Speech by the Deputy Minister Mabudafhasi, at the opening of 13th National Oral History Conference at the University of Venda, Limpopo Province
Indeed, this is the year in which South Africans are celebrating and commemorating significant events in the history of the country. Seventy years ago the South African Indian Congress led by Dr Monty Naicker and Dr Yusuf Dadoo embarked on passive resistance; sixty years ago, on 9 August, 20 000 South African women, led by Lillian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Sophia Williams-De Bruyn and Rahima Moosa, marched to Pretoria protesting against the repressive Pass Laws.
This year 40 years ago secondary and high school students took to the streets protesting against the government’s decision to impose Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in African schools. The protest erupted in Soweto but, as we all know, soon spread throughout the country reaching even the area we are in today.
All these campaigns, led by men, women and youth, contributed to the realization of our democracy. It is for this reason, therefore, that this year we are celebrating 20 years of the adoption of the constitution of South Africa. It is upon you, ladies and gentlemen, not only to enjoy this democracy but to defend it for posterity.
I am delighted to observe that the presenters, including some of the learners, in this conference will be talking to some of these campaigns. I look forward to learning about the role played by many South Africans whose voices regrettably had remained muted. Equally important, this year marks the 30th anniversary of the death of Samora Moises Machel, the leader of FRELIMO and the first president of independent Mozambique; and fifty years of independent Botswana and Lesotho. The three countries played crucial roles in the liberation struggle of South Africa. I am filled with pride and joy to witness that OHASA is gradually attracting fellow Africans from different countries in the continent to share their countries’ historical experiences with us in South Africa.
It is through such connections and dialogues that we can all learn to appreciate each other and the contribution made by all Africans in the fight against colonialism and apartheid. This oral history conference serves as a platform for exchange of ideas, for sharing of research findings and an opportunity for skilling new oral history practitioners. It is encouraging to observe the growing number of learners participating in the conference. This year, more than thirty learners will be presenting their research findings in the conference, including the 2015 winner of the iNkosi Albert Luthuli Oral History competition, Gabrielle Murgane. I would like to commend the staff from national Archives for training some of the learners who will be participating in this conference on oral history methodology, clan names and capturing their family history.
This conference is also unique in that it provides interactive space for organic intellectuals who are invited to talk on different topics. This year the organic intellectuals will talk to various but important themes such as the role of women in society, the significance of our country’s heritage sites, and the role of young people in the liberation struggle in South Africa. I wish to express the pride I have in the Department of Arts and Culture and its provincial subsidiaries that from the onset we have supported the oral history and related projects.
Through this support oral history as a discipline has, over the years, developed and it is rapidly gaining the recognition it deserves. This is evident in the number of research projects, academic and non-academic, produced annually in the country based on oral history.
Although oral history has its limitations, it is nonetheless a capable methodology to discover ‘hidden histories’ of ordinary people. I implore you to take cue from John Tosh, a leading oral historian, when he assets that “problems in oral history should not be grounds for having nothing to do with oral history”. And you should adopt Monique Marks’ attitude that in spite of the challenges and limitations associated with this methodology, “oral history is a satisfactory source”.
As I conclude, I want to wish you a successful 2016 conference. May your deliberations be successful. I look forward to reading some of the papers which you will be presenting during the conference in the OHASA Journal and Conference Proceedings publications.
I thank you.