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Visual History

Cape Flats Histories

Changing Histories in Museums

Ngoma histories in Southern Africa

The History of Anthropology in Southern Africa

Visual History - Patricia Hayes

Parallel to the postgraduate module in Visual History is an extended research project that deals mainly with documentary and other photography in South Africa and the subcontinent. The main focus has been interviews with photographers whose work raises questions about our understanding of history in the last fifty years, especially the 1980s when political struggles were ongoing. The project interrogates the influences and aesthetics of photographic practice across southern Africa, and the gender and race implications of photographers and the people and landscapes they portrayed. Research has delved into archives of the independence struggle in Namibia; the late colonial and postcolonial work of Mozambican photographers; and the diverse works of South African photographers in the Afrapix collective. The project also questions the specificities of the image in Africa, and the limits of visual theory elaborated with European conditions in mind. Visuality is only one small and recent aspect of the African arts, whose impact varies from one part of Africa to another, but which poses new analytic challenges in the digital age.

Cape Flats Histories - Uma Dhupelia-Mesthrie

The Cape Flats is a very extensive area that lies on the edges (roughly south eastwards) of the city centre. It includes areas such as Retreat, Grassy Park, Athlone, Rylands, Bokmakierie, Kew Town, Silvertown, Langa, Nyanga, Mitchells Plain, Bonteheuwel, Manenberg,  Strandfontein,  Crossroads, Khayelitsha, Philippi, Elsies River, Bishop Lavis, Nooitgedacht, Delft, Blue Downs, Kuils River. Apartheid history has accorded to the Cape Flats a special place as one where black people were dumped after their dispossession. The Cape Flats has been represented as bleak and almost with no history. This study seeks to provide a different representation and it starts with Rylands because it provides an opportunity to revisit and challenge general images of the Cape Flats. Postgraduate students are encouraged to make a contribution to histories of other Cape Flats areas and thus far there has been work on Joe Slovo, Delft, Nooitgedacht, Manenberg and Lavender Hill.  

Changing Histories in Museums - Leslie Witz

This research project is concerned with movements that are taking place within and around the setting of the museum in post-apartheid South Africa as new sets of objects, displays and narratives travel into these institutions, older collections and displays are re-configured and re-situated in altered settings and claims are made to vernacular values, modalities and histories.  It analyses and maps these journeys in selected museums and exhibitions in post-apartheid South Africa, investigates the genealogy of new historical productions and examines different visitor and community responses to changing landscapes of history in these museums. Centrally, it uses the site of the museum to interrogate relationships between histories produced in the public domain and in the academy in post-apartheid South Africa. The project analyses a series of exhibition case studies that point to the ways different historiographies are invoked, mediated and negotiated. In all these cases the institution of the museum is being situated as the site that resonates with vernacular histories and simultaneously draws upon disciplinary knowledge as its mode of operating and claims to authority. Museums that have been analysed in this project include the Lwandle Migrant Labour Museum, IZIKO Museums of Cape Town, the Worcester Museum at Kleinplasie, the Bartolomeu Dias Museum Complex in Mossel Bay, the Amathole Museum in King William’s Town and the Robben Island Museum.

Ngoma histories in Southern Africa: towards a transnational perspective - Paolo Israel

If one were to draw a “vocabulary of African institutions”—on the model of the one sketched by the great linguist Emile Benveniste—the term ngoma would certainly occupy the most prominent position. In a great number of African languages, the root *ngoma points to an intimate existential connection between drumming, music, healing and rituals of passage. The practice of ngoma is incredibly diversified throughout the continent. It encompasses expressive forms as varied as drumming, singing, dancing, carving, costuming; it sits at the interface between the bodily and the verbal. In some places ngoma has strong spiritual underpinnings, while in others is it more festive and secular. Here, it uses dancing to transform adolescents into adults; there it focuses on the healing of mental scars. Despite all this dazzling diversity, there is a key principle underlying ngoma practice: the use of music as a tool to humanise time, to connect the life-cycle of individuals to “the cosmic sense of destructive and regenerative passing of time” (Ginzburg 1980, xvi).

Ngoma is a crucial technology of personhood, whose history goes back into Africa’s deep past: it is part and parcel of the philosophical legacy of African indigenous societies. It must be noted that any philosophical discussion of Ubuntu which does not consider the practical role of ngoma in the formation of personhood and society is destined to be mutilated. A discussion of ngoma history in a pan-African perspective is yet to be undertaken. This project takes up this very task.

Literature on ngoma practice is rich. Detailed studies have been published on specific traditions such as East African Beni (Ranger 1975), Zimbabwean mbira (Berliner 1978), Kenyan initiation rituals (Kratz 1994) or Cape Town Goema carnival (Constant-Martin 1995). The relationship between ngoma and anti-colonial resistance have been studied in South Africa (Comaroff 1995), Zimbabwe (Pongweni 1982, Lan 1985) and Tanzania (Geiger 1997); the involvement of ngoma in nationalist politics has been the object of recent studies in Malawi (Gillman 2009), Zimbabwe (Turino 2000) and Tanzania (Askew 2002, Edmonson 2007). Very few studies have engaged with the history of ngoma in a transnational perspective; those that have focussed on one aspect of ngoma at the expense of others: song lyrics, in Vail and White’s explorations of praise poetry (1990); and dance, in the edited collection Mashindano (Gunderson and Barz 2000). General discussions of the concept of ngoma (Janzen 1992, van Djick, Spierenburg 2000) have made blunt extrapolations from one form, without engaging in sufficient comparative work.

