Five Hundred Years Rediscovered. Southern African Precedents and Prospects, by Natalie Swanepoel, Amanda Esterhuysen and Philip Bonner.
In 2006 a group of archaeologists and historians became involved in what they called the Five Hundred Year Initiative. Their aim was to invert the old 500 years mindset and to make up for several decades of neglect of certain aspects of our historical and archaeological past. Natalie Swanepoel's, Amanda Esterhuysen's and Philip Bonner's book, Five Hundred Years Rediscovered. Southern African Precedents and Prospects, reflects the results of the Five Hundred Year Initiative.
South African precolonial history and archaeology have followed curiously similar paths. Until the 1940s most research on African societies in the precolonial and early contact period was conducted by amateurs, generally government servants involved in native affairs, or missionaries. George Theal, South Africa's first historian to write extensively on precolonial African history and on African societies on the 'other' side of the frontier, worked initially as a teacher at the missionary educational institution of Lovedale and subsequently as a government official. James Stuart, who collected a huge body of oral data on the northern Nguni peoples and published several notable treatises on isiZulu, was an official of Natal's Department of Native Affairs (Webb & Wright 1998; Hamilton 1998). AT. Bryant, another notable scholar of precolonial Zululand and Natal, was also a missionary, as were Ellenberger, Wangemann, Merensky, Nachtigal, Ayliff, Boyce and others who collected voluminous data on African societies in the interior, some of which was published, though mostly not in English. Their central problem was a 'settlerist' bias, seen most clearly in the later published works of George Theal, which frequently depicted African societies as irrational, despotic and barbaric, but the data they collected, if viewed with a critical eye, remains an invaluable and irreplaceable source to both the precolonial historian and historical archaeologist alike. Indeed, as Saunders notes, Theal gave Africans more coverage than any other historian in a general work on South Africa before the first volume of the Oxford History appeared in 1969 (Saunders 1988: 21). From the early 20th century little interest was evinced among white amateurs or academics alike in precolonial African history. The central theme in their researches and writings was the relations between and within South Africa's white language groups, Afrikaners and English speakers. In this narrative, Africans were relegated to the background, something which the historian EJ. Potgieter described as 'part of his (white settlers) environment, like the mountains, the grasslands and fever' (cited in Bonner 1983: 70). Such a profoundly unenquiring attitude and such pervasive neglect was only punctuated occasionally by the writings of black converts and intellectuals, men like William Ngidi, Sibusiso Nyembezi, Mazizi Kunene, Samuel Mqhayi, William Gqoba, Magema Fuze, Sol Plaatje, Thomas Mofolo, John Soga and others who wrote between the 1880s and 1930s (for reviews see Saunders 1988; la Hausse 2000; Ndlovu 2001). While many of these voices have yet to be recovered - especially those that expressed themselves in the vernacular language and/or went unpublished - they remained few and far between. The professional historian's general lack of interest in African societies and a precolonial African past was then partly broken from somewhat unexpected quarters - the University of Pretoria journal Historiese Studies, which was published between 1939 and 1949. It remained mostly concerned about understanding what was happening on the black side of the black/white frontier in the interior. While racially skewed in its interpretations, it nevertheless excavated important documentary sources on subjects about which many modern South African historians still remain in ignorance. Where the Pretoria archaeologist J.F. (Hannes) Eloff stood in relation to this school might prove an interesting excursion in intellectual history. This brief awakening was however brought to an abrupt close (one assumes) by the establishment of apartheid. [...]
This is an excerpt from Five Hundred Years Rediscovered. Southern African Precedents and Prospects, by Natalie Swanepoel, Amanda Esterhuysen and Philip Bonner.
Title: Five Hundred Years Rediscovered
Subtitle: Southern African Precedents and Prospects
Editors: Natalie Swanepoel, Amanda Esterhuysen, Philip Bonner
Publisher: Witwatersrand University Press
Johannesburg, South Africa 2008
ISBN 9781868144747 / ISBN 978-1-86814-474-7
Paperback, 17 x 25 cm, 308 pages, many bw and colour photos, maps and tables
Swanepoel, Natalie und Esterhuysen, Amanda und Bonner, Philip im Namibiana-Buchangebot
Five Hundred Years Rediscovered. Southern African Precedents and Prospects collectively reframes, revitalises and re-examines the last 500 years of Southern Africa.