Keynote address by Deputy Minister Dr Joe Phaahla at the Oral History Conference, Kimberly

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08 Oct 2013

Programme Director, Ms Mandy Guilder, Acting National Archivist,

MEC of Sports, Arts and Culture, Ms Pauline Williams and Provincial Leadership of Northern Cape,

Traditional Leaders and organic intellectuals present,

European Union First Secretary Mr Christophe Larose and Attache Madam Genevieve-Anne Dehoux,

Acting President of OHASA, Dr Radikobo Ntsimane and the OHASA Leadership& Members,

Archivists and Oral History Practitioners,


Learners from the various Provinces,

Honoured Guests

It’s my deep pleasure to address you. We have just been through the month of September where we celebrated our heritage as individual families and as a nation.  Even after two decades of democratic political order, we are still on the journey of building a united nation with common heritage. We agreed that an acknowledgement of various cultural heritages is an indispensable step towards Social Cohesion and nation building that our struggle heroes and heroines dreamed of.

Before I speak any further, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the European Union for their support both for attending this Conference and for contributing almost R120, 000 towards it.

This year, Honoured Guests, as you all are aware, is the 100th Anniversary of the Native land Act of 1913.  That law changed forever the socio-economic status and activities of all South Africans; for the better for some, and for the worse for the vast majority.  We are fortunate that the resilience of our forebears have brought about the new government that is working hard on reversing the agrarian losses that began more than one hundred years ago. 

Even whilst the Act of dispossessing the land from the Africans was promulgated in 1913, dispossession of land began a lot earlier than 1913. All the colonial wars were about land, the indigenous people fought endless battles to retain control of their land and dignity. The Native Land Act went a step further as it served to formalise and institutionalise the dispossession of the vast majority of indigenous people, giving the white people the ownership of 87% of the land and leaving black people to scramble for a mere 13% of un-arable land. The diamond discovery in 1868 in Kimberly and the gold discovery later in Johannesburg insured that the indigenous people were dispossessed of their land because of economic issues. 

The loss of land meant that black people had lost their opportunity to livelihood and resources such as livestock. It destroyed the potential economic growth that could have derived from these farming practices. As President Zuma stated earlier this year, ”The pain of being driven off one’s land is worse than anything one can imagine”.

I want to also quote former ANC President AB Xuma when he said in his 1941 Presidential Address to the ANC Conference:

The fundamental basis of all wealth and power is the ownership and acquisition of freehold title to land. From land we derive our existence. We derive our wealth in minerals, food and other essentials. On land we build our homes. Without land we cannot exist. To all men of whatever race or colour land, therefore, is essential for their wealth, prosperity and health. Without land-rights any race will be doomed to poverty, destitution, ill-health and lack of all life’s essentials”.

Not only were the vast majority disinherited of their birth-rights but last Friday marked the 60th Anniversary of the Bantu Education System which further exasperated the Africans as this added insult to injury. All previous Mission schools were unable to provide quality education to the Africans thereafter.

The impact of the damage of these and supporting Apartheid acts has been greater than enormous! These negative legacies persist despite the democratic government’s efforts at restorative justice.

Government undertook to redistribute 30 per cent of land to black people by 2014. Since 1994, government has been addressing land reform through restitution, redistribution and tenure reform. This approach is guided by the national programme of Social Cohesionand NationBuilding.

A total of 4,813 farms have been transferred to black peoplethrough various redistribution programmes since 1994.This is more than four million hectares, benefitting 230 886 persons.

As President Zuma said, ”Working together we can ensure that the repossession of lost land which was one of the tenets of our quest for liberation is achieved”.

The Iziko Museum close to Parliament in Cape Town has had a significant exhibition on the “Native Land Act” entitled Umhlaba 1913-2013, which has been on show for many months this year, telling stories of the impact of this Act in ways that were not done so before.

Honoured Guests, that brings me to the matter at hand: Oral History.  More than ten years ago the then Minister of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology Dr. Ben Ngubane called together in Tshwane among others, experts and gurus in Oral History and Oral performance especially in Afro-Musicology. After several meetings and deliberations the oral history association was conceived.  In 2003 the first conference was held in the Manhattan Hotel in Pretoria and there was no turning back.  The Department of Arts and Culture firmly stood behind oral history agenda through its national archives directorate.

In partnership with provincial archives the conference moved from province to province tackling a plethora of hard themes. The reasons, motivation and justification for such constant support of the oral history project, are manifold.

  • The written histories of our country’s people deliberately excluded black experiences while celebrating white conquest.
  • Where black contributions in the building of the country were recorded they were portrayed in not so respectable manner.
  • Creation of oral sources through NAROS in order to make them accessible to the academic communities and the general public.
  • It is vital for nation building and social cohesion that all previously-excluded voices are given space for expression in the new South Africa.
  • That open discussions and debates popularized by the TRC continue unhindered.
  • That while OHASA was established by academics to a large extent, it has opened its doors to accommodate in all its conference traditional leaders, organic intellectuals and learners.
  • In recognition of the inseparable histories and destinies of our country and that of its neighbours.

We acknowledge in the development and promotion of Oral History, that OHASA and its members as well. Universities like WITS, UKZN and UCT that are producing literature using oral sources. We need to encourage through Archives, National Library and OHASA oral history projects at community libraries and reading/book clubs for our youth to learn about oral history and the unsung heroes of our country.  The school curriculum has projects on history for grades purposes.  NGOS and other research bodies have discovered the value of using oral history interviews methods in enhancing their work with marginalized communities. 

Honoured Guests, as we embark on three days of deliberations, I would like to encourage rigorous debates and robust discussions which characterize the provincial and national conferences with the aim of raising the bar.

In conclusion, the nation is preparing itself to celebrate twenty years of democracy andfreedom in South Africa.  It will be of national interest to listen to stories of what South Africans have experienced in the last twenty years. Let us lay the foundation this year is about the land and landlessness, about restitution and reform, and about best and worst practices beyond our borders. 

I wish you an informative and interesting conference.  Once again OHASA, it gives me a great pleasure, to declare the 10th Oral History Association of South Africa Annual National Conference, officially opened.