Address by Deputy Minister Ntombazana Botha, at the conclusion of the Ga Mohle / National Archives Oral History Project

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14 Sep 2007

Programme Director
CEO of the Northern Flagship
            Institute, Mr Makgolo
Deputy National Archivist,
            Ms Gilder
Colleagues (whoever is present)
Distinguished guests
Esteemed Ladies and

The year 2006 (last year) marked the National celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the 1956 Women’s Anti-pass March to the Union Building here in Pretoria.  On 8 August last year we were here to launch the gaMohle/National Archives Oral History project which has as one of its objectives the documenting of the stories related to that historic march. We are here again today to conclude this project and to assess the information gathered during this period.

In designing the Oral History Project, NFI Gamohle and the National Archives focussed on three things:

  • gathering the stories of women who participated in the 1956 March;
  • skills development ; and
  • strengthening the relationship between the youth and elderly people.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank all the participants in this programme, who were willing to share their invaluable stories with our team. By so-doing they will also be sharing their stories with the broader South African society as we have intentions to publish some of the stories.

Today we would also like to congratulate our team who conducted the oral history interviews for the excellent work they have been doing. I am sure that they have learnt a lot from these stories and that this exercise has also been very rewarding for them.

The National Archives of South Africa Act (43 of 1996) as amended, emphasises the need to “collect non-public records with enduring value of national significance which cannot be more appropriately preserved by another institution, with due regard to the need to document aspects of the nation's experience neglected by archives repositories in the past”.

Telling stories is a significant aspect of the culture of the people of South Africa.  That is why the National Archives uses this method as a means of collecting and documenting the experiences and memories of South Africa’s past that was deliberately neglected and distorted by the colonial and apartheid systems. They caused a deliberate omission of African knowledge, technologies, stories and philosophies.

This omission resulted in various aspects of African life such as power relations, gender relations, economy, health, law, and child rearing practices etc, not to be documented at all or, if documented at all, it was from the point of view of the former colonialists.

In 1932 the Bantu Commissioners’ Office, better known to the local people as gaMohle was established in Pretoria as a result of the New Group Areas Act of 1923. The building served as a new administration office with the purpose of controlling influx and labour . It was also the office which issued the notorious pass documents to African people.
Last year at the launch of this project I specifically indicated that Oral History is a tool that can be used to address challenges faced by all of us charged with preservation of our heritage.
It is important to tell our stories to the younger generation while time still permits. Our parents and our grandparents, who are bearers of this memory, may not be around for much longer.  Yet, they are the custodians of this memory. We should not miss the opportunity of documenting the authentic history of our people, lest history judge us.
From the research that has been done, it is clear that for centuries African women were pioneers when it came to resisting the wholesale contemptuous degradation and dehumanisation of women in the social, cultural, economic and political system. And I daresay that women made a significant contribution in the struggle for liberation and freedom.  It is absolutely imperative for us to rewrite our history to accurately reflect and record that contribution made by women of our country.
Even though the struggle against apartheid is considered to be over by some people in this country, we all need to be mindful of the fact that the struggle for  economic empowerment and the total emancipation of women is not over yet.
A proper history of the women’s struggles in South Africa in general, as well as in South Africa’s liberation struggle still remains to be properly researched, written and documented. For example, not much has been written about the struggle of women which resulted in their inclusion as full members of the ANC in 1943. It is absolutely important that this history be documented.

During 2000 the then Department of Arts Culture Science and Technology now the Department of Arts and Culture was mandated by cabinet to conceptualise and spearhead a National Oral History Programme for South Africa.

The purpose of this programme was to supplement information already existing in our country’s archival holdings by documenting distorted or neglected stories. In addition, The White Paper on Arts, Culture and Heritage provides for the promotion, protection, creation and funding of South Africa Arts, including written and oral literature, culture and heritage.

The programme started with an oral history pilot project whose theme was the 1956 Women’s Anti-Pass March to the Union Buildings. National Archives staff conducted the interviews with about 10-15 ordinary and prominent women. The results are preserved at the National Archives of South Africa.

The National Archives and Records Service of South Africa Act 43 of 1996 also determine that the National Archives “maintain a national automated archival retrieval system, in which all provincial archival services shall participate”.  Consequently, the National Archives has developed and maintains a National Register of Oral Sources (NAROS), amongst others, in order to fulfil this mandate. The results of this pilot project are already registered in NAROS.

The Department appointed a panel of historians, musicologists, ethnomusicologists, sound archivists, and internationally renowned musicians, to deliberate on the identification, promotion and preservation of oral history and indigenous music.

It is critical for our communities to reclaim the space of indigenous and community knowledge in the promotion of social, economic and cultural development. Challenges such as poverty, unemployment, rural development, urban renewal, crime and diseases of poverty such as tuberculosis, cholera, HIV and AIDS can be addressed by invoking remedies that were successfully used in the past.

Oral History is a powerful way of reconstructing those aspects of the nation’s memory.  It can also be used to develop capacity in our education system. Eliciting oral tradition is vital to fill the gaps in the education system. It is important to integrate this knowledge not only into the formal curricula, but also into indigenous education.

In addition, the dissemination and management of information and knowledge is crucial to the restoration of the human dignity of millions of our people, more importantly, to the effective realisation of  a united, non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous nation.

Furthermore, oral history provides alternative narratives, fresh information and new insights into our understanding of the past. It stimulates positive social practices which could enhance the wellbeing of all the people of South Africa

Oral history benefits the communities in the following ways. Firstly, it provides emotional support to people through affirmation and healing. Secondly, it assists communities in eliciting traditional support systems in matters such as food conservation, burials of their loved ones or traditional medicine. Communities should derive some benefits from the commercialisation of commodities produced with the help of indigenous knowledge accessed through oral history.

The Department of Arts and Culture together with  other relevant government departments  will not only be accountable for documenting the Nation’s neglected memory but will also endeavour to implement the following programmes:

  • Training of collection practitioners
  • Developing a code of conduct for practitioners
  • Awareness campaigns
  • Reviewing and updating of the National Register of Oral Sources (NAROS)
  • The inclusion of Oral History in the school curricula and initiate pilot projects targeting schools
  • Promotion of new projects through NASA Outreach programmes
  • Support for existing projects
  • Publications  and dissemination of Oral History knowledge
  • Networking with oral history practitioners in the rest of the world particularly in Africa
  • Establishment of a National Oral History  Association (I am happy to inform you that the Oral History Association was established in 2004)

The National Archives is the custodian of valuable Oral History projects. Our children   and generation to come will appreciate the complete scope of history that truly reflects our diverse and rich culture. 

I am actually very excited about this project, and am looking forward to what I consider it to be a project re-writing history from a women’s perspective.
We have come a long way since 1956; we have made many gains as women. We do acknowledge that a lot still has to be done. If this project can yield the results that we hope for, of re-writing our history and filling in the gaps so that it is authentic and credible, we will have achieved a lot, not only for ourselves, but for future generations.
There is so much that our young people can learn from the stories of the people of this country, stories that will assist them in confronting the challenges that they face today.
I am also very happy that the young people who were involved in this project have learnt valuable lessons from this rich history and will be able to pass on the skills and knowledge to other young people in the rest of this country.

A good repository once systemised leads to the establishment of a good archive.  A good archive, in return, stimulates good research.  Good research leads to good publications.  This sequence has significant implications for the South African education system and the history of women as told by women, form their own perspective.

In conclusion let me, once again, thank and congratulate the staff of the National Archives and Gamohle for the job well done. The work begun must continue.

Nangamso! Le ka moso!

I thank you