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An opportunity to tell our history

Written by Silusapho Nyanda

An Eastern Cape oral historian says the rich stories that Africans pass from generation to generation must be widely shared across our nation.

Oral storytelling captures the events and heroes that shape a nation’s history and should be promoted, says oral historian and kwaZangashe village chief Jongisilo kaMenziwa.

He says our oral history teaches us where we come from as Africans. Our country’s history before colonialism is important in explaining some of the challenges societies face today, he believes.

The current coronavirus pandemic will one day form part of these stories, according to kaMenziwa. “Future generations will be told stories of how life changed in 2020 and how they were unable to hold circumcision ceremonies because of the lockdown.”

KaMenziwa, who has authored two books on the oral history of the Dlamini clan and its relations with the amaXhosa, abaThembu and amaMpondomise tribes, says it is important to have a record of these oral stories for future generations.

The opportunity to have the oral history of the different tribes recorded is now available, thanks to the Oral History Association of South Africa (OHASA). OHASA works with ordinary South Africans and school pupils to record and document stories that were previously only available through oral storytelling, says OHASA secretary Boitsheko Thwane.

Thwane says that OHASA is a non-profit organisation formed by the Department of Arts and Culture to bring about a balance in the current recorded history of the country.

Working with the National Archives and Records Service of South Africa, OHASA goes to different parts of the country to record the oral history of South Africans. It also partners with researchers and schools to have these stories documented in writing or video, she says.

Oral history is told using praise poetry, traditional storytelling and the presentation of research papers at OHASA’s annual conference. Thwane says that they have now started digitising oral history stories.

“We want to include these stories in our education system to bring equality to the current history syllabus,” she says.

Sharing stories that have traditionally been told orally will also help forge unity among the country’s different tribes, says Thwane, who believes that knowing where we come from, makes it easier to understand each other. When people understand one another, they celebrate each other, she says.

People who are interested in having their history recorded can contact OHASA by emailing BelindaMa@dac.gov.za or calling 082 802 6470. More information on where to find archived oral history stories is available on www.ohasa.org.za and www.nationalarchives.gov.za