The sources of this fragmentation go back to the moment of colonial collection, and were further entrenched in the post-Independence period. Colonialism was struck by ngoma practice and sought at once to decipher its social meanings, and to capture its aesthetics. The two endeavours were assigned to different specialists: on the one hand, the anthropologist steeped in the jargon of social theory; on the other, the collector-ethnomusicologist, interest in rhythms and harmonies. This bifurcation resulted in a persistent fracture in the study of ngoma. Archival practices followed this bifurcation. With the advent of Independence, specific ngoma traditions were mustered as “popular culture” in the State’s ceremonial of power. Meanwhile, the old interpretive schemes of colonial knowledge were taken up by the postcolonial elites. By stressing national difference over regional integration, nationalism entrenched epistemological and geographical fractures in the study and practice of ngoma.

While aiming at producing a regional cartography of ngoma practice, the main objective of this research project is to inquire into its philosophical foundations; restore its wholeness; and track down transnational histories of connection, appropriations and change. 

The History of Anthropology in Southern Africa - Andrew Bank

This decade-long project has sought to deepen our understanding of fieldwork-based knowledge production in the history of anthropology in southern Africa from the late nineteenth through to the mid-twentieth century. It has developed in four phases, each of between three and five years’ duration. The first major phase involved the publication of books and articles, and the production of theses, based on close archival engagements with the Bleek-Lloyd-San Archive in particular with the notebooks housed at the University of Cape Town Libraries, Archives and Manuscripts Department. The aim here was to provide a more engaged, ‘intimate’ and complex understanding of the production of knowledge about /Xam history, culture and biography based on a close textual reading of the 10,000 pages of text recorded in the notebooks of Wilhelm Bleek and Lucy Lloyd. The main product of this research was the 434-page monograph of project director Andrew Bank, Bushmen in a Victorian World: The Remarkable Story of the Bleek-Lloyd Collection of Bushmen Folklore published by Double Storey Press in 2006. Three theses have extended this work in more recent years: the first and most extensive is Jill Weintroub’s intellectual biography of Dorothea Frances Bleek submitted as a doctoral thesis at the University of the Western Cape in 2011 and currently being reworked as a book; the M.A. thesis-in-progress of Jaline de Villiers extending the book’s methodology of close textual reading and its biographical orientation to the fourteen !Kung notebooks recorded by Lucy Lloyd between 1880 and 1884; and an M.A. thesis which examines the uses of Bleek-Lloyd materials in public spaces in post-apartheid South Africa by Mona Hendricks (March 2011). The second phase involved revisiting of intersection between photography and anthropology in the publications of the German traveler-scientist Gustav Theodor Fritsch with a particular focus on his anthropological photographs produced between 1863 and 1866 in southern Africa. This work resulted in the publication by Andrew Bank in collaboration with Stellenbosch artist Keith Dietrich of the collection An Eloquent Picture Gallery: 

The third and fourth phases of the project are concerned with early-mid twentieth century social anthropology in southern Africa. The third phase will culminate in the publication in March 2013 of the 325-page collection by Cambridge University Press edited by Andrew Bank and Leslie J. Bank entitled Inside African Anthropology: Monica Hunter Wilson and her Interpreters, a collection that has been five years in the making and dates back to a centenary conference on Hunter Wilson held in Hogsback in June 2008. The introduction and four of the ten essays are authored or co-authored by the project director. The book explores in detail the complex collaborative social and professional relationships that went into the making of knowledge about Pondo, Nyakyusa and urban South African societies and communities across three decades, as well as the contribution of Wilson to promoting the work of an indigenous African anthropological tradition and to South African historiography. This phase also saw the production of an M.A. thesis on the fieldwork photography of Monica Hunter Wilson and Godfrey Wilson in Pondoland and Bunyakyusa during the 1930s. The current phase of this project, which has been sponsored in part by an NRF Research Incentive grant, involves the production of a monograph entitled Hoernle’s Daughters: Women Anthropologists and the Making of a South African School of Social Anthropology which attempts, through an intellectual biography of one women scholar (Winfred Hoernle) and her four intellectual ‘daughters’ (Monica Wilson, Ellen Hellmann, Hilda Kuper and Eileen Krige) to feminize the narration of the history of anthropology in southern Africa, as well as presenting a case for the emergence of a distinctive female-driven South African school of social anthropology during the 1930s and 1940s centred around the concept of social change and the analysis of Africans in urban areas. Future areas of research might include the examination of the history of African anthropology more generally and an M.A. thesis-in-progress by Uganda scholar Stanley Baluku on the history of the East African Institute of Social and Economic Research is in keeping with this.

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