South African History Online, a partner with the Department of Basic Education, participated in the Nkosi Albert Luthuli Oral History Programme in September 2013 in Pretoria, in which 64 children and 24 educators took part.
The students presented projects, on the following four topics:
The 1913 Land Act
The Women’s anti-pass campaign of 1913
The history of my School or Community
Unsung heroes or heroines in my Community.
The first two topics drew interest from a number of learners, while the majority elected to do the histories of their schools, communities or of local heroes. The presentations on the Land Act were interesting because they were undertaken as oral history projects, and as such light was thrown on how the Act affected the residents of the towns in which the students lived.
The Women’s Anti-pass Campaign was well covered, especially by Shandre Smith from Gauteng, who won second prize after delivering a rousing speech, with a real rock as part of her arsenal: ‘You strike a woman, you strike a rock!,’ Shandre intoned, while grasping the rock and gesturing as if she were about to launch the missile.
There were notable histories of schools and communities. Autata Mamoshoeshoe did not win a prize, but she presented a fascinating social history of her town, Lusaka in the Nkangala district of Mpumalanga, which served as a refuge for activists and others fleeing violence from surrounding and more remote areas. The name of her town, she revealed, came as an analogue of the city in which exiles settled after fleeing South Africa – Lusaka in Zambia.
Others gave histories of their schools. The winner of the third prize, Khumo Songwane of North West, combined the history of her school with the history of the Land Act, her school being the Solomon Plaatje Secondary School in Mahikeng. She talked, among other things, of how Plaatje travelled the countryside on his bicycle, interviewing people about how the Land Act affected them.
The students all talked about how they had learned what oral history was, and how they went about their interviews, the best of them adding historical detail to their presentations after reading books on the topic, adding a national or regional dimension.
There were some controversies, as there always are when it comes to history. In one instance, an adjudicator questioned whether, as the student reported there had been forced removals from a certain area. The adjudicators had to hold a little caucus to decide whether the student should be penalised for her apparent historical inaccuracy. In the end, they decided to gloss over the apparent inaccuracy, since it had not been detected in previous rounds and could not be blamed on the student.
The winner, Toka Moeketsi, delivered a rousing address on the Land Act and the people it affected in his town in the Eastern Cape. He pulled out a tome that belonged to his grandfather, which contained the text of the Act, and questioned key concepts, such as ‘land’. Speaking without resort to flash cards or other aids, he held the audience spellbound, and at the finals, he was given a thunderous reception. It was no surprise when he was awarded the first prize.
The teachers presented talks on how they guided their students through their oral history projects. Verosha Maharaj delivered the talk that revealed her effective method of coaching her students, and won first prize. Superior Chiumira of Gauteng took second prize, while third prize was awarded to Bernadice Mandiza Dlozi from Mpumalanga.
The event was crowned with a glamorous gala evening of dinner, speeches and prize-giving. Deputy Director General in the Department of Basic Education, Ms GT Ndebele, delivered the keynote address. She thanked everyone, participants and organisers, for their commitment to the project, before the prizes were awarded to the winners.
The students spent the rest of the evening dancing away, while the adults retired to their rooms to get a few hours of sleep before departing for home the next morning.