World War II in Africa

This week in the Modern African history course we’re discussing African participation in World War II and its impact on the continent. Like the growing attention to World War I highlighted by the World War I in Africa project, it is increasingly easy to access media for classroom use. A few I have used successfully:


British Pathe coverage of Italian departure for Ethiopia, 1935:

Halie Selassie I speaks at the League of Nations after the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, 1936:

Rare color footage (Kino Library) of Prisoners of War from the French colonies in Germany:

British Pathe footage of South African war effort & troops:


Ato Yanney’s His Majesty’s Sergent trailer

Ousmane Sembene’s (1988) Camp de Thiaroye

Rachid Bouchareb (2006) Indigènes (Days of Glory) trailer


BBC World Service three-part series “Africa’s Forgotten Soldiers” can be listened to by signing up for the radio archive.

My students listened to Afripod Episode 81: The Nigerian homefront in WWII.


Royal West African Forces SOURCE: Source:
Royal West African Forces
SOURCE: Source:
SOURCE: The British Empire at War
SOURCE: The British Empire at War
SOURCE: Online Archive of California
SOURCE: Online Archive of California

Prime Evil’s Parole

Today, South Africa announced the parole decisions for three apartheid-era political assassins: Clive Derby-Lewis, Eugene de Kock and Ferdi Barnard. Justice and Correctional Services Minister Michael Masuta announced that de Kock would be released. Despite the medical board‘s recommendation, the state denied Derby-Lewis (the man behind Chris Hani‘s murder) parole. The decision on Ferdi Bernard has been reserved. These decisions open old wounds and debate about more than just the fate of these assassins.

A sampling of responses:

The decisions are heated, certainly because of the brutality of men in question. De Kock is a veteran of the Rhodesian war and the Koevoet Police Counter-Insurgency Unit in Namibia. He took over as Dirk Coetzee’s successor at Vlakplaas.  Among De Kock’s crimes against humanity, he orchestrated the bombing of COSATU and Khotso Houses and the murder of the Cradock Four.

Funeral of the Cradock Four. Source: SAHA
Funeral of the Cradock Four. Source: SAHA

Conservative Party MP Derby-Lewis, now 78 and stricken with lung cancer, conspired with Janusz Walus to murder Hani and provided the weapon. Hani was, and remains, a revered figure in South Africa for his principles and leadership in the SACP and MK.

Source: Aluka
Source: Aluka

Ferdi Bernard hired a hitman to assassinate Anton Lubowski in Windhoek in 1989 and assassinated anti-apartheid activist David Webster in 1989. He attempted to murder Dullah Omar. Jacques Pauw described him as “one of apartheid’s most infamous hoodlums, a Rambo-esque killer who moved between the criminal underworld of drug dealing, prostitution, and diamond smuggling, and South Africa’s official business in the government’s dirty tricks units and deaths squads.”

Source: SAHA
Source: SAHA

But this debate is about more than individuals and their crimes. As T.O. Molefe pointed out six months ago, the “debate is especially frenzied because the racial hierarchy these men were defending when they committed their barbarous acts is still largely intact, even if the lives of many black people have improved since 1994.” Masuta alleges de Kock’s release is “in the interests of nation-building and reconciliation.” Tutu hopes it will contribute to such.

But can reconciliation be achieved when little has changed? Few high-ranking apartheid officials participated in the TRC and even fewer were tried in court. In his TRC testimonies and interviews with Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, a TRC commissioner, De Kock declared himself the scapegoat for the apartheid officials who previously sought him out as a counterinsurgency strategist. Ronald Suresh Roberts points out that South African business beneficiaries have not been held accountable either.

The release of de Kock is about more than just his immediate victims. It’s also about every South African who experienced apartheid as well as those who continue to live with the legacies of apartheid.


Short read: BBC profile on de Kock

Long read: Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela’s A Human Being Died That Night

Long read: Jacques Pauw’s Into the Heart of Darkness on Bernard, de Kock and others

Research: Amnesty applications of de Kock, Derby-Lewis and others are available online.

Listen: de Kock’s friend Professor Piet Croucamp spoke with the SABC about de Kock’s belief that F.W. de Klerk belonged in jail. (He’s right. Jabulani Sithole’s research puts de Klerk, who has always maintained his “clean hands,” at a meeting that approved the fostering of political violence.) The interview has perfect timing, as Cape Town plans to rename Table Bay Boulevard after the last apartheid president.

Watch: SABC’s “Truth Commission: Special Report Episode 61” on the amnesty application of Hani’s assassin, Janusz Walus, and the assassination’s mastermind, Clive Derby Lewis.

Watch: Documentary on Eugene de Kock, Prime Evil

Repost: Lecture Prep and Digital Humanities

This is a re-post from my #DayofDH2014 page (April 8, 2014). 

