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date: 20 April 2019

South African Historical Writing to the End of the Apartheid Era

Summary and Keywords

While many of those who have written about South Africa have included reference to past events, it was only from the early 19th century that attempts were made to present a coherent picture of South Africa’s past. From the early 20th century professional historians, for long all white males, began to present their interpretations of the way in which the country known from 1910 as the Union of South Africa had evolved over time. In the Afrikaans-speaking universities there emerged an often nationalist historiography, while the major English-speaking historians presented a more inclusive but still often Eurocentric and mainly political view of the South African past. From the 1960s a conscious attempt was made to decolonize South African historiography by looking at the history of all the country’s peoples, but the historical profession remained almost exclusively white and the few black works of history were largely ignored. Many of those who were most influential in taking South African historical writing in new directions were South Africans who had left the country and settled abroad.

In the 1970s and 1980s, a golden age of South African historical writing, shaped in part by the influence of neo-Marxist approaches from the United Kingdom and the United States, many new topics were explored, including the relationship between race and class and between capitalist development and apartheid. By emphasizing resistance to racial segregation in the past, South African historical writing assisted the process leading to the end of apartheid. By the time that happened, South African historical writing had become very nuanced and varied, but only to some extent integrated into the historiography of other parts of the African continent.

Keywords: historiography, liberals, radicals, revisionists, social history

Serious writing on South African history has both reflected general trends in historical writing in other countries and had particular features of its own. Until the early 1990s, when most formal apartheid legislation was repealed, relatively few people, almost all of them white males, were involved in writing on the history of South Africa. Various attempts have been made to place these writers in “schools” of historical writing—settler, imperial, Afrikaner, liberal, and radical/revisionist—but these are, at best, rough categories that often overlap, and within each there is considerable variation. Moving beyond such categories, we can notice certain other key developments in the evolution of South African historical writing, above all the slow abandonment of a Eurocentric perspective and adoption of a more inclusive, sometimes heavily Afrocentric, one. There was a transition from amateur to professional historical writing in the early 20th century, and a shift, from the 1970s, from mainly political and elite history to social history and “history from below,” the history of groups previously “hidden from history.” Some iconic historians stand out by virtue of their influence on others and the continuing significance of their work over long periods of time: these individuals include George McCall Theal, William Miller Macmillan, Eric Walker, Cornelis W. de Kiewiet, Leonard Thompson, and Shula Marks. The “decolonization” of South African historical writing was a long process, one that was far advanced before the end of apartheid. By then, there had been a great growth in knowledge of the previously neglected or denied history of the black African majority and of the social dynamics of South African society over time.

From Theal to the Early Liberal Historians

Until well into the 19th century, the only writing on South Africa’s past was by European settlers and missionaries. The first to attempt a systematic history of relations between those from Europe and the indigenous people of the country was John Philip of the London Missionary Society, who in his Researches in South Africa (1828) wrote critically of the way in which the white settlers had treated the indigenous Khoi and San of the south-western Cape, and Philip even began to give some consideration to their history.1 Those who published accounts of South Africa’s past after Philip in the 19th century were mostly British settlers who saw the country’s history in the context of European expansion overseas. Their histories began with the Portuguese voyages of discovery around the Cape or with the Dutch settlement in Table Bay on the Cape Peninsula in 1652. They had little or nothing to say of the indigenous people, except in as much as they were an obstacle in the way of the settler advance into the interior. Most of these writers believed in the beneficence of the British empire, stressed the achievements of British rule and of the British settlers in South Africa who arrived in the early 19th century, and were critical of the Afrikaner Voortrekkers who left the Cape Colony to go on their Great Trek into the interior in the 1830s, and of the republics the trekkers subsequently established there.

In the last decades of the 19th century South Africa’s most prolific and influential historian was George McCall Theal. A Canadian by birth, who found work at a mission station in the eastern Cape, then in public service in Cape Town, he wrote numerous historical works including A Compendium of South African History and Geography (1874), the first comprehensive history of South Africa. He eventually published an eleven-volume History of South Africa, (1897–1915), along with numerous volumes of documents.2 Theal believed he approached the past with “objectivity” but aimed to write a history that would, he hoped, serve as a foundational text for both English and Afrikaans-speaking white South Africans, and so adopted a pro-Boer, anti-black, “colonial nationalist” approach, hostile to British imperialism and to those missionaries who represented the interests of the indigenous majority. He chronicled what he saw to be the formation of a new white South African society, in which blacks were seen as a source of labor. Another amateur historian, the British-born George Cory, wrote a multi-volume The Rise of South Africa (1910–1939), which, despite its title, was largely a history of the British settlers of the eastern Cape, was very critical of missionaries, and saw blacks as the enemy of the settlers.

