Address by Deputy Minister Ntombazana Botha, at the opening of the 5th National Oral History Conference held at East London

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10 Jul 2008

Honourable MEC Abrahams-Ntantiso
Chairperson of the Oral History Association of South Africa (OHASA), Prof Denis; andrson, Prof Mokgoatsana
Provincial Convenor of OHASA, Mr Booi
Conference Delegates and Observers
Oral Historians, Practitioners and Academics
International guests
Government officials
Members of the Mdantsane Women’s Oral
History Project Team
Members of the Media
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen

Molweni; Sanibonani; Ndi Matsheroni;
Goeie môre; Dumelang; Good morning!

Once again, I am privileged and feel very honoured to be invited by OHASA to open the 5th Annual National Oral History Conference. I am delighted that OHASA has chosen the Eastern Cape to host the conference.

At last year’s OHASA conference , I informed delegates that the Mdantsane Women’s Oral History Project had been launched in September. Today, I am proud to say that the trainee oral history interviewers are present at this conference and I understand that they will be given an opportunity to make a presentation tomorrow.

I would like to emphasise though that the project will focus only on women’s stories. Its primary goal, like others, is to preserve  and publicise the experiences and insights of elderly women in the locality of Mdantsane Township before their voices are stilled.

There is a good reason for this. The Eastern Cape, as we all know, has a rich history of traditions, popular struggles and resistance. Many of these were championed by selfless women and men who were driven by the age-old philosophy of ubuntu – “umntu ngumntu ngabantu”. However, nowadays we only read and hear about great leaders and icons such as Tambo, Mandela, Mhlaba, Mkwayi,  Mbeki, Hani, Rubusana, Mqhayi, Biko. Where have all the women gone?

There is a considerable amount of oral history research that still needs to be done in the Eastern Cape. South African history cannot be regarded as inclusive without the history of millions of women which has not been recorded.  It is for this reason that the project is involving young unemployed women who will interview elderly women whose voices are still hidden, whose stories have not been heard and whose memories are still veiled.

Oral history is a very powerful tool of recording and preserving the unique memories and life experiences of the Mdantsane women whose stories would otherwise have been lost. It also offers the younger generation a rare opportunity to interact with and learn from the experiences of older women whose stories have hitherto been hidden.

We hope that the Department of Arts and Culture in collaboration with the NFI and OHASA, will support this initiative and together facilitate the training of candidates and assist with quality assurance in the processing, recording and dissemination of these untold stories.

I am, also, hoping that delegates will find time to share experiences and information about     the oral history projects they have been involved in during the past year.

“Hidden Voices, Untold Stories and Veiled Memories”, this is the theme of this conference.
I have had an opportunity to skim through the conference programme and some of the abstracts of papers which will be presented. I must commend the organisers - the programme is very impressive.

I am told that the number of abstracts that were submitted have increased from 30 to almost 50. This means that many more people are taking an interest in the subject. Last night I was warned that we should expect “gate-crashers”. So let it be! The organisers will just have to manage the situation in the interest of all.

I have also been informed that the conference has improved significantly this year, in terms of representativeness. This is a good sign. We also welcome academic institutions (University of Fort Hare, Walter Sisulu University, University of Johannesburg and the National University of Lesotho) who have joined the oral history discourse and will be making presentations at this conference for the first time.

I hope that when delegates discuss oral history methodologies, they will also engage with the less popular, yet important, subject relating to the inadequacy or absence of the history of women and of groups such as Khoi and San communities in the school curriculum despite their role and contribution in development.

As one writer said: “ [Women] their history is treated as interesting but less important. Thus women are added to the main story but confined to its margins, sometimesfiguratively in sidebars and special features of text-books”. (Shirley Hune: Through “Our” Eyes – Asian/Pacific Islander American Women’s History)

Women are agents of change in their own right and therefore, women’s history should take centre-stage. Women’s voices must not be hidden; their stories must be told; their memories must be unveiled.

Before I conclude, I would like to thank the outgoing OHASA Executive Committee for their sterling work in building and shaping the Association and for their leadership. To Professors Denis and Mokgoatsana and all the members of the outgoing Executive, thank you for a job well done!

I would also like to wish the incoming Executive all the best. I am confident that they, too, will take the Association to greater heights, building on the foundation laid by the outgoing Executive.

Lastly, may I wish all delegates fruitful deliberations and a very successful conference.

East London is my home town and I hope you enjoy your stay here.

I now have the privilege and the pleasure of declaring this conference duly opened.

I thank you.