Some portion of my Tuesday is usually devoted to grading and lecture prep for the rest of the week. Tomorrow the Modern Africa History course will cover decolonization in Portuguese Africa, so I want to blog about some of the great online digital sources and tools I use in this lecture.

The African Activist Archive (hosted by our #DayofDH2014 sponsor, MATRIX) has an awesome collection of posters on Angola and Guinea Bissau.

Angola for the Angolans
by Ato Seitu,Toronto Support Committee for MPLA
Montreal, Canada. No date, apparently late 1975 or early 1976
by Chicago Committee for the Liberation of Angola Mozambique and Guinea-Bissau Chicago, Illinois, United States Fall 1973
by Chicago Committee for the Liberation of Angola Mozambique and Guinea-Bissau
Chicago, Illinois, United States
Fall 1973

The posters do not just operate as colorful background to the lecture. They serve as a tool for students to identify and discuss several important themes I hope to cover:

1) The role of international activists, here a U.S. campaign to boycott Gulf. Portugal received significant income from Gulf’s exploitation of Angolan oil that helped pay for its military activities in Angola against the struggle for independence.

by Pan-African Liberation Committee Brookline, Massachusetts, United States. Most likely late 1972 or 1973
by Pan-African Liberation Committee
Brookline, Massachusetts, United States. Most likely late 1972 or 1973

2) The role of women in the struggle for independence. Both the poster above and the items below portray female freedom fighters, allowing us to examine women at war. But students also discuss the decision to feature mothers and their children in these activist materials.

big32-131-3E6-98-LSM Angola 83
by Liberation Support Movement Information Center
Richmond, Canada. 1973
by Chicago Committee for the Liberation of Angola Mozambique and Guinea
Chicago, Illinois, United States. No date, 1972?

3) The context of the Cold War. Both the button and poster below provide entry into the discussion of U.S. support for UNITA in one of the Cold War proxy wars.

London, United Kingdom 1993 Publisher: Mozambique Angola Committee
London, United Kingdom
Publisher: Mozambique Angola Committee
by Young Socialist Alliance United States 1976 or later
by Young Socialist Alliance
United States
1976 or later

Finally, I use the Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture’s Africana Age page for photographs of important leaders to accompany our discussion.

Agostinho Neto. UN photo from the Schomberg Center.
Agostinho Neto. UN photo from the Schomberg Center.

What other great digital sources do you use in lecture?

“Nadine’s People”

The South African author, Nobel laureate, anti-apartheid and anti-secrecy activist Nadine Gordimer has died at the age of ninety.

Novelist Thando Mgqolozana tweeted this morning, “Nadine’s People,” a play on one of her most popular novels, July’s People.


I am one of Nadine’s People.

I frequently get asked, “Why South Africa?” Why did I choose to study South Africa?

Because I read Nadine Gordimer in high school.

Somewhere, someone has my copy of July's People. Return it, please!
Somewhere, someone has my copy of July’s People. Return it, please!

I was a senior at a small town school. There were four of us in my AP English class. For our final paper, the teacher put four novels on the library table and we each chose. I just queried one of my classmates with whom I still keep in contact. She cannot remember what she chose. Maybe something Russian, she thought? But I remember my part clearly.

I picked up Nadine Gordimer’s A Sport of Nature. I’m sure I’d be embarrassed now to read the paper I wrote then. But I am not being dramatic when I say that this assignment changed my life.

It lead me to read more, first to those most available in small town, America: Olive Schreiner, Doris Lessing, Alan Paton, Mandela’s autobiography and Tutu’s treatise on reconciliation. I’d later find Sindiwe Magona, Zakes Mda, Richard Rive, Alex La Guma.

It let me to study abroad in Durban during my junior year of college, where I studied isiZulu and lived with an isiZulu-speaking family.  It lead me to graduate school, research, and teaching.

One reviewer suggested A Sport of Nature marked how Gordimer “has evolved, adapted, triumphantly come of age…”  Gordimer’s evolution, adaptation, and coming of age certainly sparked mine.


My Zulu homestay family, the Msiyas
My 2003 homestay family, the Msiyas




#SAVotes2014 #20YearsofFreedom

Today, South Africans vote in their fifth democratic election. Here’s a round-up of images and links:

Google Doodle for May 7, 2014
Google Doodle for May 7, 2014

April 27  marked the 20th anniversary of South Africa’s first democratic election, which  South Africans celebrate annually as Freedom Day. To learn more about the end of apartheid and South Africa’s 1994 elections, visit South African History Online. They’ve got a timeline of elections and entries on most of South Africa’s historical elections.

