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Our Story

A series collects and retells the story of the ancestors of all South Africans.

Ancestral Voices

A recently discovered collection of writing of South African culture and history.
At the start of Heritage Month 2020, South African Heritage Publishers, in co-operation with the University of Pretoria, are thrilled to make the following announcement about writings we came across during our research to identify historical events to be included in the Our Story series:

  • 891 handwritten and typed Historical and Cultural Writings in Seven Official Indigenous Languages. At the time, Siswati and isiNdebele were not written languages.
  • 13 writings in isiXhosa, 140 in isiZulu, 29 in Sesotho, 476 in Sesotho sa Leboa, 157 in Setswana, 35 in Tshivenda and 41 in Xitsonga.
  • 187 different authors committed to record the story of their people for future generations of South Africans. You, the reader, are a part of one of those generations.
  • Written between 1930 and 1950, these writings cover an estimated 15 000 to 20 000 A4 pages. The works range in extent from one page to well over a hundred.
  • Most of the authors were born in the late 18OO’s. If their grandparents were still alive at the time of their birth, they would have heard, first-hand, stories about their people going back to the late 1700’s!
  • These writings constitute a National treasure, and must be made more accessible and available to all South Africans.
  • We have started on the monumental task of transcribing the works into current orthography and translating them into English.
  • We will use our Facebook page and website, and ask local media to assist us, to identify as many of the relatives of these authors as possible, to gather more information about them.
  • City Press will publish a selection of these works every Sunday during Heritage Month.

It is an extraordinary privilege and, without exaggeration, a once in a lifetime event to announce that Heritage Publishers, in their research for stories to be included in the South Africa’s leading heritage series – Our Story – discovered a collection of writings that can only be described as a treasury of South African culture and history.

This collection is made up of 891 writings in seven indigenous languages (since Siswati and isiNdebele were not written languages at the time the works were compiled) written between 1930 and 1950, by 187 mother tongue speakers. We estimate there are a total of between 15 000 and 20 000 A4 typewritten pages in the collection.

The authors range from the rather well known RRR Dhlomo, author of the first published isiZulu novel in 1929, to a number of named but unknown South Africans. Many were educators. All of them were obviously anxious to preserve the history and culture of their people for future generations. You, the reader, are but one of the generations for whom they wrote.

How Far Back do These Writings Take Us?

 

The author of a Sesotho sa Leboa work in 1939 tells us he wrote it after an interview with the oldest man in his community, then estimated to be 80 years old. So, the elderly man was born in about 1850 and, if his grandfather was still alive, would surely have been told stories of his people that went back to the late 1700’s!

A Xitsonga author NJ Mabale, writing in 1942 and living in present-day North-Eastern Limpopo, says he was born in Masia village during the reign of Jiwawa – also Jawawa or Joao Albasini – a man of Portuguese descent. Albasini died in 1886. As well as covering history of the local Vatsonga and Vhavenda, he tells us he worked on the Robinson mine in Johannesburg when it was still a small village. From there, he went to Kimberley where he worked on the diamond mines and was paid an amount of two pounds a week.

What Subjects are Covered?

 

We have only read a fraction of the works but, judging by what has been read and the titles of all the works in the collection, there is no doubt we will find a wealth of forgotten information in these works.

We have already discovered what we believe is the first writing about the Bhambatha rebellion by a Shezi clan-member, whose relatives participated in the battle of Mome Gorge.

We have found information on the Mfathla Ndebele, an amaNdebele group previously unknown to us, who, it appears, after initial confrontations with the clan into whose area they moved, married into them – the Bakgatla ba Lentswe – and versioned the name into isiZulu. The first writing tells us they are descended from a “Letsula (AmaZulu) King called Mazwe who ruled before Chaka and Mzilikazi”. Following conflict with his brother he moved with his followers to live amongst the Basotho. Future generations would move to present day Gauteng, North West and Limpopo. A further 59 writings in Setswana on the Mfathla Ndebele and Bakgatla await translation.

The amaHumusha is another group previously unknown to us that has come to light in the works of Frederick Vilakazi. They lived in the area of Ladysmith in KwaZulu Natal, and by their own account they are the descendants of freed slaves from the colonies who then married into local amaZulu clans.

These writings cover agriculture, village and hut construction, traditional medicine, divination, cosmological understandings of the people, history, folktales, traditional law, cultural activities and much more relating to a large number of southern Africa’s ancestral people.

Structure of the Writings

 

The majority of writings are handwritten and were then typewritten at the time of writing. SA Heritage Publishers is in the process of transcribing these into word and then translating them into English to ensure they can be accessed by the majority of South Africans. Only half of the original works have been scanned so this campaign will be a long-term exercise.

Finding the Authors Relatives

 

The only information provided on all the authors is their initials and surnames. Thankfully a number wrote their first names and addresses on the handwritten manuscripts. We have pored through over 450 manuscripts to identify and list these details on those works scanned thus far. These are listed on an excel spreadsheet you can access below:

Ancestral Voices Author Addresses

 

Please pass this information on to anyone you know that shares an author’s surname. If you, or they, are related to the author please ask that they contact us on info@saheritagepublishers.co.za

List of Writings by Language

To see a list of the writings by titles arranged by language and author click below:

Ancestral Voices Author and Language Analysis