UVic launches Colonial Legacies Field School, in time for South African national election


- Tara Sharpe

Student Susanna Peterson (right) plays with Locate Ngobeni, the young sister of the group’s translator Basani Ngobeni. Photo: E. Vibert | Nkambako village.

In May 2014, a group of UVic students and two faculty members spent three weeks in northeastern South Africa for UVic's first-ever Colonial Legacies Field School.

They explored the impacts of colonial histories on everyday life and on the rural and urban landscapes, and also observed the action at voting stations during the May 7 national election.

20th anniversary of end of apartheid

One master’s student and 12 third- and fourth-year undergraduates—led by UVic historian Dr. Elizabeth Vibert and doctoral candidate Megan Harvey, and accompanied by the chair of UVic’s history department Dr. Lynne Marks—were in Cape Town and Limpopo Province from April 28 to May 21.

The UVic students were also “on the ground” that first week observing firsthand as youth of the same ages head to voting stations.

South Africans voted May 7 in the first national election since Nelson Mandela’s death, exactly 20 years since the end of apartheid.

The "Born Free" generation's vote

What does voting mean to young people in a country where they can now take post-apartheid freedoms for granted? Do they take these for granted at all?

"It’s frustrating to [women in the farming collective described further below] that some of their grandkids might not vote," says Vibert. "At the same time, they understand the disaffection: so many young people don’t have jobs or opportunities.”

The youth in South Africa are dubbed the “Born Free” generation for good reason; many have no memory of living under apartheid.

South African field school born free generation discusses May 7 2014 post-apartheid vote
Merrycia Baloyi (centre) makes a point in a group discussion on youth participation in the national election. Field school students Derek Turkington (left) and Liah Formby (right). Credit: E. Vibert | Xitsavi Youth Centre, N’wamitwa.

In contrast, the rural South African women with whom Vibert has been doing research for three years (collecting life histories and studying the unique women's collective in Limpopo Province) have deep memories of a very different time.

“Older women remember their first opportunity to vote as a dramatic, hard-won moment. They lined up in the middle of the night so they wouldn't miss out."

Audio recording: Vibert, with a UVic student and young South African voter, spoke live from South Africa during the national election, interviewed by radio host Gregor Craigie for CBC Radio Victoria's "On the Island" morning show May 7, 2014. This audio clip is provided courtesy of CBC 90.5 FM.

A women’s farm in South Africa

N'wamitwa is a communal territory comprised of about 17 villages in northern Limpopo Province.

For more than 20 years, three generations of women—about 30 people, ranging in age from mid 40s to 86 years old—have sustained a co-operative farm in this region. They have worked hard to build community and self-sufficiency, as well as feed their families.

Flora, one of 30 women in farming collective in Limpopo Province.
Florah M., one of 30 women in the farming collective. Photo: E. Vibert | 2013 research trip.

The life histories of these women and their families, the farm and other grassroots projects in the villages were the focus of the rural portion of this UVic field school.

I raised my children by ploughing and crushing healthy food…We work here not for ourselves. We are working for the community. – Florah M., one of 30 women of the unique farming collective in Limpopo Province

Vibert, who studies colonial histories and has a special interest in South Africa, has closely examined how the women’s farm can serve as an exceptional example of social resiliency and viable alternatives to export-oriented agriculture.

In their lifetimes, the 30 women farmers have also faced specific challenges including state violence, geographic isolation and HIV/AIDS.

"One of the things I find most inspiring about these women is their resilience," adds Vibert. "I don’t want to romanticize it—no one can make do without resources. But they teach us many life lessons, like the power of communal action."

Not only were the UVic students there in person for election day, they also helped out at the farm and other community projects; enjoyed a homestay in the farming village; worked with and interviewed young farmers at a food security project; visited schools; did a weekend safari in acclaimed Kruger National Park; and spent four days in Cape Town touring cultural sites and museums, including the island prison where Mandela spent so much of his adult life.

Group of UVic students and field school director Elizabeth Vibert during Colonial Legacies field school in South Africa.
Field school director and UVic historian Elizabeth Vibert (centre) with 11 of 13 students at Sapekoe Tea Plantation, Limpopo Province, as the three-week trip drew to a close.

The three-week field school is a three-unit, experiential-learning course: History 468 A01.

Read the blog (Wordpress)

The field school is supported by UVic’s Learning Without Borders Program (Provost’s Office), Department of History, Learning and Teaching Centre, and UVic’s International Office.



In this story

Keywords: field schools, student life, history, agriculture, human rights, politics, colonialism, africa, international

People: Elizabeth Vibert, Lynne Marks

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