policy and behavioural change in society. This kind of validates the work and I hope it will shift perceptions around sex work in Zimbabwe and Africa at large,’ said Sibanda.

She is the first in her family to get a PhD, saying: ‘I pride myself in the fact that I am one of the very few female PhD holders in the field of Theatre Studies in Zimbabwe. As an African feminist, claiming and occupying this space makes me happy. Achieving my PhD simply says to the young women who cannot see beyond their circumstances that it is possible. Your background does not determine your destiny.’

Sibanda considers attaining her PhD as bittersweet: ‘My dad should have been here. He believed in me so much. He gave his everything from the little he had to make sure his princess gets here. I feel a huge knot of pain knowing that this PhD is coming several deaths later. In 2020, I lost four cousins. Towards the end, I lost my father. I almost quit the journey altogether. Writing while grieving, within a pandemic for that matter, was the most difficult.’

She is also grateful to her family, friends and supervisor, Dr Miranda Young-Jahangeer for their support. She dedicated her research to her parents and best friend, Tinashe. ‘They provided me with love and psycho-social support. I am most grateful for the prayers, calls and beautiful messages of support throughout the course of the journey.’

Reflecting on her PhD highlights, Sibanda added: ‘I was awarded the Scholars Scholar Award by the Canon Collins Trust, and with a Community Engagement Excellence Award by UKZN.’

Examiners considered her PhD a radical piece of work that should be developed into a manuscript for a monograph publication. On completion of her tenure with UKZN, Sibanda will be joining the University of Fort Hare as a Postdoctoral Fellow. ‘This will help me boost my writing and expand my research skills further. My ultimate goal is to settle in a post where the artist, activist and academic in me can soar. I would want to serve at a university, preferably back home while consulting for various organisations.’

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