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Images of Power: South African Political Posters in the Struggle

by Busisiwe Khangala & Sandra Rowoldt Shell (retired), African Studies Library, Special Collections, University of Cape Town (UCT)

This post is adapted from a paper originally presented in 2009 at Emory University for the ‘Images Of Power’ poster exhibition, including posters from the collections of the African Studies Library at UCT and Emory University Libraries

The Ephemeral Nature of Posters

Posters form an important part of contemporary public visual communication, aiming, in the most part, to sell or propagate a product or an ideology – to transmit ideas, values and messages. They are ephemeral by nature – visual representations made for very specific purposes within a time and place.

The effectiveness of the poster as a political tool throughout the twentieth century, and in particular, the South African anti-Apartheid Struggle, lies in its immediacy, and its ability to reach the broad mass of ordinary people. Before the advent of social media, the poster served as a vital tool of mass communication, readily accepted and understood by the public at large.


History of the Poster

The remnants of ancient culture found in African rock art, Egyptian hieroglyphs and ancient Pompeii served a similar function to the modern poster: publicly communicating through symbols and imagery.  The very first posters as we know them were hand-drawn on paper and were used largely for official proclamations.

Perhaps the first revolutionary poster was the single sheet of paper fixed to the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg by Martin Luther on the 31st of October in 1517. It contained his 95 theses or points of dissent from the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. (Image source: Fellowship Presbyterian Church)

While Luther’s poster was hand-produced, the introduction of movable type and the invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg in the 1440s had already facilitated the mass production of bills and posters.

Printing technology made it possible not only for the official proclamations of ruling and conquering powers but also for dissenting movements to harness this idiom for posting their own political messages on the streets and thereby to mobilize support for their cause. (2)

Mass-produced pictorial posters came into their own during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, as the specters of war and revolution gripped the world. (3) Posters were used widely during the two World Wars, by Allied and Axis powers alike.

The iconography of revolutionary Russia is particularly memorable for its bold, often stark, imagery.

(Source: Soviet Propaganda Posters of WWII)

The London Opinion poster of Lord Kitchener’s mustachioed face during the First World War, his pointed finger and his exhortation “Your country needs YOU” was emblazoned on public walls throughout wartime Britain, c. 1914

(Source: Wikipedia)

Nazi Germany used propaganda posters to espouse its anti-Jewish propaganda and to promote its racist Aryan ideology. The post-war International Military Tribunal recognized the impact of propaganda to incite genocide, and demagogues such as Nazi zealot Julius Streicher were indicted on counts of crimes against humanity. (Source: Schragenheim Collection, SAHGF Archives, UCT Special Collections)

Revolutionary forces in Franco’s Spain spawned a powerful and vigorous genre of poster imagery, creating some of the finest posters the world had yet seen.[4]



The Poster in the South African Anti-Apartheid Struggle

Following the 1960 banning of political movements and the imprisonment of their leadership, parliament, the stage, the courtroom and the pulpit were eventually the only arenas where the public transmission of anti-apartheid sentiment could be expressed with any modicum of impunity. The published word was censored and ‘undesirable’ texts were banned.

South Africa’s struggle poster emerged as a form of revolutionary idiom in the late 1970s. This coincided with the emergence of a mass movement of loosely affiliated grassroots based organisations and civil organisations from across all walks of life who fueled the reemergence of a powerful anti-apartheid struggle. Communication relied heavily on symbols in song, dance and graphics. Posters, t-shirts, lapel buttons and even bumper stickers carried the messages of resistance and revolution. Symbols, slogans and images became the shorthand of the struggle at a time when communicating messages that ran counter to the apartheid regime’s doctrine and lexicon became increasingly difficult and dangerous.


The poster played a significant role during the struggle against apartheid in communicating with, mobilising, and bonding communities across the country.
View the Primo record for this poster.



South African Struggle Posters as Images of Power


Power manifested itself in many ways throughout the struggle years and at times the might of the apartheid state seemed immutable. Apartheid—literally “the state of being apart” or “separateness”—lay at the core of the South African regime’s national strategy.

The white minority government recognised the latent power of the huge black majority and, by strategic administrative social engineering, undertook to dis-aggregate this majority into smaller, ethnically labelled pockets separated from one another geographically and scattered across the country.

One of the most iniquitous moves of the apartheid regime was its policy of enforcing separate areas for different racial groupings, a system which lay at the very core of apartheid. Under this system, the South African government created a series of “Bantustans” (ethnic homelands) where it intended all black South Africans, comprising 70% of the total population, to live. These Bantustans comprised 13% of the total land area of South Africa. This left 87% of the land for the use of the population classified as ‘White’, comprising a mere 13% of the total population.

The Coloured and Asian members of the population were allocated no land at all beyond limited residential rights in urban areas. Black farmers who had farmed land for generations lost their ownership rights and, between 1960 and the early 1980s, an estimated 3.5 million people were removed from their homes, many being relocated in the “Bantustans” or so-called “homelands”.


This poster highlights the South African regime’s re-allocation of land according to race under apartheid rule.

View the Primo record for this poster.



Despite the dominance of the South African apartheid regime, strong resistance emerged soon after the National Party victory at the polls in 1948. The early 1950s saw a new commitment to resistance and civil disobedience. On 26 June 1952, the African National Congress, together with the South African Indian Congress (SAIC), launched the Defiance Campaign against Unjust Laws. The Campaign constituted the largest movement of non-violent resistance in South African history and it was the first to be supported by members of all racial groups under the leadership of the ANC and the SAIC.


This poster shows several jubilant women (including Amina Cachalia) leaving Boksburg Prison, where they had been imprisoned for 14 days. It was produced on the campus of the University of Cape Town in 1982 to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the launch of the Defiance Campaign.

View the Primo record for this poster.


At the launch of FEDSAW in the Western Cape Region on 29 August 1987, leading women in the South African struggle were publicly honoured, including Annie Silinga, Francis Baard, Albertina Sisulu, Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Ray Alexander, Dora Tamana, Amina Cachalia and Liz Mafekeng—all names that resonate strongly in the South African story of struggle.

View the Primo record for this poster.


On 16 June 1976, the students of Soweto sparked a nationwide protest against the iniquities of “Bantu” education and the apartheid regime.

The potency and pathos of Sam Nzima’s photograph of Hector Peterson’s body being carried through the smoking streets of Soweto by a distraught Mbuyisa Makhubu during the Soweto Uprising on 16 June 1976 burst upon the public consciousness and opened the door for the increasing use of imagery to advance the cause of the struggle.

(Pictured) An insert of a poster series by the Community Arts Project, circa 1991, featuring Nzima’s iconic photo.

(Image source: African Studies Library, Special Collections, UCT Libraries.

View the Primo record for this poster.

View the finding aid for the Community Arts Project Archive in Special Collections


The student movement, led by the country’s youth, heralded a major new phase in the struggle against oppression which was to culminate in the birth of a new South Africa in 1994.

This poster, commemorating the tenth anniversary of the Soweto uprising, pays tribute to the bravery of these children.
View the Primo record for this poster.


The apartheid government systematically exploited the black South African labour force, but the broad based radicalisation and organisation of workers in response resulted in a powerful form of opposition.

This 1992 poster calls on workers to strike to end minority rule. During the interregnum period between unbanning of political parties and the 1994 democratic elections, socio-economic uncertainty and political instability threatened the prospects of a new democracy.

View the Primo record for this poster.

South African trade unionists tapped into a global workers movement, celebrated every year on 1 May as Workers Day.

View the Primo record for this poster.


During this period, the South African armed forces exerted considerable power and, through a system of compulsory military service for all young white male school-leavers, was a self-perpetuating, renewable resource of force.

The overt military power used to quell the tide of struggle by children is reflected in the poster entitled “Apartheid 1987”

View the Primo record for this poster.


The Committee on South African War Resistance (COSAWR), the End Conscription Campaign (ECC) and other anti-militarist groups were instrumental in focusing international attention on the increasing militarization of South Africa. Internally, they provided a forum for dissent and a support system for a growing number of conscientious objectors. These pacifist movements served as a mechanism for white South African men to oppose the Apartheid regime by refusing to serve in its military.

This offset litho poster in black and yellow was issued by the End Conscription Campaign (ECC), date unknown.  (Source: Courtesy of the South African History Archive (SAHA),

View the SAHA record for this poster.

COSAWR was founded in 1978 with the merging of two groups of South African war resisters then active in Britain. It was intended as a self-help organisation for South African military refugees and as a means of raising the issue of militarism in South Africa. Its members also conducted considerable research into the South African military structure and resistance. It published a journal under the title Resister which became the leading magazine on South Africa’s militarization. At the end of 1990, the Committee deposited its archives in the Manuscripts and Archives Department of the University of Cape Town Libraries.

View the finding aid for the COSAWR Collection in Special Collections.

This poster, published by COSAWR (the Committee on South African War Resistance), depicts the power of the South African military.

View the Primo record for this poster.


Church and other faith groupings played a significant role during the struggle years. Not only did they provide a forum for protest, they also offered both spiritual and material support for those victimised by the apartheid system. Groups such as the South African Council of Churches, the South African Muslim Council and the Dependants’ Conference played a vital supportive role.

With a growing number of activists jailed or detained without trial by 1963, the South African Council of Churches formed the ecumenical Dependants’ Conference (DC) to care for the families of those behind apartheid bars. This initiative not only gave support to the families, it provided legal aid, facilitated family visits and developed programmes to assist detainees with their study needs. DC formed a major aspect of the SACC’s activities throughout the struggle years.

One of the church’s most courageous, passionate and outspoken leaders was Archbishop Desmond Tutu whose tireless quest for racial justice and reconciliation in a divided South Africa has been a powerful catalyst for change. This poster shows Archbishop Desmond Tutu, flanked by the Rev. Frank Chikane, the Rev. Alan Boesak and others kneeling in front of St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town at the height of the Defiance Campaign in September 1989. A peaceful protest had been broken up forcibly by the police and many protesters had taken refuge in the Cathedral.

Archbishop Tutu had been called to the Cathedral where he successfully negotiated with the police surrounding the building to allow the protesters to disperse peacefully. Leaders such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu led, counselled and comforted the people during these stark and dangerous years.

View the Primo record for this poster.


This poster, issued in 1988, marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Dependants’ Conference. It also illuminated the powerful persistence and determination of countless volunteers in offering comfort, help and hope to those incarcerated by the apartheid state and their families.

Insert: “The Dependents Conference of the SACC was formed in 1963 as a Christian response to the numerous political trials and the needs of political prisoners and their families.”

View the Primo record for this poster.

