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Capturing heritage through storytelling

In the modern world it is easy to forget the heritage of South Africa’s rich cultures. But many people have some fascinating stories to tell about the history of their families and communities. In the Western Cape, the Oral History Initiative is capturing these important stories and preserving them for generations to come.

Residents in 14 municipalities across the province have been sharing their stories over video recordings. The recordings are placed on DVD disks and provided to libraries in the area, as well as to the storytellers themselves.

Danny Titus, one of the residents who was recorded, shared his story of growing up in the small town of Worcester.

“The streets were very flat and smooth and we did everything by bicycle. I remember sitting on the front of the bike while my dad pedaled. I can speak with so much pleasure about my childhood years in Worcester and about the Worcester community,” Titus said.

David Plaatjies, a resident of Bonteheuwel just outside Cape Town, said that initiatives such as these would allow young people to recognise where they came from.

“We have a very confused generation right now, and it’s because they don’t appreciate our history and values. If we have an uninformed generation about the past, then how can we hope that their future will have direction?” said Plaatjies.

The Oral History Initiative was launched by the Western Cape Department of Cultural Affairs in 2015. Since then, 244 interviews with residents have been recorded in communities across all 6 district municipalities. Department spokesperson Tania Colyn said that stories from the past need to be kept alive.

“Often, the oral history in a community is lost once older generations pass away. We have a duty to keep our histories alive in our communities and within government so that future generations can celebrate our heritage,” said Colyn.

Colyn added that the initiative will be rolled out in more municipalities across the province in 2019.

Western Cape MEC for Cultural Affairs Anroux Marais said that the programme helps people from different backgrounds to understand and respect each other.

“Storytelling is a social and cultural activity. Through it, we learn each other’s stories, we learn each other’s lifestyles, and we learn how to know each other and understand each other. To truly understand our past from a unique perspective, this programme aims to record the valuable experiences beneath our social tapestry,” Marais said.