Those Afrikaners who from the 1870s began writing about the history of their own people, in part to encourage the development of an Afrikaner national consciousness, were as Eurocentric and white supremacist in their views as Theal and Cory. In the story told by these historians and their successors well into the 20th century, the Great Trek and then the wars against the British in the late 19th century loomed large. The Afrikaners were presented as a people who had had to struggle to survive against the hostile forces of the perfidious British, the forces of nature, and the barbarous, untrustworthy indigenous peoples.

Alongside this highly polemical writing, a more sober and scholarly tradition of history-writing, first in Dutch, then Afrikaans, began at the University of Stellenbosch in the early 20th century, by historians trained in the Netherlands and German universities, most of them interested in aspects of the history of whites in pre-industrial South Africa. They believed that they worked in a “scientific” tradition established by Leopold von Ranke but were increasingly influenced by the developing Afrikaner nationalism. The volksgeskiedenis (history of the people) they wrote remained Eurocentric and was centered on political and military history, and great men. A notable exception in approach was a trilogy by P. J. van der Merwe of Stellenbosch University, which explored the advance of the Trekboers into the interior from a social-economic perspective.3

Floors van Jaarsveld, the most prolific Afrikaner historian writing from the 1950s, continued to work within a nationalist tradition, contrasting “white Christian civilizing” forces with barbaric indigenous people, until toward the end of his career he broke with this to some extent.4 A new critical, anti-nationalist approach was seen in the late 1970s in the account by Albert Grundlingh of Boers who had supported the British during the South African war.5 The most influential Afrikaner historian of the late 20th century, Hermann Giliomee, opened many new perspectives, across the whole of Afrikaner history, but mainly within a framework that remained essentially Afrikaner-centric.6

Meanwhile, from early in the 20th century a few professional historians began to teach at English-language tertiary institutions. The leading figure at the Cape, British-born Eric Walker, was to produce a general History of South Africa (1928) full of new detail but still within a Eurocentric tradition. Though he wrote a romanticized account of the Great Trek, Walker blamed the racism forged on the frontier for 20th-century segregationist policies, which he opposed as contrary to the needs of the economy. For him, the racism of the Boer republics had been carried into the new Union of South Africa by the dominance of the Afrikaners of the Transvaal.7

A more important figure in opening new approaches was William Miller Macmillan, who taught at the new University of the Witwatersrand in the 1920s. He first explored white and black poverty, then wrote books on the missionary Philip to challenge the pro-colonist views of Theal and Cory.8 Walker, Macmillan, and his leading student, Cornelis William de Kiewiet, all hoped their historical work would help show the fallacy of the policies of segregation then being introduced by the Afrikaner-led government of the time. For them, South Africa’s history was essentially the development of an integrated society, with one common capitalist economy, heavily dependent on mining. De Kiewiet defended British policy in South Africa in the 19th century as being imbued with “high motives and worthy ends.”9 Like Macmillan and Walker, he left South Africa and did not begin to explore the histories of black societies. His History of South Africa: Social and Economic (1941) nevertheless remained the key single-volume work of synthesis by a liberal historian until that by Leonard Thompson half a century later.10

Though less influential, The Cape Coloured People: 1657–1937 (1939) by Johannes S. Marais of the University of the Witwatersrand, who was strongly influenced by Macmillan, was concerned both with policy toward those people of mixed descent known as Coloureds and, to some extent, their own history as well.11 Others who remained with the liberal school and wrote in the 1950s and 1960s remained much concerned with the development of the constitution and in particular the nonracial franchise at the Cape, along with the place of South Africa as a dominion in the British Empire. Perhaps the greatest work in this tradition, published in 1960, explored the making of the Union of South Africa in 1910. It did so without considering the significant black influence on that story.12

Afrocentric and Revisionist History

It was only in the 1960s, against the background of the decolonization of tropical Africa and as they became aware of the development of new schools of historical writing there, that South Africa’s professional historians began to adopt an Afrocentric approach to the past. In doing so, they did not draw upon earlier Afrocentric writing by a few black Africans who, without formal historical training, had written brief accounts of their own people. Some of these had been lost, others were published obscurely. One work stood out, that by a leading figure in the early African National Congress, Sol. T. Plaatje.13 His Native Life in South Africa, published when he was in England during the First World War, was a highly effective polemic, which drew upon an extensive reading of the newspapers of the time, along with his own personal experiences.14 Another book unduly neglected in the 1960s, perhaps in part because it was devoid of footnotes, was Jordan K. Ngubane’s An African Explains Apartheid, which despite its title was a general account of South African history.15

Nor were the professional historians of the 1960s influenced by the few white activists and amateur historians who had tried to present an alternative history of the country based on what had happened to the indigenous people. The leading pioneer in this was Edward Roux, a botanist by profession, who from the 1930s began writing a general account of South Africa from a black perspective. This was published in London in 1948 under the title Time Longer than Rope, but became widely known only when it appeared in paperback in 1964.16