The power of the people grew steadily through the 1970s and early 1980s culminating in the formation of the United Democratic Front (UDF) in August 1983. The UDF brought together a wide range of grassroots anti-apartheid groupings under one loose banner, allowing for a massive aggregation of people’s power under one resolute umbrella. According to Judy Seidman in her work on the South African poster movement, the UDF logo was designed at a workshop held at Crown Mines and drawn by Carl Becker and Faizel Mamdoo. [5]

This iconic image is one of the first depictions of the now-famed UDF logo. It depicts the power and the determination of ‘the people’ as they turn their backs on the apartheid regime to march under their new flag towards liberation. This diptych, comprising two A0 boards hinged together, is not technically a poster at all – it is an art original. 

View the Primo record for this poster.

The mass movement provided momentum for intensive repudiation of state oppression, particularly during the 1980s when a State of Emergency was imposed in consecutive years. Calls were made to release political prisoners, especially following the controversial ‘death in detention’ of activists including Steve Biko, Ahmed Timol and Neil Aggett.


A powerful image by defiance issued by the Hunger Strike Committee, to support struggle activists held in detention without trial.

View the Primo record for this poster.


The struggle reached its climax in 1989 with heightened resistance and an escalation of protest measures previously employed during the Defiance Campaign – the aim was to make society ungovernable. Anti-apartheid organisations which had been restricted under State of Emergency regulations in February 1988 declared themselves “unbanned” and set up meetings. Hundreds of black people congregated on two segregated beaches outside Cape Town. Police response was quick and violent resulting in multiple arrests and beatings.


The poster “Defy Apartheid Laws! Away with restrictions!” which documents the Campaign’s activities in Cape Town during the months of August and September 1989, resonates particularly strongly with one of the authors as she was among the hundreds who challenged beach apartheid on that day. However, police response was quick and the protesters were restrained from reaching their destination.

View the Primo record for this poster.



South African Posters as a Tool for Democracy


Until April 1994, the right to vote was reserved only for people classified as white according to apartheid rule. Disenfranchisement meant that the political will of the majority of the population was not accorded any significance. Early on in the struggle, the slogan “One man one vote” rang out with gathering and emphatic urgency.


One of the most focused and potent expressions of this is in the 1992 poster entitled “African National Congress: the people shall govern” where the “People’s Parliament” assembled on Cape Town’s Grand Parade, calling, inter alia, for “one person one vote on a common voters’ roll.” View the Primo record for this poster.


Significantly, one of the signatures featured on this poster is that of Chris Hani, then Secretary General of the South African Communist Party.

‘C Hani, General Secretary, SACP, Grand Parade, Cape Town, 24-01-92’


This would be one of the last public documents he would sign as he was brutally assassinated little more than a year later on Easter Saturday, 10 April 1993. On that day, South Africa lost a great leader, one whom many believed would one day lead the country.


Chris Hani is remembered as the People’s Hero.

View the Primo record for this poster.
“CHRIS HANI: Fighter for the workers and the poor – for the woman in her shack, the worker in the factory, the peasant in the fields and the student in classroom… THE STRUGGLE CONTINUES” c. 1980s.

View the Primo record for this poster.


Hani’s murder took place on the eve of South Africa’s first free and democratic elections.

Martyrs of South African struggle such as Solomon Mahlangu (sentenced to death in 1979), O.R. Tambo (ANC President, died in South Africa one year after his return from 30 years in exile’) and Chris Hani, assassinated in 1993) were recognized by the ANC during the 1994 election campaign.

View the Primo record for this poster.


People flocked to the polls to cast that long-awaited vote for their own democratically elected government. In the lead up to the election, newly unbanned political parties used the poster idiom to urge all citizens to vote and to instruct citizens on how to do so, for the very first time. This momentous day is memorialised in numerous posters calling on the people to vote and describing the actual voting process.


This artistic poster urging public participation in Parliament was issued by the Public Participation Unit of Parliament and supported by the European Union. Regional telephone numbers are provided urging citizens to engage in public participation in the formation of a new parliamentary system.

View the Primo record for this poster.

An informational poster describing the voting station, a process from which the vast majority of the electorate had been previously excluded. This poster was issued by the Voter Education Programme of the Independent Electoral Commission.

View the Primo record for this poster.


For all the power of the people in the various groupings and organisations featured here, there was a need for strong leadership for them to be truly effective. South Africa has been blessed with notable leaders throughout the struggle and in these early years of our young democracy. First among these, of course, ranks Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, known and honoured throughout the world for his wise and gracious leadership. The wisdom, courage and charisma which inspired and encouraged South Africans throughout his many years of imprisonment also united all South Africans as never before when, in 1994, he assumed the Presidency of the new and democratic South Africa.[6][7]

As first President of the newly liberated South Africa in 1994, Nelson Mandela quickly made his concern for the future of South Africa’s children one of his priorities. During his 27 years of imprisonment he, like other political detainees, was separated from his own children and from any active role in their development. On his release he became acutely aware that apartheid had robbed many of the country’s children of their basic rights to a secure home, education, training, health care and even to basic nourishment. To address these issues, he established the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund as a means of providing “a better life for all” for South Africa’s children.


This poster, published soon after the 1994 elections, shows former President Nelson Mandela surrounded by a group of South Africa’s rainbow children.

View the Primo record for this poster.

The posters speak for themselves as they tell—graphically—the story of South Africa’s struggle for democracy.

List of sources

Barnicoat, John. Posters: a concise history. London: Thames & Hudson, 1972 (reprinted 1997).

Bonnell, Victoria E. Iconography of power: Soviet political posters under Lenin and Stalin. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.

Gallo, Max. The poster in history; with essays by Carlo Arturo Quintavalle & Charles Flowers. New York: W.W. Norton, 2001.

Gouwenius, Peder. Power to the people! South Africa in struggle: a pictorial history. London : Zed Press Totowa, N.J : U.S. Distributor, Biblio Distribution Center, 1981.

Rickards, Maurice. The rise and fall of the poster. Newton Abbot: David & Charles London, [1971].

Rickards, Maurice. Posters of protest and revolution; selected and reviewed by Maurice Rickards. Bath, Somerset: Adams & Dart, 1970.

Rickards, Maurice. Posters of the First World War; selected and reviewed by Maurice Rickards. London: Evelyn, Adams & Mackay, 1968.

Seekings, Jeremy. The UDF: a history of the United Democratic Front in South Africa, 1983-1991. Cape Town: David Philip; Oxford: James Currey; Athens: Ohio University Press, 2000.

Seidman, Judy. Red on black: the story of the South African poster movement. Johannesburg:   STE Publishers: South African History Archives, 2007.

South African History Archive. Posterbook Collective. Images of defiance: South African resistance posters of the 1980s. 2nd ed. Johannesburg: STE Publishers, 2004.

Timmers, Margaret. The power of the poster; edited by Margaret Timmers. London: V&A Publications, 1998.


[1] Maurice Rickards, Posters of Protest and Revolution; selected and reviewed by Maurice Rickards. (Bath, Somerset: Adams & Dart, 1970), 5.

[2] Rickards, Posters of Protest and Revolution, 6-11.

[3] Rickards, Posters of Protest and Revolution, 12.

[4] Rickards, Posters of Protest and Revolution, 16-20.

[5] Jeremy Seekings, The UDF: A History of the United Democratic Front in South Africa, 1983-1991. (Cape Town: David Philip; Oxford: James Currey; Athens: Ohio University Press, 2000).

Literacy, a shared goal

By Thundeza Mafungwa, Rare Books Librarian, Special Collections

In celebration of the National Book Week which coincides with the International Literacy Day, the Rare Books Division of Special Collections is showcasing titles from our Children’s Literature collection – focusing on multiple South African languages, particularly indigenous languages.

South African National Book Week

South African Book Development Council (2020)

National Book Week, which runs from 7 to 13 September 2020, is South Africa’s official reading awareness week, celebrated every year during the first week of September. Initiated eleven years ago, it is run by the South African Book Development Council in collaboration with the Department of Arts and Culture. National Book Week promotes reading as a fun activity and of crucial importance is the focus on promoting indigenous languages, local authors as well as library awareness (SABDC).

According to the South African Book Development Council (SABDC),

“This annual campaign is aimed at uncovering the thrill and magic of sharing #OURSTORIES by increasing access to books and changing perceptions around reading.”

International Literacy Day

World Literacy Foundation (2020)

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) observes International Literacy Day on 8 September 2020, in an effort to promote the importance of literacy for individuals, communities and societies within the international community (UN). UNESCO describes the day as a worldwide annual celebration to promote the importance of literacy as a human right and to advance the literacy agenda towards a more literate and sustainable society.


The World Literacy Foundation advocates that it is a common responsibility to ensure children keep learning during and after the COVID 19 global crisis (2020). COVID-19 pandemic dictated that lockdowns be imposed worldwide to the spread of the virus. This created a disruption in literacy and learning throughout the world as schools and libraries had to be closed for a length of time. Literacy gaps that existed prior to the pandemic were exacerbated.

Peterson’s (2020) description of literacy, perfectly outlines the need to develop literacy for societal change,

“Literacy is the global metric we use to assess the health and competence of communities. High literacy rates have been found to correlate to everything from better access to economic opportunity, to better nutrition, to environmental sustainability.”

The need for adoption of alternative approaches to learning has increased.

South African Children’s Literature Collection

The Children’s Literature collection consists of books published in multiple South African languages. The collection has developed greatly, and was originally developed through annual book donations by the Children’s Book Forum of the Western Cape, a travelling exhibition, as the core of the collection (Sales: 2005). Books are currently selected and acquired from various publishers and suppliers in line with our mandate to collect a wide range of this important and unique collection.

PGCE Foundation students in the Kipling Room with South African Children’s Literature books, 2020

UCT’s own Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) Foundation students are some of the key users of this collection, including children’s literature in the COL. Rare Books annually engages through orientation sessions arranged at the beginning of the year for the group to visit us in Special Collection and explore titles available. In this way, the Library hopes to encourage students and members of the public to embrace the preservation of South African languages through storytelling.

“If you want people to understand you, speak their language” – African proverb | Materials on display in Jagger Reading Room of Special Collections, February 2020

The Children’s Literature Collection gives prominence to folktales, stories promoting awareness on current affairs in a fun way, stories that promote diversity, as well as adventurous stories that expand and stimulate the imagination – in all South African languages.

Prominent and upcoming South African writers feature respectively in the collection. Notably, polyglot Sindiwe Magona’s books are available in multiple languages, including numerous indigenous South African languages. Some of the stories may seem familiar to those steeped in local culture and folklore.

Languages without borders … materials on display in the Jagger Reading Room of Special Collections

This includes the folktale of a woman who refused to abide by the rules of her society, and only followed the rules that suited her. One Sunday, she gathered firewood, which was strictly against the rules, and so she was punished by the forest gods. 

