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The African Oral Narratives Project is Helping Record Forgotten Voices

08 June on Africa, Multimedia & Digital Archives, Oral History  

Photograph of Samuel Mahoko, a displaced farm laborer from Rammolutsi, South Africa. His story is one of many being hosted by the African Oral Narratives project.

It isn’t likely that a lot of us will ever get to personally meet Samuel Mahoko (photo at right), a displaced farm laborer from Rammolutsi, a poor community in northeastern South Africa.

But while we will probably never have the chance to shake his hand, thanks to the African Oral Narratives project, we have the opportunity to hear his voice. Since 2009, the African Oral Narratives team has been collecting and digitizing life stories, interviews, folklore, and songs from sub-Saharan Africa. Samuel Mahoko’s everyday life as a farm worker in post-apartheid South Africa is one of those stories.

Drawing on examples from his life and the lives of family and friends, Mahoko sheds light on the racial, economic, and political tensions between unions, farm owners, and farm workers. He also reflects on his childhood in South Africa, the forces that have shaped his adult life, and his hopes and aspirations for his children.

Mahoko’s story is ordinary and yet remarkable, and is just one of the many interviews collected, digitized, and offered online through the African Oral Narratives project. You are encouraged to visit this rare online archive and listen to the oral histories. When Samuel Mahoko was asked what message he would like to relay to those who would hear his story, he said: “My message is that we have to look at both sides--where we come from and look forward. The main thing is forward.”

Access to Dale McKinley and Ahmed Veriava's "Forgotten Voices in the Present" collection in African Oral Narratives is the result of a fruitful collaboration between SAHA (South African History Archive), Michigan State University's Department of History, African Studies Center, and MATRIX.