Oral History

Oral history was the first kind of history and even today, historical information continues to circulate by word of mouth, in African societies in particular. What makes oral history attractive in contemporary South Africa, among groups as diverse as officials in government departments, local activists and community leaders, is its perceived ability to retrieve, affirm and disseminate long-repressed African traditions. In a country still wounded by a legacy of racial discrimination, the retrieving of oral memories is a task more urgent than ever.

Radikobo Ntsimane (deputy-director of Sinomlando) interviews Florah Buthelezi 
on the outskirts of Nhlazatshe near Edendale. Photo: Kare Ahlschwede

Since its inception in 1996 Sinomlando has conducted more than six oral history projects and is in the process of initiating a new one called “Memories of AIDS”. In addition it provides training and mentoring to various oral history practitioners. Since 2005 several community volunteers in Mpophomeni near Howick have been trained in oral history. The testimonies collected by the trainees will be presented in an "ecomuseum" located in the township. Sinomlando also provides training and assistance to community workers from Edendale with a view to establishing a community museum in a local library.


Philippe Denis, "Oral History in a Wounded Country", in J. A. Draper (ed), Orality, Literacy and Colonialism in Southern Africa. (Semeia Studies, 
vol. 46), Pietermaritzburg 2003, Cluster Publications, pp. 205-216.

--, "The Ethics of Oral History in South Africa", ESARBICA Journal of the Eastern and Southern Africa Regional Branch of the International Council 
of Archives
 26 (2007), pp. 113-132. 

Philippe Denis and Radikobo Ntsimane (eds), "Oral History in a Wounded Country. Interactive Interviewing in South Africa", Pietermaritzburg 2008, University of KwaZulu-Natal Press.