Gcina Mhlophe’s shares the folktale of how the lion got its roar. In essence, this is a fable about the power of community participation to solve problems.

Wendy Maartens’ retelling of the classic adventures of Jackal and Wolf reinvents this fable, published in 1910 by James A. Honey.

Niki Daly’s book is a story of possibilities. An ambitious boy dreams big as he looks after his grandfather’s sheep and goat, a job most young boys grew up doing in the rural villages. The story gives courage that one can dream big and succeed even from humble beginnings.

Maryanne Bester’s book explains the origins of the Nguni cattle, a popular breed of cattle.

Sindiwe Magona’s book promotes racial equity and celebrates the human rainbow, emphasizing that underneath the skin we are all the same.

Mylo Freeman’s book is a celebration of black hair and varied hair styles. Inspiring children to accept diversity.

Manichand, Beharilal’s books inspired by present day issues.

Ayanda says no to bullying
Thembi and Themba ride the Gautrain

Isaacs Graham’s book, an adventure and thrilling family outing.

Thembinkosi Kohli’s book teaches the importance of using water in a responsible manner.

Book pictures displayed are covers of books available at Special Collections Rare books section.

Sources used:

Peterson, A. 2020. Literacy is more than just reading and writing. [26 August 2020]

Sales, D., Barben, T. & Hart, L. 2005. Rarebooks and Special Collection Development Policy (Unpublished).

South African Book Development Council (SABDC). n.d. National Book Week [28 August 2020]

Standley, C. 2019. Literacy is so much more than reading and writing. Available: https: // [26 August 2020]

UNESCO. 2020. International Literacy Day. [28 August 2020]

New history of UCT under Apartheid shines a light on archival sources in Special Collections

by Clive Kirkwood

Clive Kirkwood is an archival specialist in the Manuscript & Archives repository of Special Collections, UCT Libraries.

The recent publication of Emeritus Professor Howard Phillips’ second volume of a history of the University of Cape Town has brought a special satisfaction and fulfilment to the university’s archivists. As custodians of a large proportion of the archival sources on which the work is based, they were in some sense participants in the multi-year research process, identifying, retrieving and providing access to material for Prof Phillips and his research assistants. The book also promises to provide an important reference work in the future management of and provision of access to the documentary record of UCT and facilitating the answering of requests for information.

Emeritus Professor Howard Phillips speaking at the launch of the book, 12 February 2020

A video containing highlights of the launch of the book UCT under Apartheid, hosted by the UCT Development and Alumni Office on 12 February 2020, is accessible at the UCT alumni YouTube channel

Howard Phillips is the author of a previous history of UCT, entitled The University of Cape Town, 1918-1948: The formative years. The new work UCT under Apartheid Part I: From Onset to Sit-in covers the years 1948-1968 and is intended to be the first of two volumes ultimately covering the period up to 1994. Like his earlier magisterial work, the new history succeeds in providing a comprehensive 360 degree view of the university in all its facets, and is characterised by the thoroughness of its research, and the succinct, even-handed and candid assessment of policies, developments and individuals. It is in addition a remarkable achievement that Prof Phillips has been able to produce an authoritative reference work which yet has an accessible and engaging style making it a pleasure to read.

Prof Phillips gives generous acknowledgement to the custodians of and sources of information upon which the research was based. The core sources are UCT’s own administrative archives kept in its Meulenhof archival repository managed by Lionel Smidt, such as minutes of Council, Senate and committees; circulars and correspondence; and personal and appointment files of staff. Prof Phillips also mentions official records in public archives, and the collections of press clippings of the National Library in Cape Town and Archive for Contemporary Affairs in Bloemfontein. Another important primary source were almost 200 interviews conducted with former UCT staff and students, and these perspectives from various angles certainly supplement and provide counterpoint to the official record. Many other published and unpublished works (like theses), often held in Special Collections, were consulted, which expanded on official versions seen through particular lenses. Professional and prompt delivery of imaging services were provided by Digital Library Services. Another important source was the Government Publications unit of Special Collections headed by Laureen Rushby, such as annual reports of the Department of Education, Hansard and reports of commissions of inquiry on university affairs.

When reading the new book I was however particularly struck by the extent to which it draws on primary sources held in UCT Libraries’ Special Collections, or in which the department holds an extensive range of sources and archival collections that relate to events and individuals prominent at UCT between 1948 and 1968. As an archivist in Special Collections, who along with many others, was often responsible for providing access to archival material during this research, this was an exciting realization for me. What I aim to do here, rather than attempting an assessment of the work or describing what the work reveals about UCT’s history, is to sketch the range of these primary sources relating mainly to this period. I will use only a selection of illustrative examples from among many more relevant collections. Even though this might still result in somewhat of a dry catalogue, I found it fascinating and hope it will be of interest to others.

Primary and published sources of and about UCT

Special Collections has built up extensive holdings of published material produced by UCT itself and primary sources about the university’s functions, entities and staff. Published material includes the full runs of UCT’s annual Prospectus or Calendar, official reports and journals (including those of students) such as UCT News, Monday Paper and Varsity, and earlier iterations. There are also serials or occasional publications of departments, residences and clubs.

Primary material comprises a large subject-based collection of photographs, clippings, leaflets and ephemera about faculties, departments, units, residences and structural planning, and a related series on prominent staff members. Among the events in this period that are well documented are UCT’s commitment to academic freedom in the face of legislation on separate university education in the 1950s and staffing in the 1960s including the sit-in of 1968 over the Mafeje Affair. There is also a chronological series of newspaper reports about UCT issues in scrapbooks dating approximately 1950-2000, and other material such as citations for honorary degrees, graduation programmes and examination papers.

The student sit-in of 1968: The march to the Bremner Building begins, 14 August 1968

The illustrations in the book are largely drawn from these categories of sources. Indeed, Prof Phillips painstakingly combed many of these sources in a quest for striking and representative images to use as illustrations, which are a feature contributing to the engaging nature of the book. The end plates showing the campus layout in 1948 at the beginning of the book, and in 1968 at the end, were maps sourced from the UCT Calendar of the relevant years. UCT Libraries’ Digital Library Service digitized all these illustrations from sources in disparate formats to provide the excellent images which are an important aspect of the book.

The student sit-in of 1968: The arrival at Bremner Building, watched by astonished administrative staff from the balcony, 14 August 1968

View the Special Collections digital exhibition commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 1968 UCT student sit-in over the Mafeje Affair using material in our holdings.

Specific archival collections of individuals and organizations

Special Collections has custody of a wide range of original archival collections, many of which relate directly to UCT, their creators either being staff, students or service providers such as architects. It is noteworthy that early in the period covered by the book, René Immelman, who was University Librarian between 1940-1970, commenced the collection of primary sources such as manuscripts and extended holdings of government publications. “Together they betokened the emergence of an additional role for the Library, that of a repository for primary research material. With collections the like of the Bleek and Lloyd Archive of Bushman Folklore and the papers of Louis Leipoldt and Olive Schreiner on its shelf thanks to Immelman’s energetic initiative and persuasive powers, UCT Library was moving beyond being just an undergraduate library to becoming a research library too” (page 229).

Administration: The running of UCT

Special Collections has in its custody the papers of the Chancellor for most of this period, Chief Justice Albert Centlivres (1950-1967). Among Chancellors, Centlivres played an unusually prominent role and was at the forefront of UCT’s opposition to the segregation of university education. His stirring public speeches and writings on the subject are included in his papers. Jan Smuts had been Chancellor until his death in 1950, and it is of interest that the arrangement and cataloguing of his papers was undertaken in this period at UCT Libraries under the supervision of a member of the Department of History, Dr Jean van der Poel. While the original material was subsequently housed at the National Archives, the microfilm version together with its catalogue remain a valued resource in Special Collections.  

There are also the papers of all three Vice-Chancellors of this period, Dr TB Davie (1948-1955), Prof JP Duminy (1958-1967) and Sir Richard Luyt (1968-1980). Davie’s papers reflect his commitment to maintaining academic freedom as apartheid policy began to encroach. As an administrator rather than an academic by profession, Luyt’s papers were notably well organized and are an authoritative source for major events affecting UCT, such as the Mafeje Affair and sit-in of 1968.

Among other collections that reflect the work of UCT leaders are the papers of Deputy Vice-Chancellor Prof Donald Inskip and chair of UCT Council, William Duncan Baxter (1945-1960). (It was Baxter who in 1960 bequeathed the initial funding for UCT “to build a theatre for all Capetonians”, a project finalized in 1977.)              

Physical facilities: the “Second UCT” built in this period

The post-war increase in student numbers saw an extensive building programme of some 19 new buildings erected or started on the Groote Schuur campus (and three on the Medical School campus). Prof Phillips describes this as “the building of a Second UCT” partially surrounding the original Groote Schuur campus, which had barely changed since the 1930s.

Aerial view of the Upper Campus of the University of Cape Town, 1948

In this period the continual building works were a handicap to teaching and learning. And while the original campus was designed as a stylistically integrated whole, deviation from the original guiding principles resulted in a variegated range of new structures (and an architecturally rather inharmonious upper campus). Of the new buildings, ten were designed by UCT staff and seven by architects trained at UCT. The drawings and specifications of many of the buildings are kept in Special Collections and were received either as part of the papers of the relevant architects or via UCT’s Properties and Services. The drawings are frequently used, as architectural students are set assignments related to UCT buildings and are also needed when renovation and conservation work is done.

Aerial view of the Upper Campus of the University of Cape Town, 1967

A development that significantly affected the physical structure of UCT was the widening of Rhodes Drive in 1961-1962 to create a freeway, effectively segmenting the Groote Schuur campus. The papers of City Engineer Solly Morris (1950-1975), a graduate of UCT and member of UCT Council, reflect this development.

A 1962 Cape Argus cartoon referring to the traffic problems on the upper campus caused by the widening of Rhodes Drive, which channeled general traffic through the campus for nearly a year


In the pure sciences, Botany is strongly represented by the records of the Bolus Herbarium itself, and the papers of Ted and Sybella Schelpe, and other UCT botanists. Special Collections also has the archive of the work of William Talbot, first Professor of Geography (1936-1974) as well as the enormous map collection he developed for teaching purposes, many of which are now accessible online. It is fascinating to note that when the Department moved to the Beattie Building in 1965, the whole top floor had to be reinforced to carry the weight of the collection! There are also records of the Department of Oceanography’s research vessel, the TB Davie, acquired in 1966.

In the applied sciences, Medicine is represented, e.g. in the papers of Prof Christiaan Neethling Barnard, Director of Surgical Research, whose work, and especially the first heart transplant in 1967, focused world attention on Groote Schuur Hospital; and the papers of Professor John Brock, Professor of Medicine, 1938-1970. There is a small collection of the papers of Lynn Gillis, first Professor of Psychiatry from 1962, while another collection relating to Arthur Bull and the Department of Anaesthesia of which he was the first professor from 1965, has recently been acquired.

