Oral History Framework

2017
(Western Cape Government)

The use of oral sources features prominently amongst the critical developments in the South African historiography during the twentieth century. This development permeated from academy to public institutions and sites of memory such as museums, archives, libraries, heritage institutions, etc. Oral history has become a transformational mechanism through which past imbalances are addressed, as well as a therapeutical mechanism to deal with South Africa's turbulent past.

The proliferation of oral history methodology influenced various components of the Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport and other departments of the Western Cape Government to utilize oral history in order to accomplish their mandates and to ensure that their work was not divorced from current societal and academic patterns. While the use of oral history is well defined and structured in the academic environment, this has not come into fruition in the public domain in South Africa. As a result museums, archives and other institutions have not developed a framework to guide the production, utilization and storage of oral history material. The recording, storing and subsequent use of oral history by components of the Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport and other Departments of Government of the Western Cape has been largely haphazard, in certain instances incoherent, and not effective. This has resulted in a situation where oral history materials are not shared within the department and with other stakeholders. Issues of ownership, copyright and storage remain extremely obscure and unmanageable in terms of the records management regulations, the Western Cape Provincial Archives Act (Act 3 of 2005) and the National Archives of South Africa Act (Act 43 of 1996).

Oral history in South Africa is broadly categorized within the realm of living tradition. Sometimes this is referred to as living heritage or oral traditions. The South African National Archives has developed a database of oral interviews which contains useful information concerning their repository and main areas of the interview. While this demonstrates a certain level of coordination, more support and coordination is required from provinces in order for this database to maximize its potential.

This document aims to provide a strategic framework, develop minimum standards and guidelines for staff who are conducting oral history and processes associated with it; clarify the roles that various departments play in oral history processes; establish a transversal framework that regulates legalities that are associated with the oral history recording: and to establish a provincial database of oral histories which is linked to the National Automated Archival Information Retrieval System (NAAIRS) of the National Archives of South Africa.

This document is not intended to become a teaching tool on how to do oral history. Instead it will provide the minimum guidelines and ethical standards that must be adhered to when conducting oral history. It is essential for a document of this nature to take cognizance of South Africa's historical and socio-political context. Thus this framework uses the premise that the Western Cape's historical landscape is in a post-apartheid era. Therefore, those working in the field of oral history are often likely to deal with interviewees who are living with painful emotions and memories about the painful events of their past. In addition, aspects of the history of some communities are still a matter of contestation and vigorous debate.

Please see the online version of the Oral History Framework and news updates.

The content on this page was last updated on 4 September 2017