First and foremost, OHASA is a product of the post-1994 political transformation and a baby of the Department of Arts and Culture. The seed that brought about the birth of OHASA was planted in 1999 when the then Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology (DACST) was mandated by Cabinet to conceptualise and spearhead the National Oral History Programme (NOHP) for South Africa.
This was the first project of its kind to be undertaken by the government. The Programme was intended to yield information that would be added to the information already existing in the country’s archival holdings. It was strongly felt that the dissemination and management of information and knowledge was crucial to the restoration and sustenance of the human dignity of many millions of people, which was ravaged by colonialism and apartheid.
The rationale for the establishment and development of the National Oral History Programme (NOHP) was based on the following 5 factors:
- Firstly, in South Africa, as a result of colonialism and apartheid there are gaps in the public records and public knowledge, which are caused by deliberate omission of African knowledge, technologies, stories and philosophies from the mainstream of South Africa’s body of knowledge.
- Secondly, such omission concerns various aspects of African and other disadvantaged experiences in areas such as politics, economics, social development, health, culture, gender issues and religion. These aspects are inadequately represented and urgently need to be redressed.
- Thirdly, the retrieval and dissemination of oral history and oral tradition are vital to fill the gaps in the education system.
- Furthermore, it was felt that oral history would provide alternative narratives, fresh information and new insights into our understanding of the past. It would stimulate marginalised and distorted social practices which could enhance the well-being of the people.
- Finally, it was agreed that Oral history would benefit the communities in three ways. Firstly it would provide emotional support to people through affirmation and healing. Secondly it would assist communities in retrieving traditional support systems in matters such as food conservation, funeral procedures or natural medicine, thus allowing them to save money. In this way it would provide non-monetary economic assistance. Lastly the communities would be entitled to derive some benefits from the commercialisation of commodities produced with the help of indigenous knowledge accessed through oral history.
The National Oral History Programme started with a pilot project with the theme, “The 1956 Anti-Pass March to the Union Buildings by Women of South Africa”, a topic which was chosen because it was one of the many inadequately documented historic events in the country’s past. The DACST was well aware of the need to train its own staff and that of the National Archives on oral history methodologies. A team of historians was appointed to oversee this process.
It was actually in January 2000 when the Minister of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology appointed a panel of experts to advise him on the drafting of a comprehensive plan for the Oral History Programme. This panel met in February 2000, and in March consultations with stake holders commenced and their input was included in a report which was produced in July 2001.
At the same time that the National Oral History Programme (NOHP) was formed, a panel of musicologists was also constituted under the mandate of DACST, and it made recommendations on the National Indigenous Music Programme (NIMP). After the two groupings submitted their reports the Minister concluded that because of the similarities and overlapping areas, it was in the interest of both to merge them into a new project under the title: National Indigenous Music and Oral History Project (NIMOHP). Similarities were that:
- Both projects dealt with the recording, preservation, promotion and protection of oral memories.
- Both projects made use of the same technological equipment and other resources. A merger between the two was therefore cost-effective.
- Both projects dealt with the gaps that existed in libraries and archives and they strategized as to how they should be filled. It was therefore decided that the two be merged.
Shortly after the merger of these two programmes OHASA was launched (in 2003) under the arm of National Archives:
OHASA’s primary objective:
- To promote and facilitate the recording, preservation, access, popularisation and study of oral history in South Africa. This includes poetry, music, oral praise, oral performance and oral tradition.
OHASA’s Annual National Conferences (2004-2021):
One of the primary preoccupations of OHASA has been the planning and execution of annual oral history conferences, in conjunction with the Local Organising Committee (LOC) which plays a key role in shaping, inter alia, the conference theme.
These annual conferences serve as platforms for oral history practitioners in institutions of higher learning, NGOs, community organisations, educators, learners and local knowledge holders engage one another.
The 18th Annual National Conference will be held in 2021 in the Free State, means that the OHASA National Conferences have now moved twice through all the provinces of South Africa.
- 2004 and 2005 - OHASA’s first two annual national conferences were held in Gauteng Province; the first was in Pretoria in 2004, and the second was held in Johannesburg in 2005.
- Thereafter the annual conferences began to rotate between the different provinces:
- 2006 - KZN Province in Richards Bay
- 2007 - Limpopo Province
- 2008 - Eastern Cape Province
- 2009 - Western Cape Province
- 2010 - Mpumalanga Province, Nelspruit
- 2011 - North West Province
- 2012 - Free State Province
- 2013 - Northern Cape Province, Kimberley
- 2014 - Gauteng, Sandton
- 2015 - KZN Province
- 2016 - -
- 2017 - Eastern Cape Province
- 2018 - Western Cape Province, Milnerton
- 2019 - Mpumalanga Province, Middleburg
- 2020 - Conference cancelled, postponed until 2021
- 2021 - Free State, Clarins