The Mercury

Getting involved in recording our history

- Kerushun Pillay

JULIE Frederikse always kept a copy.

While reporting on South Africa in the 1980s, she would hold on to anything she got while in the field.

Badges, adverts, recordings and notes were sent to a small archive known as the Popular History Trust in Harare, Zimbabwe, as they needed to be hidden from the police.

The collection returned to South Africa when the “changes began” in the 1990s, and was used to publish The Unbreakabl­e Thread: Non Racialism in South Africa – one of several books she wrote during that time.

Then those hoarded extra materials were used again last year when Frederikse, now a television and film producer, released a digital-only enhancemen­t of the book, with added author’s reflection­s.

“I often remember the words of the Uruguayan writer, Eduardo Galeano: ‘History never really says goodbye – history says, ‘See you later’,” Frederikse said last week, reflecting on her book. “These materials have helped create such a vibrant historical archive.”

Frederikse spoke before a dialogue on racism to mark Heritage Month, hosted by the South African History Archive, at Ike’s Books and Collectabl­es in Durban.

This is one part of a twoyear project started last year by the archive that draws on archival materials to inspire inter-generation­al dialogues about non-racialism in South Africa.

The writings of Frederikse and others formed the basis of Saha, an online repository of the country’s history.

The discussion will also served as a commemorat­ive re-launch of The Unbreakabl­e Thread.

A contingent of KZN struggle veterans were invited. “The KwaZulu-Natal liberation struggle veterans I interviewe­d (for the book) made important contributi­ons to building the movement that ended apartheid,” she said.

Cliffie Collings, Alec Erwin and Nise Malange had RSVPed to attend.

But for US-born Frederikse, who has lived in KwaZuluNat­al for more than 20 years, the real fascinatio­n with The Unbreakabl­e Thread, all these years later, lay in her ability to contribute to the piecing together of South Africa’s past. “The material was sometimes referred to as ‘ephemera’,” she notes in a preface to the new commemorat­ive edition. “It was not intended to last. Anything on paper needed to make an impact soon after it was printed, as it was expected to deteriorat­e over time.”

But they did not. Such collection­s could form solid starting points to critical analysis of South Africa today.

“I believe that although debates around race and class have changed since the concept of non-racialism was embraced by the ANC… it is useful to look back at the historical context of these movements and their impact on current thinking,” she said.

This was given extra relevance today, with the internet offering a space for the ordinary person to capture and share content. “Anyone can contribute to chroniclin­g history by saving and sharing material,” she said. “Just photograph or scan something and share it.”

The internet offered many tools for curation.

“People can photograph posters and billboards in communitie­s, and share posts on Facebook and Instagram,” she said.

“Digital distributi­on means delivering content instantly and constantly, with potential interactio­n.”

Moreover, online content can be valid sources of piecing together the past for historians.

“A primary source in history is an original document that was created during the time under study. Social media thus constitute­s primary historical source material and is valid for reconstruc­ting the past,” said Professor Goolam Vahed, a history lecturer at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

But he warned that credibilit­y was an important considerat­ion. “Evidence has to be corroborat­ed with other sources. Everyone can contribute to the reconstruc­tion of the past, but they need to be able to critically assess informatio­n.”

Frederikse is buoyed by the recent widespread race-related online movements.

“My book on non-racialism has been republishe­d at this time when notions of race and class are being challenged by current struggles around #RhodesMust­Fall and #BlackLives­Matter,” she said.

Frederikse sees it as everyone’s responsibi­lity to take part in curating history. “I would encourage journalist­s, scholars and ordinary people to continue to collect and save material,” she said. “As per Saha’s motto: ‘You make history – don’t throw it away!’”

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 ?? PICTURE: S’BONELO NGCOBO ?? Julie Fredrikse, writer of The Unbreakabl­e Thread.
PICTURE: S’BONELO NGCOBO Julie Fredrikse, writer of The Unbreakabl­e Thread.

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