Student opposition to apartheid: Members of the Government-appointed Commission of Inquiry into Providing Separate Training Facilities for Non-Europeans at Universities were faced by organized student disapproval when they arrived at UCT for a sitting of the commission in May 1954. (Cape Argus, 12 May 1954)

Some professional faculties are well represented. Special Collections has the archive of UCT’s Graduate School of Business, established in 1966. The papers of Denis Cowen, Professor of Comparative Law (1946-1961) have recently been donated. The papers reflect Cowen’s role as legal advisor to VC Davie on opposing the 1950s legislation on segregation in tertiary education, and the epic legal struggle to oppose the removal of Coloured voters from common voters’ roll, of which he was part. Architecture is represented e.g. in the papers of Professors Leonard Thornton White, Owen Pryce-Lewis and Roelof Uytenbogaardt. Various other architectural collections reflect UCT buildings of this period, e.g. Brian Mansergh (Bremner Building) and Jack Barnett (College of Music and later, the Baxter Theatre).

The arts are particularly well represented. In music, Special Collections has the extensive papers as well as the compositions of Prof Erik Chisholm, Director of the SA College of Music (1946-1965); records of the work of the Director of Opera in the College, Gregorio Fiasconaro (1948-1980); and the papers of the founder of UCT’s School of Ballet, Dulcie Howes, whose career spanned 1934-1973. In the fine arts, there are the papers and photograph collection of Neville Dubow, who was appointed at the Michaelis School of Fine Art in 1962, becoming chair from 1971; the papers and artworks of Katrine Harries, who lectured between 1949-1977; and the papers of sculptor Lippy Lipshitz, who taught from 1950.

History and economic history respectively are represented by the papers of Prof Eric Axelson, head of Department 1962-1975, Rodney Davenport and Sheila van der Horst. In philosophy, there are the papers of Prof Andrew Murray, head of department 1937-1970, and his successor, Martin Versfeld, who had taught in the department since 1937.

Student protest against further incursions on academic freedom: The banning of Associate Professor Jack Simons, 1965

Two of the most extensively used collections emanated from the work of two scholars in the nominal School of African Studies. Monica Wilson, UCT’s first and only female professor in this period, was head of Social Anthropology between 1952-1973.  She was to be acknowledged as a world-ranked anthropologist. Her mentee, Archie Mafeje, who helped with her study of Langa, would have taught in her department. “Monica Wilson used her lectures to open the eyes of her predominantly white students to the structure and functioning of African societies”. A sub-department, Comparative African Government and Law, was headed by Assoc Prof Jack Simons. When he was banned in 1965, he went into exile with his wife, trade unionist Ray Alexander. The Simons Papers contains the record of their work and of many liberation movements.

In African Languages, Special Collections holds the papers of Prof Gerald Lestrade, who was head of department between 1935-1962, as well as his successor, Prof Ernst Westphal. Westphal’s research and recordings on the non-Bantu languages are fully digitized and accessible online. Archaeology is represented by the research documented in the papers of John Goodwin, an expert in the stone age, who was head of department until 1959.

Speak into the mike’: Ku!wa, a San community member from Gobabis enunciates a word in !Xu so that it can be precisely recorded for inclusion in a guide to that language being compiled by Professor Ernst Westphal of African Languages (left) and the Rev Philippus van der Westhuizen (right), a missionary in that area (1970)

Outreach to the wider community and student activities

Special Collections holds the archive of UCT’s Department of Extra-Mural Affairs, 1949-1988, and the earliest records of the Students’ Health and Welfare Centres Organization (SHAWCO) founded in 1953 and through which medical students have since then run clinics in needy areas. There is also the extensive archive of the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS) in which UCT students were prominent. It was at the NUSAS Annual Day of Affirmation in 1966 held in Jameson Hall that Senator Bobby Kennedy delivered his “Ripple of Hope” address.            


The richness of Special Collections’ archival holdings is illustrated by the foregoing examples which represent a selection of the collections relating to the period under discussion. It is a testimony to the endeavours of creators, donors and archival administrators who sought to preserve an archival legacy for the historical record and future research.     

Note: The archival images in the blog were published in the book and the captions used in the article have mainly been copied. 

A Little Known Era of South African Film: The B-Scheme Industry and the Retro Afrika Bioscope Series

By Beverley Angus, African Studies Librarian, UCT Special Collections 

Beverley Angus manages the African Studies Film Collection Learn more about film and footage available at UCT Special Collections 

All the films mentioned in this article are available in the African Studies Film Collection in Special Collections.

Some memorable titles from the Retro Afrika Bioscope Series: (from left to right) Fishy Stones (1990) and Umbango (1985) were directed by Tonie van der Merwe. Gone Crazy (1990) was directed by Tony Cunningham. (Images courtesy of Sound View Media Partners.)

Film in Apartheid South Africa

The emergence of the South African film industry was linked to the development of a white Afrikaans identity, with the first state subsidy for film in 1956 aimed at this demographic. By 1972 the Department of Native Affairs recognized the entertainment and propagandist value of films for African audiences; the B-Scheme subsidies were introduced to produce films for black consumption. It was seen as a way of moralising black South African leisure time in a society anxious about the effect of the criminal and violent nature of popular Hollywood films and for the apartheid government to exert  control on  black society at a time when resistance movements were ramping up protest to the apartheid regime. 

Tugela Films 

Construction boss Tonie van der Merwe, who had provided special effects for filmmakers Louis and Elmo de Witt,  spotted an untapped market, having seen the enjoyment by his black employees of the American action flicks at Saturday night screenings. He lobbied the government to set up a subsidy for the production of films for the African market. Together with Steve Hand, a teacher, he established Tugela Films in 1975.  In 1981, A-Scheme films for white audiences could earn up to R1.2 million in funding, while the limit for a B-Scheme film was R80 000 and subsidies were only paid out retrospectively based on ticket sales. Van der Merwe produced some 400 titles under the scheme, including the Zulu language film Umbango (The Feud) in 1986.

Films like Charlie Steel (1984), directed by Bevis Parsons, were not permitted to be screened in Apartheid South Africa. It was re-released in 2018 by Gravel Road Entertainment. Revenge (1986) was directed by Coenie Dieppenaar and features Roy Dlamini, Vusi Gudazi and Alex Ngubane. The Comedians (1980) was directed by Japie van der Merwe and starred Moses Makhathini. In late 2019 Retro Afrika released these films as a box set.

Afrika Bioscope series

To qualify for the subsidy, 75 percent of the dialogue had to be in an indigenous African language and 75 percent of the cast had to be Black. Approval of scripts was not required but the Censor Board had the final say. For the predominantly inexperienced white male producers it was simply a business, so artistic merit was not a priority. Film quality suffered from poor lighting, sound and editing, minimal costume changes and recycled and excessive action scenes. Genres covered action, adventure, martial arts, cowboy, comedy, drama and the conflict between traditional and modern life but, in the end,  good always triumphed over evil, and the moral of the story was that crime did not pay. In this way, apartheid ideology was promoted in the guise of entertainment; films could cover different forms of indigenous culture and traditions (often done in an offensive manner) but never address political, economic and social issues.

Heyns Films

u’Deliwe (1975) was directed by Simon Sabela and stars Cynthia Shange as Deliwe.

Heyns Films employed black directors, Simon Sabela and Matthews Monika, whose films, although  of a higher standard also had to adhere to subsidy dictates. In Sabela’s uDeliwe (1975) the rural environment (as opposed to the urban) is represented as the African’s natural habitat where his ethnic identity can thrive. 

This is a film adaptation in isiZulu of a popular 1964 Radio Bantu serial by Mandla Sibiya. It was historic because for the first time in South African film history, a black filmmaker directed. It was one of a number of films in the 1970s and 1980s financed by the State Department of Information through Heyns Films and was circulated exclusively at ‘black only’ venues. The film looks at the moral structures of family and the freedom urban life was offering young black people, especially women. Sabela, an actor of some international repute and Cynthia Shange, a beauty queen, gave the film iconic status and made it popular with the black public. Its genesis and circulation form part of the debate on blackness taken up by Drum Magazine for instance in the 1970s with its Black Consciousness movement and the cracks that were starting to form in the Nationalists’ separate development ideology. Despite the acclaim, by the late 1970s Heyns Films was outed as a front for state apartheid propaganda machine through its involvement with the Information Department.

Reviving The Retro Afrika Bioscope 

Flatbed trucks loaded with projectors toured South Africa’s rural areas. Thousands would come from miles around to attend the screenings, often in the open air.  Some 1500 films were made between 1973 and1989, when Home Affairs took over the scheme. An  investigation into its management revealed operational and administrative corruption. Distributors had been inflating attendance numbers, films were being recycled under different titles – eventually the scheme was abolished.

In 2013, in a chance meeting, Tonie van der Merwe told  Benjamin Cowley of the Cape Town production company, Gravel Road Entertainment Group that he still had canisters of his old films. Cowley was eager to digitise them.

Learn more about the Gravel Road Distribution Group – Retro Afrika Bioscope – Behind the Scenes

In 2014 Retro Afrika Bioscope premiered its first restored B-Scheme film, Joe Bullet. Restoration and digitisation took fourteen weeks using special software which, frame by frame, removed scratches, dust, splice marks and other imperfections. This was Tonie van der Merwe’s first feature production in 1973 and tells the story of a local soccer team caught in the web of the criminal underworld. It had an all-black cast, including singer Abigail Kubeka and Ken Gampu as Joe Bullet, a strong black South African action hero – something almost unheard-of in the South African film industry during apartheid. 

Joe Bullet (1973) was the directorial debut of Tonie van der Merwe, starring Abigail Kubeka and Ken Gampu as the hero ‘Joe Bullet’.

Modelled on something between Shaft and James Bond, Joe Bullet had Gampu drinking, doing karate, driving sports cars, throwing knives, climbing up mine shafts and shooting guns. Mr. Bullet’s enemies were the chain-smoking gangsters of South Africa’s seedy criminal underworld – not the white government. The movie was a big hit in Soweto but the censors decided that this swish thriller portrayed black people in far too aspirational a light and it was banned after just two screenings on its release in 1973. 

These films offer a fascinating prism into the history of South African filmmaking, especially within the discourse of postcolonial studies. The fact of their existence; the nature of the productions, the content and the (imagined) audience for whom they were made, make them fascinating artefacts of South African cinema history. Cowley says that interest in the films has been much bigger in Europe and the United States, where fanatical and perhaps less critical cultural interest in cinema exists. However, in her 2009 thesis, Gairoonisa Paleker, laments the role that the B-Scheme subsidies had on suppressing the emergence of an indigenous African film culture in South Africa.

