Anna Voegeli: Life Stories, Livelihoods and Political Change in the Tzaneen Area, South Africa, 1940-1980

PhD-project, Department of History, University of Basel

This study examines the relationship between macronarratives of political change and notions of politics, continuity and change as they surface in personal life stories. In doing so, the thesis seeks to shed some light on the history of popular engagements in an area in which neither the governmental interventions in the era of betterment nor the implementation of separate development are usually believed to have met notable popular opposition.

Many historiographical engagements with popular politics in 20th century South Africa have given particular attention to moments and places in which popular response to colonial and Apartheid rule took an overt and collective shape. While a lot more remains to be explored along these lines, the aim of this thesis is to examine notions and memories of resistance in a place that never seems to have become such an arena of collective action and protest. In other words, the thesis takes into focus popular practices that may not, at a first glance, seem to fall under established notions of ‚the political’ or ‚struggle politics’.

In zooming in on the history of a cluster of villages south east of the tropical farming town Tzaneen, Limpopo, South Africa, the thesis sets out to explore the range of coping-strategies and ways of sense‐making which residents of the area have employed to build, sustain and protect their livelihoos in a time period that has seen fundamental changes in the larger political and legal parameters as well as concrete forms of governmental presence and intervention in the area.

Methodologically the thesis seeks to employ what Jacques Revel coined as “jeux d’échelles”, a play on scales in historiographic analysis. In doing so, it seeks to harness the tools of microanalysis and narrative studies by in engaging closely with individual life stories and interpersonal dynamics, while at the same time being careful to conceive of these micro‐insights as intricately linked and speaking to larger‐scale political and economic processes.


Supervisor: Prof. Patrick Harries

Collaboration: University of the Witwatersrand

Funding: Swiss South African Joint Research Programme (SSAJRP)

Duration: 2010-2016

Research Group: Safeguarding Democracy

Download: Poster 2012

Link: Basler Afrika Bibliographien