In the 1960s a South African historian then teaching in Nigeria, John Omer-Cooper, was the first to analyze the rise of the Zulu kingdom in the early 19th century, and the repercussions that followed, in positive terms.17 Then came the publication of a set of essays under the title African Societies in Southern Africa (1969), edited by Leonard Thompson, South Africa’s leading historian, by then teaching abroad, and of the two volumes of The Oxford History of South Africa (1969 and 1971), edited by Thompson and the anthropologist Monica Wilson. With those works, an Afrocentric approach can be said to have begun to become central to professional history writing on South Africa. The Oxford History adopted an interdisciplinary approach, with many of its contributors not being professional historians. It showed that the indigenous people of the country had had a long and significant history before the coming of the white settlers, so destroying the long-held myth of an “empty land” when the Voortrekkers moved into the interior. It then attempted to approach the history of the country since colonization by giving due weight to the history of the black majority.

In their introduction to The Oxford History, Thompson and Wilson stressed that their key theme was one of the “interaction” of different peoples over time, and they emphasized cooperation between white and black. T. R. H. Davenport’s heavily political South Africa, a Modern History (first edition 1977) adopted a similar approach.18 Though these works tried to deal with all South Africa’s people, they did not address the political economy of the country head-on, tended to accept capitalism as a neutral force and extraneous to the shaping of a racial order, and still saw racial conflict largely as a product of Afrikaner nationalist policies.

A very different approach, critical of such liberal scholarship, was to be found in a Marxist work that its authors described as “historical sociology”: Jack and Ray Simons’s Class and Colour in South Africa 1850–1950 (1969) analyzed in class terms the reasons for the long history of unsuccessful attempts to overthrow the racial capitalist system. A younger generation then led the way in transforming South African historical scholarship in the early 1970s. Influenced by neo-Marxist currents in Western Europe, including the writings of E. P. Thompson, a group of young South Africans then based in the United Kingdom were in the early 1970s responsible for a radical reinterpretation of the South African past from a neo-Marxist and materialist perspective. From 1969 the seminar that Shula Marks ran at the University of London became recognized as the single most important forum for the presentation of research on South African history. Some years later Thompson at Yale University launched a Southern African Research Program to attract new scholarship, while at Oxford Stanley Trapido also stimulated the new work, some of which was carried in the Journal of Southern African Studies founded in England in 1974. A large number of younger scholars, some not trained as historians and with disciplinary homes in other social sciences, were soon attracted to what seemed the very exciting field of South African historical writing. The effervescence of the field in this golden age of South African historical writing can hardly be exaggerated. With historical scholarship then in decline in West and East Africa, South African history in the 1970s and 1980s was at the cutting edge of humanities scholarship on the African continent. It was, at the same time, very engaged scholarship, actively working to influence the ending of apartheid.

Though initially strongly influenced from outside South Africa, from the late 1970s the new materialist approach was taken up within South Africa. The lead there was taken initially at the University of the Witwatersrand, where the sociologist Belinda Bozzoli, in the aftermath of the Soweto uprising, began in 1978 an influential series of History Workshops, modeled in part on those held at Ruskin College, Oxford. They began with a special focus on the black African townships, whose history had previously been neglected, and moved on to discuss a wide range of issues relating to class and consciousness.19 Though efforts were made to include black Africans in the new work, few became writers of history, which was sad testimony to the discriminatory system under which black South Africans continued to live in the late apartheid years. Only a few of the black South Africans who went into exile were able to find time in the years of struggle to write historical works.20

The new work both took South African history-writing into numerous new areas, and also sought to reinterpret its central themes. The Oxford History was heavily criticized for its lack of coherence and failure to tackle key issues in the development of racial capitalism. A former student of Thompson’s, Martin Legassick now overturned Walker’s frontier thesis, arguing that the frontier was a zone of interaction instead of conflict, that racist policies could not simply be explained by the carrying-over of 18th-century ideas into the 20th, and that the mining revolution of the late 19th century was crucial to the development of South Africa’s particular system of racial segregation, based on migrant labor, a compound system and rigid controls on the movement of black Africans.21 That system, he believed, came into being fundamentally as a way for the white rulers to control the process of industrialization and its social consequences. The sociologist Harold Wolpe, another South African living in England, saw the implementation of apartheid policies from 1948 as a response to the undermining of the migrant labor system by the rise of secondary industry, which required semi-skilled labor, and by the disintegration of the economy of the African reserves.22

Much of the new work focused on aspects of the development of the mining industry and its impact on rural societies. The state, the revisionists claimed, had sought to cut the costs of exploiting the deep-level gold mines of the Witwatersrand by providing the mine owners with a very cheap and constant supply of labor from the reserves. The Canadian sociologist Frederick Johnstone sought to show the importance of class in the way the gold-mining industry both emerged and then operated in the early 20th century. He argued that the mine owners wanted, and benefited from, the job color bar on the mines and that the division between black and white workers was based on class, not race. After the Rand revolt of 1922, a tacit alliance had been forged between mining capital and white labor, in the interests of keeping black labor cheap and unskilled, an alliance based on an acceptance of the job color bar.23