Some more titles from the Gravel Road Entertainment Group. (left to right) One More Shot (1984) was directed by Ronnie Isaacs and featured Hector Rabotabi and Joey Ford. Rich Girl (1985) was directed by Tonie van der Merwe and featured Innocent Gumede, John Madala, Lungi Mdlala and Hector Methandie. The coming-of-age film Lola (1980) was directed by Brett Owen and starred Constance Shangase, Lucasta Baloi and Gerald Nzimande. See the trailer here.


BROWN, Ryan Lenora. Blaxpoitation movies, South Africa style? A lost era of film sees new light

BLIGNAUT, Johan and BOTHA, Martin. Movies, moguls, mavericks: | South African cinema, 1979-1991. Cape Town: Showdata, 1992.

GAVSHON, Harriet. Levels of intervention in films made for African audiences in South Africa in

Critical Arts 2(4), 1983: 13-21

HAYNES, Gavin. Sollywood: the extraordinary story behind apartheid South Africa’s blaxploitation movie boom

MAINGARD, Jacqueline.  South African national cinema. London: Routledge, 2007

MODISANE, Litheko. South Africa’s renegade reels: the making and public lives of black-centered films. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.

MONAGHAN, Peter. A Scheme That Made Film Flourish Amidst Apartheid

TOMASELLI, Keyan. The cinema of apartheid: race and class in South African film. Sandton [South Africa]: Radix, 1989

For an in depth discussion on the film uDeliwe see: Modisane, Litheko. “Propagandistic Designs, Transgressive Mutations: uDeliwe” (1975): pages 75-96  in South Africa’s Renegade Reels: the Making and Public Lives of Black-Centered Films. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2013 (BA 791.43 MODI).

Ons Sal Jou Tussen Die Sterre Sien | We Will Look For You In the Stars

‘n Huldeblyk aan ouma Griet “Babatjies” Seekoei | A tribute to Ouma Griet “Babatjies” Seekoei

deur Bonny Sands & Kerry Jones | by Bonny Sands & Kerry Jones | Afrikaanse vertaling deur Francoise “Betta” Steyn | Afrikaans translation by Francoise “Betta” Steyn

Ouma Griet Seekoei lyk pragtig met die tradisionele oker grimering op haar gesig. (Met vergunning van Bonny Sands 2006
| Ouma Griet Seekoei, looking beautiful with traditional ochre painted on her face. (Courtesy of Bonny Sands, 2006)

Ouma Griet “Babatjies” Seekoei se handsak was altyd byderhand. Die handsak, haar vrolike lewensuitkyk en jeugdige giggeltjie, al was sy oud. ‘n Regte ouma vir haar familie, maar ook vir die groter ǂKhomani San gemeenskap. Ouma Seekoei was een van die heel laaste N|uu sprekers. Vir die afgelope twintig jaar het Ouma baie ure  spandeer om saam met toegewyde taalkundiges en entoesiastiese  gemeenskapslede haar taal te dokumenteer en sodoende te probeer bewaar. Hierdie samewerking getuig van die gedeelde oortuiging dat die sprekers van N|uu en die bydrae wat hulle gelewer het, in die Suid-Afrikaanse geskiedenis erken moet word.

Ouma Griet “Babatjies” Seekoei always had her handbag nearby, along with a cheerful disposition and a youthful giggle, despite her old age. Ouma in the true sense of the word, not only to her family but to the ǂKhomani San community at large. As one of the last known speakers of N|uu, Ouma Seekoei dedicated many hours to the documentation and preservation of her language over the last twenty odd years, along with dedicated linguists and passionate community members. Such collaborations are testament to a shared conviction to acknowledge the speakers of N|uu and their voices in South African history.

Katriena “Geelmeid” Esau, Kerry Jones, Johanna “Wolfie” Koper en Griet “Babatjies” Seekoei in Upington na ‘n dag se N|uu  vertaling- en transkripsiewerk. Gedeelde vrouewysheid in aksie maak die werk lekker. (Met vergunning van Paul Weinberg, 2015) | Katriena “Geelmeid” Esau, Kerry Jones, Johanna “Wolfie” Koper and Griet “Babatjies” Seekoei in Upington after a day of transcribing and translating N|uu. Collective women’s wisdom in action, brings joy to our efforts. (Courtesy of Paul Weinberg, 2015)

Gedurende die jare ’90, het Ouma Seekoei en ander N|uu sprekers soos Katriena “Geelmeid” Esau, |Una Kassie Rooi, Elsie Vaalbooi, Andries Olyn, Hannie Koerant, Kheis Brou, Johanna Koper en Antjie Kassie baie ure saam met taalkundiges Nigel Crawhall, Tony Traill en Levi Namaseb spandeer om die geskiedenis en konteks van hul taal te verduidelik. Daar is voor hierdie tyd aangeneem dat die taal reeds uitgesterf het. Volledige  verslae van hierdie saamwerksessies  is opgeneem in die ǂKhomani San| Hugh Brody Versameling wat as deel van die ‘Special Collections’ by die Universiteit van Kaapstad gehuisves word.

In the 1990s Ouma Seekoei spent time with linguists Nigel Crawhall, Tony Traill and Levi Namaseb along with other N|uu speakers such as Katriena “Geelmeid” Esau, |Una Kassie Rooi, Elsie Vaalbooi, Andries Olyn, Hannie Koerant, Kheis Brou, Johanna Koper and Antjie Kassie to provide a history and context to their language which was previously thought to be extinct. Detailed accounts of these interactions are found in the ǂKhomani San | Hugh Brody Collection housed at the University of Cape Town, Special Collections.

Griet “Babatjies” Seekoei en Andries Olyn werk saam met Bonny Sands aan ‘n N|uu woordboek. (Met vergunning van Bonny Sands 2006) | Griet “Babatjies” Seekoei and Andries Olyn working on N|uu dictionary with Bonny Sands (Courtesy of Bonny Sands, 2006)
Griet “Babatjies” Seekoei en Katriena “Geelmeid” Esau met kopmikrofone terwyl hulle saam met Bonny Sands aan die N|uu woordeboek werk. (Vergunning van Bonny Sands 2006) | Griet “Babatjies” Seekoei and Katriena “Geelmeid” Esau, with a head-mounted microphone, during work on the N|uu dictionary with Bonny Sands  (Courtesy of Bonny Sands, 2006)

Levi Namaseb en Griet “Babatjies” Seekoei werk aan ‘n elementêre handboek vir N|uu in Andriesvale, Kalahari (Met vergunning van Bonny Sands, 2006)| Levi Namaseb and  Griet “Babatjies” Seekoei working on N|uu primer in Andriesvale, Kalahari (Courtesy of Bonny Sands, 2006)
Antjie Kassie en Griet “Babatjies” Seekoei lag lekker terwyl hulle tee drink (Met vergunning van Bonny Sands, 2004) | Antjie Kassie and Griet “Babatjies” Seekoei having a good laugh over a cup of tea  (Courtesy of Bonny Sands, 2004)
Antjie Kassie, Griet “Babatjies” Seekoei en Andries Olyn werk saam met Bonny Sands aan die N|uu woordeboek. (Met vergunning van Bonny Sands 2004) | Antjie Kassie, Griet “Babatjies” Seekoei and Andries Olyn working on the N|uu dictionary with Bonny Sands  (Courtesy of Bonny Sands, 2004)

Later in die jare 2000 is N|uu deeglik deur Chris Collins, Amanda Miller, Johanna Brugman, Levi Namaseb, Bonny Sands, Alena Witzlack-Makarevich, Tom Güldeman, Mats Exter in samewerking met die oorlewende N|uu sprekers gedokumenteer en sodoende is ‘n gedetaileerde verslag van een van die mees ingewikkelde tale in Suider-Afrika saamgestel.

Later in the 2000s N|uu was carefully documented by Chris Collins, Amanda Miller, Johanna Brugman, Levi Namaseb, Bonny Sands, Alena Witzlack-Makarevich, Tom Güldemann, Mats Exter and others along with the remaining speakers of N|uu in order to provide a detailed record of one of the most complex languages in southern Africa.

Griet “Babatjies” Seekoei (Met die kopmikrofoon) en Bonny Sands werk in Andriesvale aan die Elementêre N|uu handboek. (Met vergunning van Becky Sands 2006)| Griet “Babatjies” Seekoei (with head-mounted microphone) and Bonny Sands working on N|uu primer together in Andriesvale  (Courtesy of Becky Sands, 2006)

N|uu is ‘n ernstig bedreigde taal en hierdie dokumentasieproses was onontbeerlik om die ǂKhomani nalatenskap vas te pen voor dit te laat is. Die gereelde werksessies waartydens die taal op band opgeneem en neergeskryf is, was dikwels lank en uitputtend, maar ouma Griet se N|uu grappies wat sy met haar taalgenote en later ook die navorsers gemaak het, het groot plesierigheid verskaf. Sy was geduldig terwyl ander met hul onwillige tonge die kliek-klanke probeer naklank het en sy sou grappenderwys oor en oor die klank herhaal tot die ander se pogings verbeter het.

As a severely endangered language this documentation process was integral to capturing  ǂKhomani heritage before it was too late. Ouma Griet was always a joy during these often, long and tedious recording sessions. She especially loved to make jokes in N|uu to her fellow speakers and later to the researchers. She was patient as others tried to mimic the clicks and would often repeat herself jokingly over and over again until their attempt had improved.

Griet “Babatjies” Seekoei, Katriena “Geelmeid” Esau en Kerry Jones terwyl hulle in Upington aan N|uu transkripsies en vertalings werk. (Met vergunning van Claudia Snyman, 2015) | Griet “Babatjies” Seekoei, Katriena “Geelmeid” Esau and Kerry Jones in Upington, collaborating on N|uu transcriptions and translations (Courtesy of Claudia Snyman, 2015)

Haar beleefdheid, geduld en sin vir humor het nie met die ouderdom verdwyn nie en hierdie kenmerkende persoonlikheideienskappe het behoue gebly toe sy op hoë ouderdom saam met Kerry Jones begin werk het om transkripsielêers van die ǂKhomani San | Hugh Brody Versameling – wat gegrond is op die beskrywing en dokumentasie van Miller, Collins, Sands en ander –  saam te stel. Wanneer sy na ou filmmateriaal gekyk het, het sy haar vriende geterg en heerlik vir haarself gelag oor die deurmekaarspul en die navorsers se vreugde waar sy op band en in N|uu verduidelik hoe om tsammapap te maak en hoe heerlik die pitte is as mens dit braai en maal tot wat sy “peanut butter” genoem het. “Dit smaak lekker!”

