Speech by Deputy Minister Mabudafhasi on occasion of 11th National Oral History Conference, Cedar Park Hotel, Woodmead, Gauteng

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14 Oct 2014

Programme Director;

Gauteng MEC for Sport, Arts, Culture and Recreation, Ms Molebatsi Bopape;

KwaZulu Natal MEC for Sport, Arts, Culture and Recreation, Ms Ntombikayise Sibhidla-Saphetla;

Mpumalanga MEC for Sport, Arts, Culture and Recreation, Ms Norah Mahlangu-Mabena

Professor Sekibakiba Lekgoathi, President of OHASA;, 

Distinguished Delegates;

Oral history practitioners;

Learners from various provinces;

It gives me great pleasure to open the 11th Annual National Oral History Conference in this most vibrant and cosmopolitan City of Johannesburg.

The late, great President of South Africa, Tata Nelson Mandela, in his book Conversations with Myself, writes the following; and I quote:

“My general impression, after reading several autobiographies, is that an autobiography is not merely a catalogue of events and experiences in which a person has been involved, but that it also serves as some blueprint on which others may well model their own lives.

This book has no such pretensions as it has nothing to leave behind. As a young man I combined all the weaknesses, errors and indiscretions of a country boy, whose range of vision and experience was influenced mainly by events in the area in which I grew up and the colleges to which I was sent…..

One issue that deeply worried me in prison was the false image that I unwittingly projected to the outside world; of being regarded as a saint. I never was one, even on the basis of an earthly definition of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying”.

This quote from the writings of Tata Nelson Mandela indicates in a very vivid and enduring way the complexity of capturing the past and the way it serves as some blueprint on which others model their lives. But he also conveys the reality of that lived experience so that Tata himself views his own achievements as that “of a sinner who keeps on trying”.

I think that the same can be said of the capturing of oral history in a context such as our own, one that is fraught with pain and suffering yet tremendous resilience and a story of triumph against oppression.

Only last week, the National Archives hosted an event marking the implementation of the co-operation agreement with the French embassy to digitise a total of 562 Dictabelts by 2016. About 200 of these on the Rivonia Trial were since identified as the first batch to be digitised in France. We look forward to this successful co-operation, which will help to digitise an important part of our history.

Ladies and gentlemen, perhaps the issues that Madiba raises in his book are even more relevant as we mark the 20th anniversary of our freedom and democracy and assess the progress that we have made.

Last week I officially opened the UBUNTU Music and Arts festival in New York. The festival provides us with an opportunity to showcase our artistic talent to international audiences. The Sounds of Freedom will present a musical journey and highlight the role of music in social activism.

This momentous occasion of the Oral History conference further presents an opportunity for us to reflect on how our freedom and democracy were achieved;

the progress we have made in the past 20 years; and how South Africa will, and should, work together to implement Vision 2030.

We must never forget that the birth of our democracy was hailed as a miracle. Prophets of doom and Afro-pessimists wanted us to fail and predicted anarchy and bloody civil war. However, none of those came to pass and we instituted a non-racial, non-sexist democracy; and these values of democracy and freedom still endure today.

We have a new culture based on respect of human rights and dignity. Compared to the period before 1994, we can proudly proclaim that millions of people have access to clean water, electricity, sanitation, housing and social services. By our own standards, we declare that this is not good enough as many of our people still live in dire poverty and unemployment and suffer from unbearable diseases. We know all this, and we shall not rest until nearly all the people can claim a better life. 

But we also need to ask ourselves how far have we captured the stories of our struggle?

Have we transformed the writing of history?

How many history books and documentaries can be counted as initiated and written with our own hands?

How many young people have we inspired and will still inspire as we tell the South African story?

With this in mind, I am pleased that in conceptualising the Oral History conference theme, OHASA (Oral History Association of South Africa) has developed as its theme: “Celebrating 20 Years of Democracy: Oral History and the Politics of Transformation.”

It requires that you look at the past 20 years through lenses other than those that have historically monopolised the space of knowledge production in this country.

It demands that you take seriously the perspectives of the majority of our people in townships, rural villages and farms whose voices have been ignored, silenced and marginalised by the dominant, often distorted and biased narratives of our country’s history and its politics.

Apart from distortions, there are both conscious and unconscious omissions in the way that our history has been narrated and retold.