The Overcoming Apartheid site also has features a lesson on the end of apartheid and multimedia on the elections, such as this image of Madiba casting his first vote. For a longer read, check out the gripping account of Peter Harris on the challenges faced by South Africa’s Independent Electoral Commission in Birth.

The online ANC Archive also has great images of the ANC election campaign and Mandela’s inauguration. The Mandela Centre for Memory has an online exhibit on Mandela’s term as president.

By UN Photo by C. Sattleberger on Overcoming Apartheid
By UN Photo by C. Sattleberger on Overcoming Apartheid
Mandela's 1994 inauguration
Mandela’s 1994 inauguration
voter 10 commandment
10 Commandments for Voters, Northwestern Library

South African History Archive has a collection of 1994 election posters and African Activist has 1994 South African Election Watch Campaign Updates.

1994 Poster Matla Trust Speak Magazine (SAHA)
1994 Poster Matla Trust Speak Magazine (SAHA)

South Africa’s Mail & Guardian commemorated the first elections with a moving slideshow of images and audio. There was also the 20 funny but not so funny “20 bizarre apartheid moments.”

Also be sure to check out the great images of Ra’eesa Pather (below) and reflections on the status of the Freedom Charter in the new South Africa from South Africa Votes 2014. Today they’ve got up a live blog of their conversations with voters.


Africa is a Country has several posts on 20 Years of Freedom and today Sean Jacobs considered the growing criticism of the ANC leadership.

Stay tuned for the results!

Last Day of Class!

Today was the last day of class, so my six Overcoming Apartheid Junior Seminar students enjoyed a South African feast! World Market provisioned us with Ceres litchi juice and Mrs. Ball’s chutney.

The bobotie on the way into the oven
The bobotie on the way into the oven

Bobotie is certainly one of the Cape”s best known dishes with a bit of a controversy around it. Is it of Cape  Malay descent? Created by Dutch settlers and infused with Eastern spices from their trade in the Dutch East Indies? Sarah Emily Duff sheds some light:

One of the ironies of boerekos [farmers’ food, comfort food] is that so much of it is derived from the cooking of the slaves who were transported to the Cape from southeast Asia during the seventeenth, eighteenth, and early nineteenth centuries. The sambalsatchars, and chutneys of Afrikaner cooking are a particularly obvious debt to the food traditions imported to South Africa from present-day Indonesia and Malaysia.

Although Leipoldt, an unusually thoughtful nationalist, acknowledge that many of the recipes he found were cooked and invented by ‘Malay’ women – a term which he used to describe the largely Muslim and Afrikaans-speaking descendants of slaves who lived in the Cape –their presence gradually disappeared in other, later boerekos recipe books.

There is no neat boundary between Afrikaner cuisine and what most South Africans dub ‘Cape Malay’ cooking: there are recipes for bredie (mutton stew), bobotie, and sosaties (kebabs) in both boerekos and Malay recipe books. But in order to use food to construct distinct, discrete national or group identities, the differences between these two cuisines had to be emphasised over their similarities.

Sarah Emily Duff, in “National Kitchens

I always forget to take “during” photos, but we’ll use this “after” shot to suggest that the bobotie was enjoyed by all!

Bobotie aftermath
Bobotie aftermath

Now they’re off to finish their research papers with full stomachs.

On the Anniversary of Hani’s Assassination

Today in 1993, Thembisile “Chris” Hani was assassinated. Januzs Walus, an anti-Communist Polish refugee who had close links to the Afrikaner nationalist AWB, shot Hani in front of his Johannesburg home. Conservative Party MP Clive Derby-Lewis was implicated in the assassination. Both men are still serving prison sentence for the murder and Derby-Lewis has been attacked twice in the last month.

Hani remains a revered figure. Sean Jacobs’ analysis certainly suggests why:

Yet, any observer of contemporary South Africa can’t help noticing that while Chris Hani is still lionized and his name invoked in speeches and songs, the principles he stood for no longer  animate the political project of the liberation movement he laid down his life for or that his erstwhile comrades in the ruling party, its Communist ally and the main trade union federation have been disappointing.

So as we remember Hani, I thought I’d round up some of the material on his life and the many articles and analyses that are being shared today.

You can read about Hani’s life with South African History Online (SAHO). There’s Janet Smith and Beauregard Tromp’s Hani: A Life Too Short and Tim Gibbs analyzed his role in feeding Eastern Cape activists into MK.

The online repository, Aluka, has material on Hani, including photographs and journals such as these:





hani and mthimkhulu
Return of MK combatants to South Africa: Hani and Duckmore “Morris” Mthimkhulu, 1990

DISA has several letters written by the leader, including this one to Ray Simons:

hani to simons_Page_1 hani to simons_Page_2

The Community Video Education Trust’s pilot episode of a Community News Programme also features Hani, here addressing an audience on housing, healthcare, and education.

