Bringing back the power of orality in SA history

2008-10-01 00:00

Being interviewed can change your life, said the co-editors of Oral History in a Wounded Country at the book’s launch at the Msunduzi Museum on Tuesday evening.

“An interview is healing because people are able to talk about their past, especially in South Africa,” said co-editor Professor Philippe Denis. The University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) lecturer and head of Sinomlando just made the launch after returning from an international oral history conference in Mexico.

The collaborative book looks at the background, ethics, methods and unique use of oral history in South Africa and is aimed at educators at school and university level, archivists and museum curators.

Sinomlando, which is based at UKZN, is seen as a powerhouse of oral history in South Africa and the book aims to develop the research-based practice as a more useable tool.

What makes the book unique is South Africa’s use of oral history research in a multi-cultural society. One example is the relationship between the interviewer and interviewee, says co-author Radikobo Ntsimane, of Sinomlando.

“We feel that through oral history interviews, relationships are developed,” he told The Witness.

“We hold a small ceremony, where all the people are gathered and we return the interview cassette and a bound copy of the transcript. It becomes a treasure for the family. Some researchers disappear after the interviews, but we want to keep the relationship with them.”

Oral history projects are currently under way in Edendale and Mpophomeni and the authors shared their experiences about conducting research in these areas. They found that through oral history research they were able to uncover severe gender issues that had been kept wrapped up during apartheid.

“Despite women being oppressed for so long, they were willing to tell their stories to other women research fieldworkers,” said Ntsimane. “As they told their stories, they began to feel good about it, because they were telling stories that were never told before.”

The book is published by the University of KwaZulu-Natal Press and is available through their website or by contacting them at 033 260 5226.

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