Her grace, patience and sense of humour continued into her old age when she collaborated with Kerry Jones who created transcript files from the ǂKhomani San | Hugh Brody Collection based on the description and documentation work done by Miller, Collins, Sands et al. She teased her friends upon seeing old film footage, and laughed at herself in the confusion and delight of the researchers as she explained on tape in N|uu how to make tsamma pap and how delicious it is to roast and pound the seeds into what she called “peanut butter”. “Dit smaak lekker!”

Griet “Babatjies” Seekoei in Upington 2015 terwyl sy besig was met werk aan die transkripsie en vertaling van N|uu (Met vergunning van Kerry Jones, 2015) | Griet “Babatjies” Seekoei, Upington 2015, collaborating on the transcription and translation of N|uu (Courtesy of Kerry Jones, 2015)

Ons is lief vir Ouma en ons is hartseer oor sy nie meer by ons is nie. Om haar te verloor, voel soos om ‘n geliefde familielid te verloor. Daar is min mense in die lewe wat menseharte op ‘n manier kon aanraak soos sy. Sy het ander mense stilletjies  bekyk  en hulle laat glimlag. Sy het ons siele verryk en ons voel steeds haar teenwoordigheid.

We love Ouma, and mourn her passing. Losing her feels like losing a beloved family member. There are few people in life who are able to touch hearts in the way she did, the way she was able to quietly notice others and make them smile. She raised our spirits and we still feel her presence in this world.

‘n Laggende Griet “Babatjies” Seekoei in Upington (Met vergunning van Bonny Sands, 2004) | Griet “Babatjies” Seekoei having a good laugh in Upington. (Courtesy of Bonny Sands, 2004)

Vanjaar, te midde van ‘n wêreldwye pandemie met sy onsekerhede het ons, ons Ouma Seekoei gegroet. Ouderdom het haar van ons weggeneem. Ons vereer hierdie juweel van ‘n mens en gee erkenning aan die pad wat sy in die Suid-Afrikaanse erfenis geloop het. “Mooi loop Ouma, met jou mooiste kx’âi.”*

This year, amongst the turmoil and uncertainty of a noisy world-wide pandemic, we quietly lost our Ouma Seekoei to old age. A jewel in South Africa’s heritage, we acknowledge her and her unique journey, “Mooi loop Ouma, met jou mooiste kx’âi”.*

Liefde | Love

Bonny Sands, Kerry Jones & Francoise “Betta” Steyn

*“kx’âi” beteken ‘lag’ in N|uu | “kx’âi” means ‘laugh’ in N|uu

The Nagin Parbhoo History of Anaesthesia Museum

by Dr. Peter Gordon (Honorary Curator, Emeritus Professor, UCT)

The Nagin Parbhoo History of Anaesthesia Museum is housed in the University of Cape Town’s Department of Anaesthesia and Perioperative Medicine situated in the New Groote Schuur Hospital in Observatory. Artefacts in the museum reveal the long and often painful change in anaesthesia from an art in the early 1900s to a science in the post Second World War era.

Surgery by Dorothy Kay

Visitors are introduced to the museum by a large high-resolution copy of the painting Surgery by Dorothy Kay depicting a female patient undergoing surgery in Port Elizabeth in 1937. In the absence of monitoring equipment prevalent in a modern operating theatre the onlooker is captivated by the central figure of the anaesthetist using his senses to monitor the state of the patient. The patient is being anaesthetised by chloroform or ether via a Shipway apparatus and a Schimmelbusch mask covered by cloth.

Early history of anaesthesia

The public demonstration by Boston dentist WJG Morton in October 1846 that ether could annul the pain of surgery was a turning point in medicine. The news spread rapidly around the world. In April 1847 ether was being used in Cape Town for dental extractions and in June 1847 Dr William Guybon Atherstone, manufactured ether, designed a inhaler, and administered ether for the mid-thigh amputation of a patient’s leg in Grahamstown. World Anaesthesia Day is celebrated annually on the 16th October. Facsimiles of both Morton’s and Atherstone’s inhaler are displayed in the museum.

Early South African anaesthetists travelled overseas for training and brought back a variety of anaesthetic equipment much of which survived and is on display in the museum. Early artifacts include a variety of wire masks that were covered with gauze over which ether or chloroform was dropped to provide anaesthesia,  a Clover’s portable regulating ether inhaler manufactured in 1877, and an Esmarch’s chloroform inhaler designed in 1867 for use on the battlefield, and was that was still used during the Second World War.

The University of Cape Town’s Medical School, South Africa’s first, started teaching anaesthesia to medical students in their fourth year of study at the New Somerset Hospital in 1921. United Kingdom trained Dr G.W. Bampfylde Daniell was appointed as the Universities first lecturer in anaesthetics. Several items belonging to Daniell are owned by the museum. As in the United Kingdom, the majority of doctors practicing anesthesia in state hospitals at that time were employed as honorary anesthetists receiving remuneration from the surgeon employing them in private practice.

Dr George W Bampfylde Daniell

Anaesthetics at UCT

In 1921 New Zealand born and Edinburgh trained, Dr Royden Muir emigrated to Cape Town and joined Dr Daniell in practice and as a part-time lecturer in anaesthesia. He brought with him the so-called Pinson “ether bomb” and a rare, portable Boyles anaesthetic machine designed in 1917 by English anaesthetist Dr Henry Boyle. Both items are on display. The collection traces the development of subsequent Boyles machines that gradually allowed more accurate control of gas flows and pressure from the gas cylinders.

A Rapidly Expanding Field

In the 1930s, several South African anaesthetists including Muir travelled to the UK and USA to learn from leaders in the rapidly expanding field. They brought back new ideas on the training of anaesthetists, as well as modern equipment, that included apparatus to administer the new, explosive anaesthetic, agent cyclopropane.  Several items from this era are on display. They include the “Muir Midget”, commissioned by Muir in the USA to meet the needs of SA anaesthetists in private practice who at that time had to carry equipment from nursing home to nursing home.

Origins of the Dr Nagin Parbhoo Museum

The collection was started in earnest by the UCT Head of Anaesthesia, Dr C.S. (Buck) Jones in November 1956 after the donation by Dr Lindsay van der Spuy of equipment to the UCT Department of valuable early equipment that had belonged to Royden Muir. Initially housed in the office of the HoD at the UCT Medical School the collection moved to the New Groote Schuur Hospital building after it opened in 1989. The museum is named after Dr Nagin Parbhoo the honorary curator of the museum who had sourced many artefacts from hospitals in the Western Cape and commissioned eight oak and glass display oak and glass display cabinets.

Advances in Ventilation

Until the 1960s patients requiring ventilation during anaesthesia were ventilated manually by squeezing a rubber bag containing anaesthetic gases.

The collection possesses a wide range of ventilators ranging from the tiny Minivent designed by Johannesburg anaesthetist Dr Anthony Cohen in 1965 in an era when private anaesthetists had to carry equipment from hospital to hospital, to the  huge Dräger Iron Lung weighing 620kg that was used in Cape Town during the polio epidemics of the 1950s.

Drager E52 Iron Lung c 1956
Cohen’s Minivent Ventilator c 1965
‘the Amazing Mini-vent Ventilator’ on display at the museum

Water column for measuring blood pressure c. 1956

When Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital opened in 1956 there was no equipment for measuring blood pressure in tiny neonates undergoing surgery. Dr Tom Voss solved the problem by cannulating an artery and measuring the blood pressure by the height of a column of water attached to the catheter.

This technique was adopted by Groote Schuur Hospital and Tygerberg Hospital for measuring patient’s blood pressure in the ICU after surgery.  The technique became obsolete with the introduction of electronic manometers.

Remembering South African Innovations

Prof. Arthur Bull

A section of the museum is dedicated to anaesthetic equipment invented by South African anaesthetists. It includes the Taurus blood warmer developed in a collaborative project between the UCT Departments of Anaesthesia and Electronic Engineering. Named after UCT’s Professor Arthur Bull it became an essential piece of equipment to avoid hypothermia and possible cardiac arrest when rapid transfusion of cold refrigerated blood was required. A bronze bust of Professor Bull commissioned by the Cape Western Branch of the SA Society of Anaesthetists and presented to Bull on his retirement was subsequently donated to the museum.

A section of the museum is devoted to the South African Society of Anaesthetists (SASA), the world’s 9th oldest national society of anaesthesia when it was formed with 26 members in 1943. Currently membership stands at over 2000 in 2019. The display includes photographs, SASA Guidelines for Anaesthesia, and posters advertising the 2008 World Congress of Anaesthesiologists organised by the SASA and held in Cape Town.

Founding members of South African Anaesthetists Association 1943

The UCT Department of Anaesthesia has evolved from an ancillary department of Surgery in 1921 run by part-time anaesthetists to a world respected Department of Anaesthesia and Perioperative Medicine. The department’s history is remembered by photographs of previous heads of department, boards honouring members of the department who have been awarded medals in the College of Anaesthetists examinations, recent publications, and posters commemorating the pioneering roles played by Dr Joseph Ozinsky in establishing the successful heart transplant programme initiated by Professor Christian Barnard, and Professor Gaisford Harrison’s role in documenting and reducing anaesthetic mortality at Groote Schuur Hospital over 30 years. He also established the porcine model of the fatal condition Malignant Hyperthermia and then discovered that the drug Dantrolene could terminate the syndrome.

The museum aims to preserve the history of the department and anaesthesia in South Africa.  Artefacts in the Collection provide a valuable resource for both researchers. and for those involved with teaching medical students and registrars in training.

Visit the museum

The museum forms part of an active department and visitors wishing to do so are welcome. Appointments can be made by e-mailing Peter Gordon, the Honorary Curator at, or Dr Robert Nieuwveld (Assistant Honorary Curator) at or by telephoning the Department Secretary Mrs. C Wyngaard at +27 21 404 5004.

Finding traces of Jewish German refugees in South African archives

by Dmitri Abrahams, Archivist, South African Holocaust & Genocide Foundation (SAHGF)

The SAHGF Archive contains archival material related to both World Wars, Jewish life in Europe before the war, the Holocaust, and its aftermath. The collection is available to researchers and students at the JW Jagger Library and itemized listings, with digital objects, can be viewed online.

Confronting the global threat of Nazism

Under the dictatorship of Adolf Hitler, Germany became a racial state in 1933. The state discriminated against those considered racially and ideologically ‘inferior’. This included Jewish-, Roma- and black Germans, who were, under the 1935 Nuremberg Laws, formally disenfranchised – no longer German citizens.

