Oral History Project

Recording the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa 

This Oral History Project (OHP) was carried out by the Alan Paton Centre (APC) from 1995 – 1998.  The aims of the OHP were to build up the resources for a people’s history of the region, a history which had been largely neglected and unrecorded; to record the struggle experiences of older activists as a matter of urgency; to create archival material for academic research; and to encourage more community involvement with and use of the APC and its resources.

  A life history approach was taken, which allowed particular attention to be paid to the circumstances surrounding specific events, such as marches, boycotts, bannings, harassment and arrests.  Interviewees, of which there have been 145, include Archie Gumede, Archbishop Denis Hurley, Harry Gwala, Peter Brown, Else Schreiner, Rev. Timothy Smith, Peter Kirchoff, Monika Wittenberg and A.S. Chetty.  Several broad subject areas or themes recur in the interviews.  These are violence in the KZN Midlands during the 1980s, the role of the Trade Unions, the effects of the SARMCOL strike in the late 1980s, the Black Sash, the role of women and the history of protest in Pietermaritzburg and KZN.  Some of the interviews are with activists outside of KZN.

Most interviews were conducted in English, and those which were conducted in Zulu have been translated or summarised in English.  Most interviews had been transcribed by the end of 2002.  Researchers may access the tapes and transcripts of the majority of the interviews at the APC.  Photocopies may be made of many of the transcriptions, but the tapes may not be copied.

Sinomlando Project
The Sinomlando Project was initially known as the Oral History Project of the School of Theology, University of Natal.  It was started in 1994 as a way of developing a new vision for the history of Christianity in South Africa.  Traditionally, church history had been written from a white, missionary perspective, relying on written sources.  The Sinomlando Project tries to recover the silenced minorities of Christian communities who suffered under apartheid, and attempts to raise their stories to the status of historical sources.

Since 1994 all students of the History of Christianity in the School of Theology have been involved in oral history research projects, as part of their curriculum.  The tapes and transcripts are housed at the APC, where they can be accessed by researchers, depending on the access conditions for each interview.

Some of the topics which have been studied are:

1994  The making of the indigenous clergy                      
1995  Religion by day and religion by night         
1996  The churches’ response to the Group Areas Act
1997  Dialogue and reconciliation under apartheid
1998  Church and finance            
1999  Sexuality, marriage and the family
2000  Death and bereavement
2001  Disease and healing
2002  Gender and marriage
2003  War and peace

Since 2000, the Sinomlando Project has been running the Memory Box Project.  The aim of this project is to help children who have lost their parents and relatives due to HIV/AIDS.  This is becoming more and more frequent, and children are losing their family identity.  The memory facilitators attempt to capture the memory of the family by assembling “memory boxes”, which contain photographs, significant objects and stories based on interviews with family members and caregivers.
See: www.hs.unp.ac.za/theology/sinomlando