Category: Ancestral Stories
Saarah Jappie notes that, for so-called “coloureds” in Cape Town, the experience of archive has historically been marked by absence. On one hand, the relationship with state institutions and the “official” record has been one of exclusion, in the form of both underrepresentation and limited access. On the other hand, due to generations of social, economic and physical dislocation, families have often been dispossessed of personal materials that speak to the past. While these inadequacies have kept history out of reach for many, recent years have seen the rise of a new archival consciousness within one particular segment of this group – the Cape Muslim community. In this post Jappie considers the way in which heritage activists and cultural enthusiasts have come to revisit the past, engaging with existing records and establishing novel repositories of their own over the past two decades or so.
In this post, originally published on Custom Contested Mbongiseni Buthelezi reflects on how history and its making influences contemporary laws and debates about custom. He notes that legal arguments about chieftainship, customary rights and entitlements often make reference to the past and asks:, What is the place of historical research in litigation?’ How do we construct an accurate view of customary practices as they have evolved over time in order to make arguments about customary law? And where might we find the evidence to help us construct such a view?
Frances Eberhard considers the battle over the VhaVhenda kingship and concludes that contestation of prevailing interpretations of traditional leadership impact seriously upon the realisation of constitutionally protected rights.
Liam Keene writes about the thokoza sangomas and the way in which they embody history and reconcile historical conflict through spirit possession and by training as a sangoma.
Grant McNulty reflects on the tensions that exist between the modes of governance that exist in the present in KwaZulu Natal. On the one hand, there is a new modern democracy, which is based on records and emphasises citizens with individual rights and responsibilities, and on the other, chiefly governance based on the traditional and customary, maintained through memory and orality, which conceives of people as chiefly subjects.
Grant McNulty notes that traditional leaders are increasingly subject to bureaucratic procedures, administration and a powerful demand for accountability through the documentary record. He argues that, in KwaZulu-Natal, where the institution of traditional leadership is deeply entrenched, the realm of custom and tradition now intersects in more direct ways with the bureaucracy and records of the state than it did during the colonial and apartheid periods, exerting a much greater call on the amakhosi to participate in the world of records and record-making.
Dineo Skosana reports that some scholars have argued that the Traditional Courts Bill, currently under review by the National Council of Provinces, undermines the rights of women.
Goa Gaberone asks, “if we live in a time in which we complain about police brutality because of our awareness of our human rights, when we think about the long-ago past how do we make sense of the almost willy-nilly boasting about committing violence against enemies as seen in oral art forms that many individuals, families and clans use to trace their pasts? Do they incite or encourage violence?”
Lucelle Campbell writes about her quest to find the unmarked grave od an ex-Cape Town slave woman named Lydia Williams.
Emile Maurice, writes about the importance of remembering the richness and complexity of black life under apartheid and considers the role of family photo archives in acknowledging and honouring ‘ordinary people’ in public life.
Uhuru Phalafala writes about the significance of cows as a presence, a vessel, a bridge and a god in Sepedi culture and explains why, even in the direst situations of hunger, the cow will be preserved.
Sebinane Lekoekoe considers the issues that shaped Lesotho’s the Protection and Administration of Customs on Initiation Schools and Other Related Customs Bill, intended to bring back the dignity of and respect for traditional initiation rites.
Lucy Campbell reflects on the potential of archives to play a role in restorative justice, with particular reference to the history of slavery in Cape Town.
Dineo Skosana considers love letters and other information about intimate relationships that enter the archive and asks what kind of documents should be considered personal and which might be accessed without restriction.
Lucelle Campbell relates the touching story of the marriage of Krotoa, a Khoe woman, to the European surgeon, Pieter Van Meerhof in 1666.