Jews were especially targeted under vicious Aryan antisemitic doctrines which conceived ‘the Jew’ as the ultimate racial and ideological threat to the Reich. By 1938, European war was imminent, as Hitler had presided over the takeover (‘anschluss’) of Austria and the invasion of Czechoslovia, and soon threatened to invade Poland. The Allied powers, including Great Britain and France, issued an ultimatum of war. German armed forces invaded Poland on 1 September 1939, and soon the world was at war.

The Second World War continued for six years, with battles taking place across Europe, North Africa, Asia and the South Pacific. This deadly war resulted in untold destruction, millions of deaths through battle and genocide, and ultimately created one of the largest refugee crises in history.

This post will explore efforts by Cape Town’s small Jewish community to respond to the plight of German Jews seeking refuge in South Africa, using the lens of the archive of papers and ephemera collected by the South African Holocaust & Genocide Foundation (SAHGF), and preserved in the holdings of UCT Libraries, Special Collections.

South African Jewry responds to the rise of Nazism

In response to the state sanctioned discrimination and violence being perpetrated in Germany, the South African Jewish community founded the South Africa Fund for German Jewry in May 1933.

At the time South African’s immigration policy towards Western European Jews was very lenient. All they had to do was produce a passport and a guarantee signed by ‘a South African citizen and deposited with the immigration authorities on their behalf to enter the country.’  Aided by this open door policy, the Fund set out to assist refugees with financial aid, help them find employment and accommodation. Furthermore it assisted them with any other difficulties they may encounter. The Fund also purchased a house, Rosecourt which functioned as its headquarters and as a meeting and educational space for the refugees. 

The SS Stuttgart

In September 1936 the South African immigration authorities announced that from 1 November, each immigrant had to make a cash deposit of £100 pounds (about £17 000 in 2019) instead of producing a guarantee. At the time Jews were only allowed to take RM10 (about R15 in 2019) each out of Germany, thus the new law was a disaster for those who had sold all their possessions and obtained the necessary exit visas from the Nazi authorities. To circumvent the new regulations, several German and overseas relief organisation came together to charter a special boat to transport 540 refugees with the necessary guarantees before the implementation of the new law. Thus the historic Stuttgart set sail on 8 October 1936 with five hundred and thirty seven passengers on board.

The leaders of the South African Jewish community had no idea that the boat was being chartered until all the arrangements were completed. Setting aside fears that the large influx of refugees may endanger future Jewish immigration, the community rallied to provide the new arrivals with assistance. The ship arrived three days before the new law took effect.

When the new immigrants arrived they were met by demonstrations by the Greyshirts, a South African far-right movement with Nazi sympathies. The passengers disembarked without incident. The local Jewish community provided some 200 refugees who remained in Cape Town with free board and lodging. The rest of the refugees moved to other parts of the country. As the Jewish-German refugees settled into their new home, they created several organisations to take care of the physical, cultural and spiritual needs of their fellow refugees.

The Jewish Community’s response to the War

Following the outbreak of war, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) immediately pledged that the ‘Jewish community would do everything in its power to assist the Union and its allies in the fight for victory.’ (1) Along with the South African Jewish Ex-Service League and Jewish members of the Memorable Order of Tin Hats started conducting recruitment drives locally and nationally to encourage young Jewish men and women to join the Union Defense Forces.  Their efforts were soon rewarded as scores of young Jewish men and women joined the UDF.

The Board also created the Executive Council which consisted of three special war committees: the War Service Council, The War Emergency Council and the Soldiers Assistance Council.  These committees were tasked with caring for the spiritual, physical and cultural needs of the Jewish members of the Force as well as fundraising for war related costs. (2) By January 1943 about 8,366 Jewish men and 542 Jewish women had enlisted, of whom 2,200 had already seen active service outside the Union.  By the end of the war 10 000 Jews had enlisted in the Union Defense Force and other Allied Forces.  Of these 357 South African Jews were killed in action, 327 were wounded, 143 were mentioned in dispatches and 94 received awards.


(1) For more information on the German Jewish organisation please see:  F. H. Sichel, From Refugee to Citizen: A sociological study of the immigrants from Hitler-Europe who settled in South Africa, A.A. Balkema, Cape Town, 1966

(2) South African Jewish Board of Deputies, ed., South African Jewish in World War II, South African Jewish Board of Deputies, Johannesburg, 1950.

Reflecting on the early history of women in the academy

by Isaac Ntabankulu, Archivist, UCT Libraries, Special Collections

The Role of Women in the South African College

From small beginnings, the representation of women in the student and staff body of the University of Cape Town (formerly the South African College) has become an integral part of the University. In August this year, women students will be celebrating 133 years at UCT.

Women graduates of the South African College, 1899 (All Things UCT Collection, Special Collections, UCT Libraries)

Early days: Council decision to admit ‘lady students’

The South African College was established in 1829, serving as the forerunner for the University of Cape Town, which was established in 1918. In 1858, a Board of Public Examiners was established in the British Cape Colony with powers to grant first, second- and third-class certificates for tertiary examinations conducted by the Board. By 1873 the University Incorporation Act was passed, and the Board of Examiners ceased to exist. Its functions were taken over by the University of the Cape of Good Hope. This made it possible for university students in the Cape Colony to write examinations to attain the Bachelor- or Master- degrees in South Africa.

During the nineteenth century there appear to have been no formal restrictions against women taking these examinations or being awarded degrees. However, women wishing to sit for examination found themselves seriously impeded because of the absence of any means of instruction in science subjects. There were simply no facilities for them to study at any institution for higher learning. Professor P.D. Hahn, who had for some years assisted the Good Hope Seminary by teaching their pupils chemistry and metallurgy, introduced the idea of teaching the female students at the South African College so that they could have the full benefit of the facilities available in his well-equipped modern laboratory.

Professor P.D. Hahn (right) conducting a lecture in his Chemistry Laboratory, South African College, Undated (All Things UCT Collection, Special Collections, UCT Libraries)

His proposal was presented to the South African College Senate meeting held on 24 February 1886. Ultimately, a recommendation was made to admit female students for a one-year trial to Professor Hahn’s classes. Senate’s recommendation was adopted by Council on 10 July 1886, with one exception: Rev. A. Steytler objected and wished to have his protest recorded.

The following month, four Good Hope Seminary students registered for Professor Hahn’s Chemistry class. Minnie Buchanan gained Honours in the Matriculation examination the following year, and another, Emilie David, came First in both Chemistry and Classics, and gained a University Exemption in 1889. Clearly, the trial period provided an opportunity to demonstrate the value of allowing women to study at the university, and by August 1887 a special meeting of the South African College Council was held “to consider an application from the professors for permission to admit lady students.” With Council’s approval of this motion the South African College became a fully co-educational institution for higher education. About nine women registered in 1887, immediately taking advantage of the opportunity offered by the South African College. Two married women were among the first group, Mrs Jessie Rose Innes and Mrs Mary Sauer. They were both registered for one year only, 1887-1888.


‘Lunch time at the Women’s Residence, Groote Schuur. Students living in boarding-houses envy these girls.’ (All Things UCT Collection, Special Collections, UCT Libraries)

At first, female students arriving from around the country to study at the South African College were compelled to reside in boarding houses. A Past Student’s Committee was eventually formed, headed by Mrs E.B. Fuller, to take measures to provide suitable residence for students close to the college. The first women’s residence was opened on 20 February 1908 in Dorman Street, Gardens, with permission from the College Council. This was a hired house with a Mrs. Henry Hall as Warden. The committee of early female College Alumni felt the need for such a residence so strongly that they had collected among themselves a guarantee fund of £150 in case there should be a deficit. In time, a larger house was found, and owing to the gradual increase in numbers, the landlord proceeded to enlarge the house on payment of an increased rent. In 1913 a second hired house was opened in Union Street, and Hope Mill House was bought. This was converted into a residence for women students at the beginning of 1914, with Mrs Brown, a past student, in charge. In the same year, Mrs Tugwell, another past student, took over Arthur’s Seat. The residences were subsequently brought under the control of the College Council, and the Past Student’s Committee, having accomplished the work is set to do, was dissolved. In 1919 Mrs Tugwell took over Hope Mill, which remained the abode of the women students until the present Women Residence [Fuller Hall] at Groote Schuur [Upper Campus] was opened in 1928, with Mrs Tugwell as the Lady Dean.

Women’s Residence House Committee, University of Cape Town, 1934 (All Things UCT Collection, Special Collections, UCT Libraries)

Student Representative Council

In 1906, the first Students’ Representative Council was formed. Its members were comprised of male representatives of the various Faculties and Clubs, with only one female representative. By 1910, with the recognition of the Ladies’ Hockey Club (formed in 1904) by the Students’ Representative Council, it was therefore entitled to be represented on the SRC. By 1920 there were so many sports clubs that each could not be represented, and so the women students, like the men, had one sports representative for all clubs.

Student Representative Council, 1906. Miss Tucker, middle row, fourth from the left, represents the ‘Girls Room’. (All Things UCT Collection, Special Collections, UCT Libraries)


In 1898 the South African College entered a mixed team in the Western Province Tennis Competition. Despite the existence of Tennis, Netball, Swimming, and even Golf Clubs, Hockey remained the game centrally represented by the female students.

South African College Intervarsity Ladies Hockey Team, 1919

In 1904 a Ladies Hockey Club was formed, although membership was not restricted to students until 1915. This degree of integration of women students and their acceptance in what had been an all-male preserve until 1886, was a great breakthrough.


The South African College does not appear to have shown the same liberality towards women when it came to employment opportunities. The first woman to have been employed as a lecturer at the College seems to have been Miss Leila A. Wright. In 1911 Dr Harry Bolus died and left his Herbarium to the South African College and in his will appointed Miss H.M.L. Kensit (later Mrs Frank Bolus) as curator. From 1912 Miss Ruth Glover became an assistant in the Herbarium and a year later her sister Dr Glover also join the staff. In 1912 Miss E.L. Stephens was appointed as a leave replacement for Mr Saxton, lecturer in Botany Department and in 1914 Miss E.M.M. Hume was appointed to a second post of lecturer in the Botany Department. In 1915 Miss Hume was granted leave to return to England to undertake war work and Miss J.E Smith was appointed as her substitute.

Staff of the Bolus Herbarium. From left to right, Mr Pawson, Mr Kensit, Prof. H.H.W. Pearson, Miss Ruth Glover, Mrs Bolus and Miss Dolly Glover (All Things UCT Collection, Special Collections, UCT Libraries)

In November 1916 Professor H.H.W. Pearson died, and Miss E. Stephens was appointed as Acting Professor. The Science Committee’s recommendation came only after considerable discussion, with the supercilious warning “that the interests of the department may be endangered if the period be unduly prolonged in which the Department is entirely staffed by women.” At this stage, the Botany Department was the only teaching department at the S.A. College which was entirely staffed by women. It was a temporary situation necessitated by the participation of South Africa in the First World War, and came to an end in 1919 with the appointment of Professor D. Thoday.