A South African scholar then based in Britain, Colin Bundy, influenced by debates on Latin American underdevelopment, traced the growth and then undermining of what he called the South African peasantry. He showed that African agriculture in the 19th century had successfully taken advantage of the new markets and then been deliberately destroyed by the white state in the early 20th century. Bundy rejected the idea of two separate agricultural sectors, one a modern capitalist one, the other a “backward” black one, and argued instead that the underdevelopment of the one was the other side of the development of the other.24 Other radical revisionists now sought to argue that it was gold, not a struggle for political supremacy in southern Africa, that was key to the South African war at the end of the 19th century. That war, said Anthony Atmore and Shula Marks, had been a struggle for control of the future capitalist development of South Africa.25

A number of young historians—William Beinart, Peter Delius, Phil Bonner, Jeff Guy, Kevin Shillington, and Tim Keegan were among the leading ones—used both oral and archival evidence to write about the histories of African societies and the social consequences on them of South Africa’s industrialization. They showed black Africans not as victims of an oppressive system but as active agents in the making of their own history.26 Aspects of preindustrial South Africa were reinterpreted in a collection of essays published under the title The Shaping of South African Society (1979), though the emphasis of that volume was the early Cape and it was only slowly that historians such as John Wright and Carolyn Hamilton begin to recover the initiative from anthropologists in tackling the history of precolonial societies in the interior and Zululand. One of the contributors to the Shaping volume, Robert Shell, began work on a masterly study of slavery at the Cape, following upon the earlier work of Robert Ross and Nigel Worden, and Shell argued that the legacy of slavery had been downplayed in South Africa’s history.27 A related theme almost entirely neglected until new work was done on it in the early 1980s was that of the “liberated Africans” who had been released off slave ships and indentured at the Cape.28 Other new work showed that the settler societies in the 19th-century interior were not as homogenous as usually presented and remained weak in the face of indigenous societies until the major British military and political intervention in the 1870s upset the previous balance of power between white and black in favor of white supremacy.29

In the aftermath of the labor unrest of the early 1970s there was new interest in the development of black trade unions, but the initial work on them tended to be institutional and uncritical.30 By the 1980s scholars were exploring the history of the black working class more broadly. Preeminent among them was Charles van Onselen, who was to emerge as South Africa’s leading historian. He drew upon new trends in social history in England and the United States to write pioneering, very vivid studies of aspects of the early social and economic history of the Witwatersrand, showing the roles of such people as washermen and criminals in creating a new society there.31 Meanwhile Marks, with co-authors, collected a rich array of papers presented in her seminar in three seminal volumes of essays.32 The South African Historical Journal and Ravan Press of Johannesburg, along with David Philip in Cape Town, played important roles in disseminating the new work, and Luli Callinicos took the lead in popularizing it, writing what she called “people’s history.”33

The radical revisionists all saw capitalism as closely linked to imperialism and the system of racial oppression, but they were not all of one mind or approach. Some were sociologists of a Marxist bent who tried to apply the structural Marxism of writers such as Louis Althusser and Nicos Poulantzas to aspects of the South African past, and were concerned in particular with fractions of capital and the relationship between the economy and the state.34 These structuralists, who included a black sociologist in exile, Ben Magubane, were criticized for being too abstract in their analyses by those who belonged to what was into the 1980s the dominant trend in the new historiography: an empirically based social history.35 This moved away from a concern with elites and political history to the experience of the majority of South Africa’s population, in both rural and urban settings. Whereas early “struggle history” had seen the development of the African National Congress in largely uncritical, organizational terms, Tom Lodge and others now began to present a much more nuanced and not uncritical picture of an organization that was made up of complex parts, the social geography of which varied greatly, spatially and over time.36 Other political formations too began to find their historians.37

Following an example set by historians in England and the United States, much of the new social history in South Africa was history designed to be “from the bottom up” or “from below,” focusing on the history of “ordinary people,” including those who had, until then, slipped through the cracks of historical narratives, the marginalized and dispossessed, from sharecroppers and peasants to gangsters and car guards. The new work tried not to see these marginalized groups in isolation, but set them in a political economy context, relating them to the appropriate material base and the particular environmental setting.

