UP History Postgrads shine at the Imibono 2022 postgraduate research workshop

Posted on December 13, 2022

Ten UP History postgraduate students (Honours, Masters and PhD) recently presented their work-in-progress at the inaugural tri-university postgraduate workshop hosted by Wits University from 25 – 26 November. 

Organised under the theme Imibono 2022 (an Nguni word for perspectives), the initiative was conceived by the UP, Wits and UJ heads of history departments, but was entirely student-led and student-run. 

The workshop was a rare opportunity for postgraduate students to hone presentation skills in a non-intimidating set-up. UP History students had a strong showing, spotlighted by Quinn Wash’s presentation, which was unanimously voted as the best presentation over the two-day workshop – and received an award. Wash is an Honours student who is on the cusp of registering for a Masters degree in early 2023.

Edwin Smith (PhD) and Thand’Olwethu Dlanga (MSocSci) presented their ongoing research on the first panel of the workshop. Smith’s paper, “The ANC Liberation Movement Archive: Accident of History of Prescient Achievement?” considered “whether the establishment, reconfiguration and development of liberation movement archives in post-apartheid South Africa” with some SOMAFCO graduates at the forefront “was an accident of history or a remarkably prescient achievement”. 

Olwethu Dlanga’s presentation, “The Appropriate Placement of Poqo in the Annals of South Africa’s Liberation History and Historiography” tackled the complex issue of the selective curation of post-liberation history and memory, with the view to showing that the apartheid prohibition of the Pan African Congress in the 1960s “led to it being overtly operated as Poqo – not that Poqo was a military wing of the PAC”.
Panel II featured presentations by Ruby McGregor-Langley (Master’s), Wash  and Duncan Lotter (Master’s). 

Presenting on “Music, ‘Move, Movement and Displacement’: Black Musical Innovations, 1920s – 1960s”, McGregor-Langley’s presentation deployed Veit Erlmann’s concept of “movement and displacement” to explore the various genres and performance styles that characterized the black South African music scene between the 1920s and the 1960s. 

Creatively deploying alliteration to full effect, Lotter’s presentation “From ‘Percy’s Pitch’ to ‘Percy’s Itch’: An intellectual Biography of Percy Qoboza” traced pressman and editor, Percy Qoboza’s, growing disillusionment with race relations during apartheid after initially hoping that there could be a path towards racial harmony. 

Through riveting story-telling, Wash showed through his award-winning presentation “The Historical World of Videogames” that videogames are both products and portals of history which should be taken seriously by historians. 

Jaunico van der Walt (PhD) presented “Negotiations of Whiteness: The Role of Race in Discursive Nonracialism in South Africa’s Union Colonial Order, 1910-1921”, in the fourth panel of the first day. Van der Walt examined the ways in which “disparate leftist constituencies of white people negotiated their identities” in the emerging dominion of South Africa – a historical context defined by the entangled live wires of racial antagonism and fissures between capitalist development and white socialist discourses and movements.  

Presenting on the same panel, Unathi Funde’s Master’s research focused on the historical gendering of the braai as heritage.  Funde’s research places the braai at the nexus of a gendered discourse on heritage and national identity formation and looks at the various elements of the braai, such as meat, and how these are gendered within the larger heritage and nation-building project.

Jaunico van der Walt (second from left) and Unathi Funde (centre) present their work

Panel V, the first session on Day 2, featured presentations by three Master’s students: Robyn Schnell, Lisa McDermid  and Brittany Clarke. 

Schnell’s presentation, “Tracing the Biographical Thread”, was a report on her progress with piercing, together the biography of Dr Aubrey Levin, the poster boy of apartheid South Africa’s infamous Aversion Project which deployed controversial “aversion therapy” protocols to cure homosexuality in the South African Defence Force. Clarke presented on a similar topic, but with a wider scope focusing on aversion therapy practices and apartheid South Africa’s struggles with white deviant behavior (including alcoholism and drug addiction) and sexuality. Clarke highlighted the intersectional role of science, religion and race in the abusive use of aversion therapy practices in apartheid South Africa. 

McDermid’s presentation tackled one of the pressing issues of our time: femicide. In 2020, President Cyril Ramaphosa declared femicide the second pandemic afflicting South Africa alongside COVID-19. Entitled “Confronting Femicide Nation: The Uyinene Foundation, the state, and Gender-Based Violence in South Africa”, McDermid used the case of the gruesome murder of UCT student Uyinene Mrwetyana and the subsequent mobilization and founding of the Uyinene Foundation, as a window into the country’s endemic GBV and the tentative steps towards tackling the problem. 

Left to Right: Lisa McDermid, Robyn Schnell and Brittany Clarke present at Imibono 2022

The last panel of the workshop featured Osariemen O Uwagboe’s doctoral research presentation focusing on the Nigerian state’s national tourism governance system between the 1960s and the 2000s. In her presentation, Uwagboe argued that although Nigeria has great tourism potential, developing postcolonial Nigeria’s tourism sector has been a slow and fitful process – initially as a result of the unstable governance system and the dominance of the oil economy. 

Besides presenting, two UP History postgraduates chaired sessions on both days (Smith and van der Walt) and also contributed to the closing remarks session (Smith). Following the remarkable start by Wits University, the University of Pretoria and University of Johannesburg will alternately host Imibono 2023 and Imibono 2024.          

Front Row, Left to Right: Ruby McGregor-Langley, Brittany Clarke
Second Row, Left to Right: Jaunico van der Walt, Edwin Smith, Robyn Schnell, Lisa McDermid, Unathi Fundi, Osariemen O Uwagboe, Duncan Lotter, Quinn Wash

Back Row: Thand’Olwethu Dlanga


- Author Dr Glen Ncube, Prof Karen Harris, Dr Nisa Paleker

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