Oral history plan takes offYoung Grahamstown-born academics to collect untold stories
BY DAVID MACGREGOR
Port Alfred Bureau
AN AMBITIOUS plan to send four Grahamstown university graduates into local townships
to painstakingly collect the almost forgotten history of people of colour in the City of
Saints is creating a buzz. Even though they are earning a small stipend
for their groundbreaking research, the excited young academics yesterday told the Dispatch
working on the Busy Bee project, started by Makana Municipality and the Albany Museum to
celebrate the establishment of Grahamstown 200 years ago, is still a dream come true.
After years of doing temporary work in diverse fields like IT, human resources and advertising,
27-year-old Rhodes University anthropology honours graduate Elron Kleinhans is counting the
days until he hits the dusty streets of Joza next month to start collecting the black oral history of
a town that was built on suspicion and conflict. “I am finally working in my field and I can’t wait
to start interviewing people and hearing their stories, ” Kleinhans said.
“It is important we get these untold stories out before they disappear forever.”
The energetic, four-person research team which is busy identifying themes to investigate
is a diverse mix of young Grahamstown-born academics keen to collect the untold stories of their
The rest of the team comprises social science graduates Dumisani Budaza, 25, and Sinethemba
Yame, 22, and fine arts graduate Jongikhaya Mene, 35. Themes that will be investigated include a
warts-and-all history of the people of Fingo Village who were given land rights in Grahamstown by
the British Empire as a reward for helping fight in the Frontier Wars – and the origins of their neighbours
in the nearby Hottentot settlement. Forced removals, the Black Consciousness
movement, black rugby, township schools, churches and liberation activists from King Makana to
Siphiwo Mazwayi will also be researched. According to Budaza and Yame a key component
of the research is to reconcile and unite Grahamstown.
“It is not about the money – we want to do something we love and give something back to the
community, ” Budaza said. Albany Museum manager Bongani Mgijima
yesterday said the Busy Bee project was designed to get communities involved in collecting their
own histories. “History is not only important for today it is important for future generations.”
Makana councillor and history professor Julie Wells, who has been driving the project, said Busy
Bees started after it became clear a good deal of Grahamstown’s history had never been recorded.
“The project is designed to help share technological skills as mini-histories can be very cheaply
produced in electronic formatting, combining old photos, text, voices and music.
“People can feel a sense of pride in telling the stories of their achievements, whether it be
schools, churches, sports groups, neighbourhood associations, stokvels or groups of workers.”
She said an aim of the project was to help achieve a greater balance and fuller picture of the
area’s rich and diverse history. “Part of the concept is to generate an interest in
‘social history’ which includes much of what we might call the ordinary stuff of everyday life,
looking at things like eating habits, recreation, rites of passage, cultural expressions and customs.
“Such stories can be told by anyone and everyone. “It is not about being rich or famous, just about
how we lived in days gone by. “Everyone from any walk of life can make a contribution.”