The 1980s

In the 1980s, as South Africa experienced intensified internal resistance and repression, South African historical work proliferated and became even more varied than before. There was a continued concern with economic and social history, and emphasis on class relations. A South African who had settled in Canada, Dan O’Meara, examined class structure and class struggle in Afrikanerdom in Volkskapitalisme. Class, Capital and Ideology in the Development of Afrikaner Nationalism, 1934–1948 (1983). Others turned to the history of revolt and of popular consciousness, or explored popular culture, including music and dance, sport, and literature. Bozzoli and Cherryl Walker began the serious study of feminism and women’s resistance, and Bonner the role of family history.38

While the radical revisionists initially reacted harshly against the liberals, accusing them of deliberately ignoring both the true nature of apartheid exploitation and the role of Britain and of English-speaking South Africans in its development, by the mid-1980s the divisions between radicals and liberals had begun to heal. The revisionists’ initial over-emphasis on class, and sometimes very crude materialist explanations, had by then given way to a recognition by most historians that both class and race were key categories of analysis. Most liberal historians were ready to accept many of the revisionists’ insights and the value of the social history approach.

There were, however, remaining controversies on which there was no consensus. While work on the nature of the relationship between capital and the state had shown that a close relationship between them had existed from the beginning of the mineral revolution, in a major work the liberal historian Merle Lipton, a South African who had settled in England, argued that mining and agricultural capitalists had been forced to accept a racial order that they opposed and were powerless to overturn. It was wrong, Lipton believed, for the radical revisionists to say that capitalism and apartheid were intrinsically bound together. With the development of the economy in the 1980s, she pointed out, the irrationality of apartheid restrictions had become more apparent, leading to a process of reform.39

The latter half of the 1980s saw a growing diversity of themes in revisionist scholarship. This had, as we have seen, moved beyond issues of political economy to address, as well, social and cultural questions such as the environment, gender relations, health, religion, ethnicity, and identity. South African historians of the 1980s were influenced by American writing on the frontier and race and slavery, and some American historians wrote important comparative studies of aspects of the histories of their own country and South Africa.40 There was relatively little attempt, however, to see South Africa’s history as part of the history of Africa, perhaps in part because of the difficulty of South Africans traveling to other parts of the continent during the apartheid era. Ideas of South African exceptionalism persisted because of the extent of European colonization there, and its impact.41

As the end of apartheid approached in the late 1980s, some anticipated that a “new history” would complement a “new South Africa,” as new nation-building schools of history had accompanied the decolonization of tropical Africa. But the transfer of power that then began in South Africa was not matched by any significant new historiographical development. Was this because of the nature of the negotiated political revolution? The transfer of power in South Africa, unlike the decolonization of tropical Africa over thirty years earlier, was the result of a set of negotiations within the country between the ruling white minority and the African National Congress, which accepted a liberal democratic constitution and agreed to work within a capitalist framework. A new radical nationalist history was not relevant in such a context.42 But another reason why South African historiography did not undergo a major decolonial turn in the early 1990s was that such a turn had taken place decades earlier; as we have seen, South African historical writing had begun to be decolonized long before the political decolonization that occurred from 1990.

The State of the Field c. 1990 and After

As apartheid unraveled toward the end of the 1980s it was mainly liberal historians who attempted syntheses of South African history.43 The Reader’s Digest Illustrated History of South Africa, written by journalists under the supervision of professional historians, was an attempt to popularize all the new work and show its variety.44 Many large gaps remained, such as the history of the liberation movements in exile, about which relatively little was known in 1990. White scholars, most of them male, still dominated South Africa’s historical writing as the country entered its new democratic era, and that would only slowly change as a younger and more diverse cohort emerged.45 The new generation would produce no new master narrative. With nationalist history remaining out of fashion, social history continued to be preeminent. A new trend developed in memorialization and heritage studies. South Africa’s historical writing moved further into such fields as health, gender, and the environment, and, in line with historiographies elsewhere, underwent postmodern and cultural “turns.”46 Themes such as that of resistance received fuller and more nuanced attention post 1990.47 At the same time, the study of South Africa’s history seemed to lose some of the excitement that it had generated in the 1970s and 1980s and from the early 1990s seemed to hold less appeal than before for a new generation at the country’s universities. That and other trends from 1990 must be the subject of another article.

Discussion of the Literature

The only two monographs to survey South African historical writing appeared coincidentally in the same year, 1988: Ken Smith, The Changing Past. Trends in South African Historical Writing, and Christopher Saunders, The Making of the South African Past. Major Historians on Race and Class. A few years earlier the American historian Harrison Wright had produced a lively polemic entitled The Burden of the Present: Liberal Radical Controversy over South African History (1977), in which he argued that both liberal and radical historians were not distancing themselves sufficiently from present-day concerns. Much more recently Merle Lipton has come to the defense of liberal writers and their arguments in a polemical account entitled Liberals, Marxists and Nationalists (2007). For Afrikaner historiography see especially the works listed under Further Reading by Floors van Jaarsveld, Hermann Giliomee, and Alex Mouton. Also listed there are useful short reflective essays by Colin Bundy, Alan Cobley, Shula Marks and Albert Grundlingh. The single most useful volume to have appeared this century, reflecting a range of views and approaches, is the collection edited by the Danish historian Hans Eric Stolten (2007).