Curating and commemorating the history of women of UCT

Commemorating what has been achieved by women students at UCT, the Special Collections Department has put up a display, sharing material on women students at UCT covering themes ranging from the admission of women students, women at residences, women in students’ affairs, women in sports, women in employment and crime against women.

National Women’s Day is a South African public holiday celebrated annually on 9 August. It commemorates the events that took place on this day in 1956 when more than 20,000 South African women of all races staged a march on the Union Buildings in Pretoria [Tshwane]. They aimed to petition against the country’s pass laws that required South Africans defined as ‘black’ under the Population Registration Act to carry an internal passport; also known as a pass [dompas], this document served to maintain population segregation, control urbanisation, manage migrant labour and monitor the movement of Africans.

Sources used:

Phillips, H. 1993. The University of Cape Town 1918-1948: the formative years. Cape Town: Creda Press.

Ritchie, W. 1918. The history of the South African College 1829-1918. Cape Town: T. Maskew Miller.

SC UCT: BUZV Collection, “Women at UCT: The centenary of women (1986 and 1987)”, Women at UCT by Etaine Eberhard.

African Studies Collection

by Busi Khangala.

The African Studies Collection is an internationally-renowned collection of research resources pertaining to Africa, particularly, but not limited to, Africa, South of the Sahara. It includes Africana, with extensive collections of monographs, periodicals, ephemera, pamphlets, videos, sound recordings, maps, conference papers, and newspapers. Housed in the JW Jagger Building (the south wing of the Chancellor Oppenheimer Library), the collections are made available to researchers and students, in a magnificent historic reading room now restored to its original condition.

The restoredReading Room of the JW Jagger Building showing desks, shelves, computers, etc.
The restored Reading Room of the JW Jagger Building

Established in 1953, the African Studies Library (as it was then known) largely owed its origin to the efforts of Mr R F M Immelman, University Librarian from 1940 to 1970, for whom the collection of African and Southern African material was a particular focus.  He acquired (often by donation) many valuable materials, including manuscript materials such as the C. Louis Leipoldt Collection and the Bleek & Lloyd Collection of Bushman Materials.  It was due to Mr Immelman’s indefatigable collection-building that Harry Oppenheimer recognized the worth of the Africana material at UCT and generously donated funds for the establishment of the University’s Centre for African Studies, and for the development of the African Studies Library’s collections.

The cover of Contrast Literary Magazine, 1960.
The cover of Contrast Literary Magazine, 1960.
DVD cover of Congo in Four Acts, which is available in the African Studies Film Collection.

The African Studies Collection also holds what has often been acknowledged to be one of the finest collections of films on Africa in the world and works in close conjunction with Visual Archives in Special Collections in maintaining and adding to its film holdings. One of the collection’s other strengths is its impressive pamphlet collection. This grey literature is used extensively by undergraduates (not necessarily because they are referred to it but rather because they find it while searching the catalogue).

Together with materials in Government Publications, the African Studies Collection has enhanced and supported both teaching and research at the University. Of course, many Africanists, both local and international, are drawn to UCT not only because of its status as a leading tertiary educational institution world-wide, but also because of the breadth of its Africanist holdings housed in Special Collections.

Key map of the Union of South Africa, 1916.
Key map of the Union of South Africa, 1916.

The primary function of the African Studies Collection is to support the research and teaching needs of the University in the study of Africa. The University’s mission statement states that ‘UCT aspires to become a premier academic meeting point between South Africa, the rest of Africa and the world’.  The foundation statement underpinning the mission statement declares, inter alia, that ‘in advancing UCT as an Afropolitan university we will expand our expertise on Africa and offer it to the world’ and ‘engage critically with Africa’s intellectuals and world views in teaching and research’.


By André Landman

As a long-time Joseph Heller fan, I have read most of what he has written. I have read all of his novels several times, always delighting in his dark humour and satirical style. But the novel I revisit most often is his anti-war cult classic, Catch-22.

Recently, Catch-22 visited me. Not the novel, or the film, but in the form of a photograph album. I know that sounds rather strange, so allow me to explain.

I recently processed a small collection known as the Julian Ozinsky Papers. Roughly half the papers had to do with Ozinsky’s involvement in Jewish cultural organisations. The other half had to do with his exploits in the Second World War. He served as an aerial photographer with the South African Air Force, first in North Africa, and then in Italy.

So what does this have to do with Catch-22?

Let me begin by removing the italics. Catch-22. The title of Heller’s novel has entered our lexicon, with a variety of meanings centred on the idea of a paradoxical or illogical situation. One such sense, according to Merriam-Webster, is “a situation presenting two equally undesirable alternatives”. It was in this sense that the Julian Ozinsky papers presented me with an “archival Catch-22”, in the form of a photograph album.

As I indicated before, half of the collection documents Ozinsky’s war experiences. The photograph album falls into this category. As I opened it, I experienced two conflicting emotions ­– wonder and dismay. Wonder because the photographs were a rich pictorial record of the aerial war and the role of 3 (SA) Wing in North Africa and Italy; dismay because the photographs had been stuck into the album with adhesive tape!

“Do not dismantle photograph albums and scrapbooks,” Mary Lynn Ritzenthaler writes. “They possess their greatest historical significance and artefactual value as whole original objects; the photographs should be seen in the sequence and context that was imposed by the creator” (Photographs: Archival Care and Management, 2008, p. 248). Indeed; but what about that adhesive tape, and the threat of damage to the emulsion onto which it was stuck?

With painstaking caution, I worked my way through the album, trying not to dislodge any photographs. It was apparent that the album itself did not date from the war years; it was actually more like a simple scrap-book than an album. It was also apparent that the photographs were not in any sequence. In fact, many had come loose over time and had been relegated to the back pages of the album, sans tape. In consultation with the donor, it was decided that the album was of no sentimental or historical value. That, and the fact that the photographs were not in any sequence that had meaning but had simply been pasted into the album in a haphazard manner, made it easier to resolve this Catch-22.

I decided to remove the photographs.

Working as carefully as possible, photograph by photograph, I loosened the adhesive from the black paper page of the album. To my relief, I found that the adhesive had become so dry that minimal pressure or force was needed to remove it, and the adhesive tape lifted off the print equally effortlessly. No damage was detectable. A very light clean with an appropriate cloth was applied to remove any traces of residual adhesive.

And so the photographs were removed, and the album discarded.

Which brings me back to Catch-22, italicised, i.e., the novel.

Processing the prints that I had retrieved from the album involved elements of traditional processing and digital processing. Apart from taking care to rehouse the physical objects in a manner that would ensure their longevity, I also wanted to digitize them, for access as well as preservation. As I worked through the prints, capturing metadata for the digital objects, cleaning and re-housing the originals, it struck me that many of the images could well have come directly from the pages of Heller’s Catch-22.

Heller, you might recall, was himself a bomber pilot in the Mediterranean theatre. He flew more than 60 missions. Ozinsky was attached to a bomber squadron, and the missions he flew would have been very much the same as those flown by Heller and described in Catch-22.

And so it was that as I arranged and described and metadata-ed and scanned and cleaned and re-housed and boxed and did all the other things an archivist does, I was lost in the parallel worlds of the real Ozinsky and the fictional Yossarian as they flew their missions over the war-torn landscapes of Italy and beyond.

Indulge me for just a while and I will try to illustrate what I mean.

Heller’s novel is set on the island of Pianosa. The men live in tents. Yossarian shares a tent with Orr, who was always trying to make the tent more liveable, much to Yossarian’s chagrin. Worse, “The dead man in Yossarian’s tent was a pest, and Yossarian didn’t like him, even though he had never seen him.” I doubt Ozinsky had the same problems, or tent mates, but these images reminded me of the many hilarious tent scenes in the novel.

Like Yossarian, Ozinsky was attached to a bomber wing. The planes they flew in may have been different, but the missions were much the same.

Milo Minderbinder was the powerful mess officer who created a “syndicate” (M&M Enterprises) in which everyone had a share. In this image (pay day in the real war), I imagine Milo trying to explain to Yossarian how he was able to buy eggs in Malta for seven cents apiece and sell them at a profit in Pianosa for five cents. 

One of my favourite supporting characters in the novel is Doc Daneeka, the squadron’s physician. But Doc Daneeka leaves the doctoring to his two orderlies, Wes and Gus, while he indulges his hypochondria and does all he can to avoid dying. In this image, I imagine Wes and Gus giving Doc Daneeka an injection …

In Catch-22, Yossarian and his friends often frolic on the beach. It seems from  images such as this that Ozinsky and friends did the same.

A key moment in the novel is the death of Snowden. He was manning a gun turret much like the one below when he was shot. He died in Yossarian’s arms. “Where are the Snowdens of yesteryear?” is another Catch-22 phrase that has entered the popular culture.

At one point, Yossarian is terrified because his squadron has been “volunteered” to bomb Bologna, which they know will be heavily defended. In a desperate bid to save his own life, he sneaks into the ops room and moves the bomb line past Bologna. As I looked at the first of the two photographs below, I could just imagine the perplexed officers saying, “Look! The bomb line is past Bologna! The city has been captured. We don’t have to bomb it after all.” The other image shows an official notice that the bombing in North Africa was over, since the German and Italian armies had surrendered. What Yossarian wouldn’t have given to see one of those with Italy on it in place of Africa.

“’Now, men, we are going to synchronise our watches,’ Colonel Korn began …”

I could go on and on, but I think you can see why a Joseph Heller fan like me would draw the obvious similarities between Yossarian’s fictional experiences as portrayed on the printed page and the real-life experiences of  Julian Ozinsky as captured by these photographs.

My aim with this post is twofold.

The first aim is to draw attention to an on-going (and potentially never-ending) project to arrange and describe all photographs housed in legacy collections in an overarching “photograph collection”. Many of the collections taken in at UCT Libraries Special Collections over the decades have significant photographic components. These photographs have untapped documentary, historical, and social value. Unfortunately, in most cases they are either not described at all, or described in a rudimentary fashion, thus limiting accessibility. Many are also in danger of degradation, making physical and digital preservation a necessity.

The second aim is to shine a spotlight on the photographs in the Julian Ozinsky collection. Once they have all been digitized, they will represent a significant record of the South African Air Force’s role in the war, and should be of interest to military and aviation historians.

They will also be of interest to historians of Jewish South Africans. An as yet unresolved issue relating to Catch-22 concerns Yossarian’s nationality. Many have speculated that he was Jewish. Based on this album, I’ say he was.

The Julian Ozinsky Papers are described here.

A sample of the photographs from the album can be viewed here.

In time, they will all be accessible online. And there won’t be a catch, not even Catch-22 …