Speech by the Minister of Higher Education and Training, Dr. Blade Nzimande at SAHO Graduate Internship Programme launch, 30 October, 2012

Launch SA History Online Internship Project.

We have been giving lots of attention to getting practical experience for  professionals such as engineers, accountants, etc, not to mention artisans. So it's good to be able to do this for those involved in a largely intellectual pursuit such as History.

In this materialistic age, driven by the quest for profits, disciplines such as history and other humanities and social sciences are undervalued. So it is particularly important to note the success of the SA History Online (SAHO) project. For me, as Minister of Higher Education and Training, it is particularly pleasing to see that  is able to absorb young history graduates as interns.

Hopefully, many of SAHO the interns will be able to use their experience to enhance their skills and insights as historians and go on to become teachers of history in our universities, colleges and schools. I hope also that many of you will  go on from this base to become researchers who will help to shed light on the history of our country and our region.

Large swathes of this history has been left untold - or told in a very one-sided manner. - and neglected by Much history need has been neglected or altogether ignored by decades, indeed centuries,  of foreign and minority domination of the means of intellectual production. The history of SA not only has to be rewritten - that is reinterpreted - but must also be researched and written up in the first place.

In a time where the study of history is not really a paying proposition for most of those who may want to pursue it, the new SAHO interns are indeed lucky to get this opportunity to work in an area that they love and to mobile it with postgraduate studies.

A project like SAHO must not only seek to write history and to reinterpret the past in new, exciting and relevant ways. It should also, I think work towards rejuvenating an interest and a love of history in our society. It is sad that in at this time when, at last, our political freedom allows us to pursue the truth about our past, as a society and as a nation, we no longer seem to be able to do so with vigor and enthusiasm due to a preoccupation with narrow economic interests which have starved the humanities of funds.

It is particularly sad to see SA history in a rather depressed state now, because, despite the suppression of progressive ideas in the past, SA did indeed develop a rich historiography even during the apartheid and pre-apartheid periods. Particularly noteworthy was the so-called reformist history which drew on traditions of political economy in the 1980s and which began to examine the centrality of the mining industry and commercial agriculture and their impact of the rest of society.  In particular their impact in shaping the institution of migrant labour, the establishment of the reserves/bantustans and indeed the whole system of political oppression and economic oppression and the relationship between them.

Some of this research meshed with, and I think strengthened the interpretations and understandings of the liberation movement and in turn helped to shape the way that the liberation and the oppressed people understood the past - and, flowing from that, the present.  The debunking of apartheid's myths by meticulous and rigorous historical research helped to give us confidence in our strengths and our potential.

What is the role of history in the present period? This is a question that historians must answer with the assistance of many other interested people, among whom I would count myself.  History influences the way we see ourselves very fundamentally. National as well as individual identities are very deeply impacted by our understanding of the past. And this applies to popular history as much as, if not more than academic history. The former must, of course draw on the former. But it is important that historians give plenty of attention to the way that history is understood by ordinary people. This means that historians must pay attention not only to academic research but also to popular forms such as TV, radio, the internet, newspapers and magazines, and school textbooks. The translation of academic research to popular forms of presentation and interpretation is an area which has not been given sufficient attention and to which SAHO is making an important contribution. It's focus on providing info to students and teachers is particularly important.

Government is currently, and I believe justifiably, prioritizing what we call the production of scarce and critical skills for our economy. The history that you are studying, that is the history of racial decades, indeed centuries,  of foreign and minority domination of the means of intellectual production and apartheid has ensured that most black people got even less grounding in the so-called STEM subjects than in the humanities. Our economy desperately needs engineers, scientists, and those with certain business skills. This, however, doesn't mean that we must or should neglect SA or world history or, for that matter literature, philosophy, sociology, and so on.

A few months ago, I announced my intention to establish a National Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences. A pilot has now been established under the leadership of Prof Ari Sitas of UCT and Dr Sarah Mosoetsa of Wits. It will mitigate and help fund a number of catalytic research projects which will stimulate debate and further research. It will, from 2014, also initiate 6 virtual schools which will help to fund and provide support for PhD students around certain multi-disciplinary in the humanities and to stimulate dialogue among the students as well as between the students and leading scholars. History, will of course, be an important component of the work of the Institute. I believe that Omar Badsha has had some discussions with Prof Sitas and I look forward to some form of collaboration and partnership emerging between the HSS Institute and SAHO.

Conclusion: Thanks to Omar Badsha and the SAHO for their very important work in creating a depository of a great wealth of SA History.