07 September 2009

Launch of Forgotten Voices in the Present

The launch of the long-anticipated collaborative book and DVD set of the "‘Forgotten' Voices in the Present' project took place on Saturday the 5th of September at the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation (RLF) in Parktown North, a tranquil setting rather unfamiliar to the majority of its participants.

Slightly delayed by the gleeful arrival of far-flung community representatives who had traveled from Rammolutsi, Maandagshoek and Sebokeng, respectively, to be at the launch, the event was then opened by Dale McKinley, the project coordinator, Catherine Kennedy, Acting Director of the South African History Archive (SAHA), and Rose Khumalo, Project Officer of the RLF.

Dr. Noor Nieftagodien of the Wits History Department emphasized the value of South African oral history in subverting established power structures, bringing those on the margins into the middle of historical explanation. He emphasized the value of McKinley and Veriava's work in granting agency and, thus, dignity, to a range of South Africans struggling with innumerable complications in their day-to-day lives. The researchers were lauded for not imposing their own analyses and interpretations upon the subjects of the project, thus allowing those interviewed to be ‘authors' of their own histories. What makes the project even more unique is the inclusion of full interview transcripts in digital format for use by anyone interested in purveying a different perspective of South Africa's near past.

The focus of the event was a screening of the documentary edited by Veriava entitled ‘A Dream Deferred.' This documentary accompanies the book, and is divided into three parts - with sections on Rammolutsi, Maandagshoek and Sebokeng. The film is emotive yet measured in its portrayal of the experiences of residents from these diverse locales. The sense of intimacy engendered in the research method of one-on-one interviewing is effective in bringing home the harsh reality of life for these individuals. Their disillusionment and anxiety is palpable; life was difficult under apartheid, and remains difficult in the post-1994 era. It seems as if little will change in the future, but McKinley and Veriava go beyond this bleak image of marginalised South Africa by highlighting the strength and resilience of those who have been forced to adapt, again and again, with minimal reprieve.

This work forms part of an overall project to alleviate the socio-economic suffering and cultural marginalisation of the rural, peri-urban and urban poor, neglected by a new hegemonic structure "in which social inclusion is increasingly made contingent upon local capital investment." [McKinley, D. & Veriava, A., ‘Voices cry from under new myths about ordinary SA', Business Day, 1 October 2007] The South African History Archive is proud of its involvement in the development of this project over the past two years.