Primary Sources

Though historians spent much time consulting primary sources, few of those who wrote on South Africa’s past left significant collections of papers. There is some useful material on South African history-writing in English in the W. M. Macmillan papers in the Bodleian Library, Oxford University; in the C. W. de Kiewiet papers at Cornell University in the United States, and in the small collections of Eric Walker and Rodney Davenport papers at the University of Cape Town.

Further Reading

Bozzoli, Belinda, and Peter Delius. “Radical History and South African Society.” Radical History Review 46, no. 7 (1990): 13–45.Find this resource:

Bundy, Colin. Re-Making the Past. New Perspective in South African History. Cape Town: UCT Department of Adult Education and Extra-Mural Studies, 1986.Find this resource:

Cobley, Alan. “Does Social History Have a Future? Recent Trends in South African Historiography.” Journal of Southern African Studies 27, no. 3 (2001): 615–657.Find this resource:

Giliomee, Hermann. Historian. An Autobiography (Cape Town: Tafelberg, 2017)Find this resource:

Grundlingh, Albert. “Some Trends in South African Academic History: Changing Contexts and Challenges.” In Toward New Histories for South Africa. Edited by Shamil Jeppie, 196–215. Lansdowne, South Africa: Juta, 2004.Find this resource:

Lipton, Merle. Liberals, Marxists and Nationalists: Competing Interpretations of South African History. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.Find this resource:

Magubane, Ben. The Political Economy of Race and Class. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1979.Find this resource:

Marks, Shula. “The Historiography of South Africa: Recent Developments.” In African Historiographies: What History for Which Africa? Edited by Bogumil Jewsiewicki and David Newbury, 165–176. Beverly Hills, CA: SAGE, 1986.Find this resource:

Mouton, Alex, ed. History, Historiography and Afrikaner Nationalism. Vanderbijlpark, South Africa: Kleio, 2007.Find this resource:

Saunders, Christopher. The Making of the South African Past: Major Historians on Race and Class. Cape Town: David Philip, 1988.Find this resource:

Saunders, Christopher. Writing History: South Africa’s Urban Past and Other Essays. Pretoria, South Africa: HSRC Press, 1992.Find this resource:

Smith, Ken. The Changing Past: Trends in South African Historical Writing. Johannesburg: Southern Book Publishers, 1988.Find this resource:

Stolten, Hans Erik. History Making and Present-Day Politics: The Making of Collective Memory in South Africa. Uppsala, Sweden: Nordic Africa Institute, 2007.Find this resource:

van Jaarsveld, Floors A. Omstrede Suid-Afrikaanse Verlede: Geskiedenisideologie en die Historiese Skuldvraagstuk. Johannesburg: Lex Patria, 1984.Find this resource:


(1.) Compare especially Andrew Bank, “The Great Debate and the Origins of South African Historiography,” Journal of African History 38, no. 1 (1997): 261–281.

(3.) Petrus J. van der Merwe, Die Noordwaartse Beweging van die Boere voor die Groot Trek, 1770–1842 (Cape Town: Nasionale Pers, 1937), Die Trekboer in die Geskiedenis van die Kaapkolonie (1657–1842) (Cape Town: Nasionale Pers, 1940), and Trek: Studies oor die Mobiliteit van die Pioniersbevolking aan die Kaap (Cape Town: Nasionale Pers, 1945).

(5.) Albert Grundlingh, Die “Hendsoppers” en “Joiners”: Die Rasionaal en Verskynsel van Verraad (Menlopark, South Africa: Protea Boekhuis: 1979).

(6.) Heribert Adam and Hermann B. Giliomee, The Rise and Crisis of Afrikaner Power (Cape Town: David Philip, 1979); André du Toit and Hermann B. Giliomee, Afrikaner Political Thought: Analysis and Documents: I. 1780–1850 (Cape Town: David Philip, 1979); and Hermann Giliomee, The Afrikaners: Biography of a People (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2003).

(7.) Eric Walker, A History of South Africa (London: Longmans, Green, 1928), and The Great Trek (London: Adam Charles, 1934).

(8.) William Miller Macmillan, The South African Agrarian Problem and Its Historical Development (Johannesburg: Central News Agency, 1919), The Cape Colour Question (London: Longman, 1927), Bantu, Boer and Briton: The Making of the South African Native Problem (London: Oxford University Press, 1929), and Complex South Africa: An Economic Footnote to History (London: Faber & Faber, 1930).

(9.) Cornelis William de Kiewiet, British Colonial Policy and the South African Republics (London: Longmans, Green, 1929), and The Imperial Factor in South Africa (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1937).

(10.) Cornelis William de Kiewiet, History of South Africa: Social and Economic (London: Oxford University Press, 1941); and Leonard M. Thompson, A History of South Africa (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1990). Compare Chris Saunders, C. W. de Kiewiet (Cape Town: Centre for African Studies, 1986).

