Paper presented at the 4th Annual Qualitative Methods Conference: "Histories of the present"
3 & 4 September 1998, Johannesburg, South Africa

Give them back their memories: the University of the North (Unin) Oral History Project in a Post-Custodial Era.

Thoko Hlatywayo, Esther Mnisi and Isaac Matibhe

University of the North (Unin).

This paper raises issues of interest to those archivists and social scientists who are interested in change. It seeks to introduce a new form of archives at the University of the North that encourages a move from the traditional archives to the contemporary "archives without walls". The attempt is to investigate important points to be considered in the building up of a public record in a multicultural society. It considers how Oral History can assist in the creation of oral visual records that help to preserve people's memories. The envisaged project hopes to transform the custodial archival function to one of post-custodialism.


The University of the North has very little documented history. Library users have come to the library requesting various types of information which could either be found with individuals or not at all. This problem brought about the idea of establishing archives for the University, the evolution of which ended up in the formation of the Oral History Project.

The starting point of this Project brought about what form the archives and its material would take in a situation of budget cuts which do not allow erection or extension of more buildings. Oral History thus became the best option to take in order to clearly define the type of anticipated archives.

An Oral History Committee was established which then had several discussions on how to go about creating a project pertaining to a multicultural situation. It was realised that this University is thirty years old and has a very rich history which needs to be dug up for extensive retrieval and preservation.

The Oral History Project at UNIN.

The Oral History Project has been a learning experience for the Committee. It has learnt what it means to bring to life all the memories of what shaped the University of the North (also called Turfloop) from the events and experiences of people who have lived here. The theme of this Project: "The role of the University of the North in South Africa" has been the basis for prioritising the interviewee according to categories. These categories thus include Students, Administrators and the Community.

The collecting of stories from various individuals and groups has brought in the realisation of the problem of validity and truth. The use of both the audio as well s the video camera has shown a fascinating effect this equipment has on an interviewee, the positive and negative behaviour.

Project Critique.

In this project the Committee is attempting to collect narratives that describe the meanings of the socio-economical as well as political world the people were living in. The stories that have been told thus far have indicated the conditions under which the people were living, eg, staff that were working as nightwatchmen who would be beaten up by their supervisors if caught asleep. Most of these stories have been traumatised some of our young Committee members who have no idea of this kind of life. With the older members there is a variety of bringing back either sad or happy memories. It is interesting to note how the "victims" can afford to joke about the sad experiences and how the "perpetrators" relate how indispensable they still feel.

This project does not in any way mean to be judgmental and it allows the interviewees to state their cases with great ease. Stories are being woven around the history of Turfloop. This being a multicultural area it becomes very interesting to hear how a story of the same situation