We have to acknowledge some of our institutions of higher learning and non-governmental organisations for the efforts they are making in producing literature using Oral History.

However, more effort has to be made to document and profile women in history, including the history of the liberation struggle; and more women need to tell their stories, to lay bare what their actual experiences are and how they can be their own agents in coming out of this situation.

Similarly, the stories of youth should also enable them to project their own voices and tell their story from their own perspectives.

In your rewriting of history, therefore, you should find a bigger space where you interrogate the place and position of the histories of young people and women in our country. After all, as a Chinese idiom goes: “Women hold up half the sky”.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the Women’s Charter. How many studies capture the oral histories of those who participated in the making of this charter and of those who walked the streets as part of protest marches?

But women should not just be the subjects, or objects, of research. Women should participate fully in all stages of knowledge production if they are to influence textual construction and analyses. No one will liberate women except women themselves. It starts with them.

So, my appeal is: “Emang ka maoto basadi le rwaleng lerumo le, le itlhabanele, le itweleng ntwa” (Women folk should stand up, pick up the spear and fight their own struggle). That struggle is about contributing new knowledge from the perspectives of women and other marginalised and vulnerable groups. It is only in this way that we can begin to overturn the dominant narratives of our past.

What we are saying in the Department of Arts and Culture is that oral testimonies are fundamental if we are committed to telling more balanced, complex and far more interesting stories about the kinds of transformations that have taken place in our society over the past 20 years.

Just running my eyes through the sub-themes of this conference, it is very satisfying to notice that over these three days you will be wrestling with some of the issues that are key concerns of Government; some of which we believe we have made major strides in, but also issues that remain a challenge.

Perhaps at this juncture I should remind you that the Department has supported the Oral History programme since 2003.

We have ensured that OHASA has the necessary resources to develop what was then a relatively new field of study because we believe that the South African story must be told through conveying the truths of the realities our people faced.

The Oral History programme was established in order to begin to redress knowledge about ourselves.

The old order created gaps in the public records and public knowledge. These gaps were caused by deliberate omission of African knowledge, technologies, stories and philosophies from the mainstream of the body of knowledge generated in the country.

This programme was established in order to create a body of oral sources through the National Register of Oral Sources (NAROS) which would be made accessible to the academic researchers and the general public.

Furthermore, it was felt that Oral History would provide alternative narratives, fresh information and new insights into our understanding of the past and encourage and nurture learners and students to develop an interest in their past and a willingness to do research and carry on this work.

The Department strives to build capacity in schools in terms of oral history through intergenerational skills development. The Clan Names programme is one of such programme which contributes to the Older Person’s Week which ended on the 5th of October 2014.

Young people are taught their clan name by the older person in the family and the OHASA offers a platform for the young people to present their research papers and to recite their clan names.

On this note which promotes intergenerational dialogue and social cohesion, this gathering also needs to look at the work it has done for more than a decade.

Have you done enough to grow the critical mass that focuses on oral history?

Have you left a legacy, a body of material, a wealth of research, interpretations and techniques which others too can take forward?

Are we making use of community libraries and book clubs to inspire communities to capture their own history as well as distributing oral histories already documented in popular formats? Because oral history should not be confined to the academies but be part of our popular culture.

Has your Oral History research unsettled established patterns of knowledge production in our country and rewritten our history?

Needless to say, these are not easy questions.

But our answers to these will ensure that we are moving on the right path, that there is value in continued support for this initiative, so that like Madiba, we can look back and say certainly we are not saints, but even with our faults, we do keep on trying.

On that note I will now end by reciting my clan name / totem:

       “Sadiki muloi wa ńombe,

A no lowa dzi mafulo,

A sa lowi dzi mudanga.


Marungerunge Chithavhana,

kholomo u runga na nzadze,

u runga na matholehadzi.


Sadiki wa Chidzini cha Ramalemba Magugumela,

Mposi wa misevhe,

Vhatuka vha tshiana vhari Madi nga vhasidzana,


Ndi nnwa tshilima, tshilima ndila,

Vhanwe vha tshilima magovha.

Muzungu a no kubva Sena.”


Ladies and gentlemen, I declare this conference open, and wish you fruitful deliberations for the rest of this week.

I thank you. Ndo livhuwa. Kea leboga. Asante Sana.

For further enquiries, contact Peter Mbelengwa: 082 611 8197