(11.) Johannes S. Marais, The Cape Coloured People: 1657–1937 (London: Longman, 1939).

(12.) Leonard M. Thompson, The Unification of South Africa (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1960). The black African reaction to the making of Union was shown by Andre Odendaal in Vukani Bantu (Cape Town: David Philp, 1984).

(14.) Sol T. Plaatje, Native Life in South Africa, (London: King, 1916). These writers were often products of missionary schools, and their histories often saw Britain as beneficial to blacks. Silas Modiri Molema, The Bantu: Past and Present: An Ethnographical & Historical Study of the Native Races of South Africa (Edinburgh: Green, 1920); and John Henderson Soga, The South-Eastern Bantu (Johannesburg: Wits University Press, 1930). Compare also T. D. Mweli Skota, The African Yearly Register (Johannesburg: R. L. Esson, n.d. [1930?]).

(15.) Jordan K. Ngubane, An African Explains Apartheid (London: Pall Mall Press, 1963). A later general account by a black African, published obscurely, was W. M. Tsotsi, From Chattel to Wage Slavery. A New Approach to South African History (Maseru: Lesotho Printing and Publishing Company, 1983).

(16.) Edward Roux, Time Longer than Rope. A History of the Black Man’s Struggle for Freedom in South Africa (London: Gollancz, 1948; paperback edition Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1964). Other work included “Mnguni” (Hosea Jaffe), Three Hundred Years: A History of South Africa (Lansdowne: n.p., 1952); and “Nosipho Majeke” (Dora Taylor), The Role of the Missionaries in Conquest (n.p.: Sons of Africa, 1953). A very much earlier work from a Zulu perspective was Frances Colenso, History of the Zulu War and Its Origin (London: Chapman and Hall, 1881). The only work on South Africa by a West African, from Sierra Leone, was Christian Frederick Cole, Reflections on the Zulu War, By a Negro, BA., of University College, Oxford, and the Inner Temple (London: Glaisher, 1979).

(17.) John Omer-Cooper, The Zulu Aftermath: A Nineteenth-Century Revolution in Bantu Africa (London: Longman, 1966).

(18.) Thomas R. H. Davenport, South Africa, a Modern History (London: Macmillan, 1977).

(19.) Belinda Bozzoli, ed., Labour, Townships and Protest. Studies in the Social History of the Witwatersrand (Johannesburg: Ravan Press, 1979). Further History Workshop volumes she edited are: Town and Countryside in the Transvaal: Capitalist Penetration and Popular Response (Johannesburg: Ravan Press, 1983), and Class, Community and Conflict (Johannesburg: Ravan Press, 1987).

(20.) The two leading exile black writers of history were both sociologists: Ben Magubane and Mzala [Jabulani Nxumalo], author of Gatsha Buthelezi: Chief with a Double Agenda (London: Zed Books, 1988).

(21.) Martin Legassick, “South Africa: Capital Accumulation and Violence,” Economy and Society 3 (1974).

(22.) Harold Wolpe, “Capitalism and Cheap Labour-Power in South Africa: From Segregation to Apartheid,” Economy and Society, 3 (1974): 425–456.

(23.) Frederick R. Johnstone’s Class, Race and Gold: A Study in Class Relations and Racial Discrimination in South Africa (London: Routledge & K. Paul, 1976).

(24.) Colin Bundy, The Rise and Fall of the South African Peasantry (Cape Town; David Philip, 1979).

(25.) For example, Shula Marks and Stanley Trapido, “Lord Milner and the South African State,” History Workshop Journal 8, no. 1 (1979): 50–81.

(26.) William Beinart, The Political Economy of Pondoland, 1860 to 1930 (Johannesburg: Ravan Press, 1983); Peter Delius, The Land Belongs to Us: The Pedi Polity, the Boers and the British in the Nineteenth Century Transvaal (Johannesburg: Ravan Press, 1983); Phil Bonner, Kings, Commoners and Concessionaries, the Evolution of the 19th Century Swazi State (Johannesburg: Ravan Press, 1983); Jeff Guy, The Destruction of the Zulu Kingdom: The Civil War in Zululand, 1879–1884 (Johannesburg: Ravan Press, 1982); Kevin Shillington, The Colonisation of the Southern Tswana, 1870–1900 (Johannesburg: Ravan Press, 1985); and Tim Keegan, Rural Transformations in Industrializing South Africa: The Southern Highveld to 1914 (Houndmills, UK: Macmillan, 1987).

(27.) Richard Elphick and Hermann B. Giliomee, The Shaping of South African Society 1652–1820 (London: Longman, 1979); and Robert Shell, Children of Bondage (Johannesburg: Wits University Press, 1994). Compare also Richard Elphick, Kraal and Castle (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1977).

