Imibono 2023

Posted on November 21, 2023

Photo, back row from left to right: Wendy Cox, Ruby McGregor-Langley, Justine Binedell, Boitshoko Mboweni, Duncan Lotter, Letlhogonolo Senokanyane. Middle row from left to right: Quinn Wash, Brittany Clarke, Unathi Funde, Robyn Schnell, Prof Karen Harris, Edwin Smith, Dr Gairoonisa Paleker, Natalie Fish Front: Dr Domonique Verkerk,  Thand'Olwethu Dlanga.

Fourteen University of Pretoria History postgraduates (Honours, Masters and PhD candidates) recently presented their work-in-progress research at the second annual Imibono – a tri-university postgraduate workshop between the History Departments of the University of Johannesburg (UJ), the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) and UP, that started in 2022. This year, it was hosted by the University of Johannesburg from 16 - 17 November. This student-run, student-lead forum allowed postgraduates to discuss and evaluate their research amongst their peers and engage with feedback from experienced supervisors and professors from each of the three Universities. The workshop boasted various topics and themes, resulting in several panels over the two days.

The opening panel, titled “Freedom is a constant struggle: liberations, was based on the work of Kenneth Andrews. The presentations examined the constant struggles for freedom and how they are ongoing.  Thand'Olwethu Dlanga (Masters candidate at UP) presented “In the shadows of ‘a tyrant’” which considers the stories of female APLA cadres under Idi Amin. Edwin Smith (PhD candidate at UP) presented The Exilic Condition”, which looked at exile in the context of migration and refugee status.

The second panel focused on ‘Places of Thorns: Identities, Homes and Communities’. This looked at the aspect of belonging in a community as a particular group and placing it within the comforts of home. Robyn Schnell (PhD candidate UP) looked at aspects of her Masters dissertation with a paper entitled  Muddling Mendel: (un)stereotyping South African Jewishnes, where she argued that understanding historical stereotypes is necessary for scholars to engage with when writing a biography, but more importantly that we need to examine how our subject matter at times embodies the opposite of such stereotypes.

Honours student Letlhogonolo Senokanyane’s paper entitled Teapots with no tea: African women and the making of money, highlighted the role and agency of African women in facilitating their own economic opportunities and success.

The third panel was based on UP’s very own Professor Charles van Onselen’s The Small Matter of a Horse: the Life of ‘Nongoloza’ Mathebula 1867-1948. Brittany Clarke’s (PhD candidate at UP) presentation discussed “mental illness within the context of the apartheid regime” and how black people were treated in the Smith-Mitchell Company Facilities. Clarke’s study, although in its formative stage, went on to link the history of mental health care for black people in the context of Life Esidimeni.

The last session of the first day focused on archives: public and counter- or alternative archives. In his presentation, Boitshoko Mboweni (Honours candidate at UP) read part of the poem "Tongues of their Mothers" and, in a riveting presentation that earned him the best presentation of the Imibono Workshop, argued that alternative archives need to be considered to give voice to women. In her presentation, Wendy Cox (PhD candidate at UP) considered the absence of women archivists in archival literature and our consciousness of the archive. It was argued that consideration be given to those through whom we make our archival "discoveries".

In her presentation, Natalie Fish (Honours candidate at UP) went "beyond borders and into new avenues of research" by arguing that digital archives and new media (e.g. social media platforms), thus the "internet", be considered as an archive. By going beyond the border of conventional archives, this consideration may expand upon and explore new forms of primary sources.

The fifth panel opened on the second day of Imibono and addressed ‘States of Undress’: Patriarchies and the Nuances of Gender. These discussions ranged from Nigerian women’s experiences and debates around birth control to the subaltern history of corsetry in Cape Town. Most notably, the panel opened with a deep dive into South Africa’s history surrounding kink cultures, presented by Sasha Rai (Wits PhD candidate).

The sixth panel was dominated by UP, with five out of the four presenters hailing from UP engaged with themes relating to cultural media. Ruby McGregor-Langley (PhD candidate at UP) discussed the African Mirror newsreels in a presentation titled; A news vacuum? The African Mirror Newsreel and Information Dissemination, 1969 -1977, discussing the nature of news consumption in 1970s South Africa. Domonique Verkerk (PhD graduate at UP) presented a portion of her doctoral thesis with a paper entitled, Land Matters: reflecting back to the “good” old days”, examining the representation of land in Afrikaans-language films on the South African War.

In another new approach to archives, Justine Binedell (Masters candidate at UP) presented on the Encounters South African International Documentary Film Festival in a presentation titled Encountering a Visual Archive, providing a case study of analysis on how film festivals record the past and provide a wealth of primary research for consideration.

Concluding the panel was Quinn Wash (Masters candidate at UP), with a popular topic, Dissecting Dishonored: The historical world of videogames, who discussed historical representations of the Victorian era within the narrative and setting of the Dishonored series of videogames.

The concluding presentations related to themes of Masculinity, Food and Sports. Duncan Lotter (PhD candidate at UP) captivated his audience with a titled presentation, He Can Lick Any Man!, discussing his preliminary research of boxing in 1950s South Africa and its impact on black masculinity. Unathi Funde (Masters candidate at UP) thankfully presented after lunch as her presentation focused on Meat and Masculinity, unpacking the symbolic connections between food and gender identities and examining the role meat plays in shaping a specific historical male aesthetic in South Africa.

Imibono 2023 showed how the borders and scope of conventional research avenues were being expanded along with our knowledge of the past. As the largest cohort attending the workshop, the UP postgraduates were congratulated on their exceptional performances and presence at the workshop. Edwin Smith received the ‘Congeniality’ Award for his thoughtful and provoking questions and participation over the two days. History repeated itself this year when, once again, an honours UP student was elected by the presenters for the best presentation: the award was presented to Boitshoko Mboweni. Acknowledgement was made for the experience he had gained working in archives and on an archives-related project as a UP honours student in the UP Archives, highlighting how this experience had furthered an interest in exploring the narratives and identities that have been traditionally omitted from the colonial archive. This year demonstrated once again how valuable Imibono is for postgraduates to share their research, and the Department of Historical and Heritage Studies looks forward to continuing this tradition by hosting it in 2024.

Edwin Smith and Boitshoko Mboweni

- Author Justine Binedell, Boitshoko Mboweni, Wendy Cox, Natalie Fish & Letlhogonolo Senokanyane

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