Historians of Christian missions in South Africa have recently obtained a great deal of new reading. While some of it reflects the "seismic shift", as Isabel Hofmeyr calls it, towards stressing the limits of missionaries' power, others go into great lengths to emphasise the lingering legacies of missionary institutions (religious and educational), and as Hofmeyr also illustrated elsewhere, their transnational reach.
Historians have been rather mixed in their attitudes to Alfred Bitini Xuma (1893-1962). He is widely credited with having refurbished the ANC's shambolic structures in the 1940s and having revised its constitution so that among other much-needed reforms, women were at last admitted to full membership. He is also credited with broadening the appeal and reach of Congress: witness the founding of the Youth League, whose young turks finally removed him from the presidency in 1949; or his role in taking the ANC into a broader Congress alliance, symbolised in the so-called Doctors' Pact. Yet he is also portrayed as an autocratic figure lacking the common touch and as a politically conservative in a radicalising era.
This admirable book is part of a growing trend to better capture, edit and (re)publish primary sources on the South African past. It is not that the historiography is bereft of such sources, for we have had the Van Riebeeck Society series since 1918 and the James Stuart Archive has been chugging along since 1976, to name two of those most widely used. Rather this recovery was, like South African society in general, lop-sided so it poorly served black history. This has been changing with, for example, the fine volumes of translations by literary scholars like Jeff Opland and Liz Gunner, collections of SADET interviews, and the forthcoming second edition of the notable Carter/ Karis/ Gerhart volumes. But the gaps remain wide, and one can think of many a newspaper, magazine, or long-out-of-print book much in need of resuscitation in anthology.
This pocket book by scholar-activist Janet Cherry published in the Jacana history series provides a brief introduction to the history of the ANC's armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), "arguably the last of the great liberation armies of the twentieth century" (p 10). The book does not really cover new ground in the study of MK. Rather its strength lies in the sensitive interweaving of political and strategic analyses of MK's trajectory with personal testimonies by former MK cadres (drawn from the massive oral history archive of the South African Democracy Education Trust, the records of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and autobiographical accounts). Through these sources, the author paints a nuanced story of "paradox and contradiction, successes and failures" (p 9).
The product of workshops conducted at the Universities of Oxford and Johannesburg in 2006 and 2007 respectively, this collection of essays explores a range of themes that centre on popular politics and resistance in South Africa.
The purpose of this book, according to the author, is to give recognition to six twentieth-century exceptional, transformative and progressive heads of government. They were gifted leaders in their respective states and in some cases, on the world stage. Moreover, in the majority of instances, these "premiers" assumed office under precarious political contexts. What Maylam presents in this book are six politicians "who can be greatly admired" (p vii). With his progressivist orientation, it is clear that conservative "premiers" such as Churchill, Thatcher and De Gaulle; and liberals like Lloyd George or Woodrow Wilson would not be considered. F.D. Roosevelt, J.F. Kennedy and Pierre Trudeau are not included, nor the great Labourite and state interventionist, Clem Attlee. But, the author confesses on p 23, the decision to include some and exclude others was ultimately an arbitrary one, and highly personal, I would guess. Be that as it may.
Since the inception of the National Curriculum Statement, because of the shifting paradigms in education, things seemed bleak and I even contemplated leaving my profession as an educator. I simply could not come to grips with Learning Outcomes, Assessment Standards and the historical content as I was expected to. Through some interventions and assistance from my learning facilitator, Cecilia Khoabane, I was introduced to the UNISA Short Course in School History Enrichment. That was when I started seeing things in a different light.