This 2008 article covers the events of his assassination thoroughly. Aluka also has materials covering his memorial, such as the flyer and photograph below:


hani memorial 1993 hani memorial flyer


There are several other short biographical documentaries, including this one by the SABC and another by Afravision.

Africa is a Country has launched a piece to encourage readers to remember where they were when they heard about his death. Head over and contribute.


In case you missed it, I blogged yesterday for #DayofDH over at my #DayofDH site.

I posted about my morning digital routine, teaching African history in the digital age, and using digital tools to make workshop planning easier.

I summed it all up using Storify.

If you don’t know about digital humanities, the Day of Digital Humanities is intended for that purpose. Head over there to learn more!


Twitter in the Classroom: Early African History

This week Gradhacker hosts #digped week. Their “Seven Things I Learned from Teaching with Twitter” post forced me to reflect on my experience teaching with Twitter in the fall semester. As I plan for next year, is it something I will try again?

I used Twitter in a course on African History to 1880. For many students here, this is their first introduction to African history. When I made the decision to use Twitter, I had two goals. The first was to use social media to get students to think beyond stereotypes of the continent and the second was to encourage alternate forms of class participation. I introduced the assignment during the course’s first discussion session, for which they read Binyavanga Wainaina’s “How to Write About Africa” in preparation. As we covered the prevalent images of the continent seen so often in the press and popular imagination, we also talked about the role of social media in countering some of those stereotypes.

As part of the assignment, students were responsible for tweeting an article, photo, poster, event on campus, etc. that perpetuated these common images or fought back against them. I tried to be wise about the assignment. I gave them concrete goals. Tweet once a week and respond to at least one of your classmates’ tweets. I gave them a class hash tag #HIST2391. And I planned to use Martin Hawksey (EdTech Explorer)’s Twitter Archiving Google Doc Spreadsheet to keep track of it all. (That lasted only a couple of weeks…. I think more on account of my lack of diligence than anything else.) I also laid out these expectations in a handout on participation, making it clear this assignment would be graded as part of their participation score.

We opened The plan was to open every class with the Twitter exercise. I would browse their tweets before class. We could view the tweets via #HIST2391 on the classroom screen and our own devices and talk about what we had posted. Some days these discussions were just about current events. In other classes, we had posts that directly applied to course material, such as this one on the use of satellite technology to understand earliest African histories.

How did it go? What did I learn? I came to a lot of conclusions similar to those Natascha Chtena describes in the Gradhacker post, but these are worth noting:

  • Not all of my students had Twitter accounts. Many of them refused to get Twitter accounts on principle, even though I offered the incentive made it part of their grade. Those who jumped on board did not all understand the mechanics: how to post, how to add your own comments, how to correctly use the proper hash tag. The learning curve was steeper than I expected and made for more work than I had planned. Chtena’s suggestion for integrating an in-class tutorial will be key if I repeat the assignment.
  • Another issue centered around privacy. I manage my Twitter account for public consumption and did not want to see all of my students’ tweets, knowing they might not. With the course hash tag, I did not have to follow students with public accounts and could view only their course-related material. But students with private accounts, that was a different story. Some students created new accounts for the project, so their private lives would not overlap. But this meant that they were missing out on some of the benefits of our twitter assignment, only logging in often enough to meet the course requirement and not catching the regular streams of posts. I am not sure there is a way to get around this.
  • Allow me to repeat Chtena. Participation is one thing, engagement is another. Several students would post the first Africa-related article they found on the NYT Africa page. They needed encouragement to read the article, comment on the article, and to interact with their peers’ posts. They especially needed prodding to leave their comfort zones. Even though I had introduced them to great African-content blogs and Twitter accounts, NYT was quick and easy.
  • I had to be committed if I expected them to be committed. We needed to do the assignment every class, or they would slack in their postings. In theory, this seems easy. But when you are pairing the assignment along more traditional lectures with a certain amount of material to cover in between essays, exams, and unplanned bad weather days (this is Texas, after all, who plans for bad weather days?) it grew difficult for me to strike the right balance between my course goals, of which the Twitter assignment was only one.
  • This could be rewarding for me too.  I thought about what I wanted them to get out of it. But I had not thought about what I might get out of it. While some students were not digital natives and were not eager participants, others did really take to the assignment. A few made it their mission to seek out really different stories to compete with the prevalent images. They posted about Nollywood celebrity marriages, South African literary prizes, or this crazy Vine (I did not know of this “Vine” technology before this) about how your “normal African” wakes in the morning. Others posted about African-related events on campus and across Dallas. In some of their tweets, I recognized that they were applying course lessons to their everyday interactions around campus and the city. Those kind of tweets were the best course evaluations for which a teacher can hope.