(28.) Christopher Saunders, “Liberated Africans in Cape Colony in the First Half of the Nineteenth Century, International Journal of African Historical Studies 18, no. 2 (1985): 223–239.

(29.) Anthony Atmore and Shula Marks, “The Imperial Factor in South Africa in the Nineteenth Century: Towards a Reassessment,” Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 3, no. 1 (1974): 105–139.

(30.) Edward Webster, ed., Essays in Southern African Labour History (Johannesburg: Ravan Press, 1978).

(31.) Charles van Onselen, Studies in the Social and Economic History of the Witwatersrand 1886–1914: I. New Babylon and II. New Nineveh (Johannesburg: Longman, 1982); Alan Jeeves, Migrant Labour in South Africa’s Gold Mining Economy (Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press, 1985); and David Yudelman, The Emergence of Modern South Africa: State, Capital and the Incorporation of Organised Labour in the South African Goldfields (Cape Town: David Philip, 1984). On the diamond industry the two key works were Rob Turrell, Capital and Labour on the Kimberley Diamond Fields (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1987) and William Worger, South Africa’s City of Diamonds (Johannesburg: Ad. Donker, 1987).

(32.) Shula Marks and Anthony Atmore, eds., Economy and Society in Pre-Industrial South Africa (London: Longman, 1980); Shula Marks and Richard Rathbone, eds., Industrialisation and Social Change in South Africa: African Class Formation, Culture and Consciousness 1870–1930 (London: Longman, 1982); and Shula Marks and Stanley Trapido, eds., The Politics of Race, Class and Nationalism in Twentieth Century South Africa (London: Longman, 1987).

(33.) Luli Callinicos, A People’s History of South Africa: Vol. 1. Gold and Workers, 1886–1924 (Johannesburg: Ravan Press, 1980), and Vol. 2. Working Life, Factories, Townships and Popular Culture on the Rand, 1886–1940 (Johannesburg: Ravan Press, 1987).

(34.) E.g. Rob Davies, David Kaplan, and Mike Morris, “Class Struggle and the Periodisation of the State in South Africa,” Review of African Political Economy 7 (1976).

(36.) For example, Mary Benson, The African Patriots: The Story of the African National Congress (London: Faber and Faber, 1963).

(37.) Tom Lodge, Black Politics in South Africa since 1945 (London: Longman, 1983). This approach has been taken up with more sophistication in recent years by Peter Limb: see his The ANC's Early Years (Pretoria, South Africa: Unisa Press, 2010) and his current work on the ANC in the Free State. Compare also, for example, Helen Bradford, A Taste of Freedom: The ICU in Rural South Africa, 1924–30 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1987).

(38.) Belinda Bozzoli, “Marxism, Feminism and South African Studies,” Journal of Southern African Studies 9, no. 2 (1983): 139–171; Cherryl Walker, Women and Resistance (Cape Town; David Philip 1983); and Phil L. Bonner, “Family, Crime and Political Consciousness on the East Rand, 1939–1955,” Journal of Southern African Studies 14, no. 3 (1988).

(39.) Merle Lipton, Capitalism and Apartheid: South Africa, 1910–84 (Aldershot, UK: Gower, 1985).

(40.) George Frederickson, White Supremacy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981); Howard Lamar and Leonard Thompson, ed., The Frontier in History (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1982); Donald Denoon, Settler Capitalism: The Dynamics of Dependent Development in the Southern Hemisphere (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986); and John Cell, The Highest Stage of White Supremacy (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1982).

(41.) Cf. Stanley Trapido, “South Africa in a Comparative Study of Industrialization,” Journal of Development Studies 7, no. 3 (1971): 309–320.

(42.) For this argument see Martin Legassick and Gary Minkley, “Current Trends in the Production of South African History,” Alternation 5, no. 1 (January 1998): 98–129.

(43.) Thomas R. H. Davenport, South Africa: A Modern History, 3rd ed. (London: Macmillan, 1987); Leonard Thompson, History of South Africa (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1990); and chapters by Shula Marks and Francis Wilson in The Cambridge History of Africa (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975–1986).

(44.) Illustrated History of South Africa (Cape Town: Reader’s Digest Association, 1989). This was absurdly subtitled “The Real Story” and advertised as “The first completely objective record of the history of all races in South Africa.” The lead writer was Dougie Oakes.

(45.) William Worger, “White Radical History in South Africa,” South African Historical Journal 24 (1991): 145–153.

(46.) A leading work in the latter “turn” was Patrick Harries, Culture and Identity: Migrant Laborers in Mozambique and South Africa, c. 1860–1910 (London: James Currey, 1994).

(47.) See Albert Grundlingh, Christopher Saunders, Sandra Swart and Howard Phillips, “Environment, Heritage, Resistance and Health: New Historiographical Directions,” in Cambridge History of South Africa, ed. Robert Ross, Anne Kalk Mager, and Bill Nasson, vol. 2 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2011).