Group Portrait: SA Family
Stories at National Cultural History Museum
On March 31, Deputy Minister of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology,
Ms Buyelwa Sonjica and Netherlands Ambassador for Cultural Cooperation
Jan Hoekema opened Group Portrait,South African Family Stories Exhibition,
giving some indication of how important the event is. The exhibition
describes contemporary South Africa through the lifestories of nine
South African families. It was curated by Faber the Royal Tropical
Institute in Amsterdam and drew huge audiences in Holland last year.
South African Family Stories deals with the history of the
South African society in the last century. It does so in a special,
unusual way. Instead of providing an overview of a complex history
of a complex society, the exhibition takes the micro-approach. It
tells the story of the country through the lives of nine real families,
with different social, cultural, economical and geographical backgrounds.
Their stories will be followed, from the end of the 19th century,
up until present day.
The exhibition follows each family through successive generations.
One or two members in each generation will lead the public through
the ups and downs of their families, related to South African history.
A teenager, who also expresses ideas about the future, will represent
the last generation. So in each family a string of main characters
is formed, drawing nine twisted lines through history.
It is a big challenge to transfer this human, personal way of history
writing, into an authentic and exciting three-dimensional exhibition.
This task has been undertaken by a large group of South African professionals.
Around each family a separate team has been formed, consisting of
a writer/researcher, an artist, a photographer and a designer. In
some cases a filmmaker has been added.
This multi-disciplinary approach should establish an intense, emotional
interaction between the people whose lives are portrayed and the
visitors to the exhibition. Nine photographers and 11 artists produced
work on commission, based on the nine family stories, in co-operation
with the family members themselves, and the other team members. The
photographers and artists together form an interesting representation
of the South African art world, with several renowned names, but
also relatively young and promising artists.
The researchers were involved in collecting personal artefacts,
historical photographs and documents.
The theme of the exhibition is especially attractive because of
the many educational possibilities for a wide variety of people.
Imbali has developed educational material to be used for secondary
school children at different levels. The material can be used in
relation to different subjects as Social Skills, Art and Culture,
History. Educational value lies in the understanding of historical
processes, the importance of family relations, insight into issues
of identity, living in a multi-cultural society, the value of art
and culture in understanding and coping with life. The nine families
have such different backgrounds that identification is always possible.
Together with the exhibition, Kwela Books in Cape Town and KIT
Publishing Amsterdam published a book: "Group Portrait". It is richly
illustrated with more than 200 images of the photographs and art
works from the exhibition, as well as historical material. The book
is available at all major bookstores.
The families that are featured in the exhibition include:
Central figure is Solomon Tshekisho Plaatje (1875-1932), author,
interpreter, journalist, and politician closely linked to the founding
of the ANC.
Sol Plaatje was born in a Christian Tswana-speaking family, near
the mission post in Pniel, on the banks of the Vaal River. Later
in life he reconstructed his ancestry, based on oral knowledge. The
list goes back to the 14th century.
Solomon was an extremely bright student at the mission school.
He learned to speak fluent English, German, later Afrikaans and more.
In 1894 he went to Kimberley, obtaining the Cape civil service certificate
in seven months. Proceeding to Mafeking he became a court interpreter
and magistrate's clerk. In 1889 he married Elizabeth M'belle, an
Mfengu schoolmistress. During the Anglo-Boer war he stayed in Mafeking
during a long siege by Boer-troops. He kept a diary during the siege,
a unique document by any standard.
In 1904 he became the editor of the first Tswana-English weekly, Koranta
ea Bechuana, eight years later he went to Kimberley and established
the newspaper Tsala ea Batho. In 1912 he became politically
active, as general correspondence secretary of the ANC. Strongly
opposing the Native Land Bill, he travelled with a delegation to
England, in later years also to Canada and the USA to get support
for their activities. Apart from his political work he was a remarkable
man in many ways. He wrote several books, translated Shakespeare
into Tswana and wrote the first black South African novel. He apparently
was also a good singer. There is a recording of Sol Plaatje singing Nkosi
Sikelele iAfrica in 1928!
A prominent descendant is Tumi Plaatje-Molefe; she is the great-granddaughter
of Sol's brother Simon (in the Tswana sense of family, a direct descendant)
and is married to Popo Molefe, prime minister of the Northwest Province.
Her father Johannes Plaatje died in March 2001 and was buried in
the western cemetery in Kimberley where Sol is buried too. Her daughter
Tsholo is ten years old and the last in line. The family lives in
Coloured family of mixed European-Zulu descent. The central figure
is Cedric Nunn, a photographer. He has one daughter of 16, Kathy,
who is also interested in photography.
One of Cedric's great grandfathers was John Dunn, a legendary and
colourful 19th century tradesman of English descent, living on the
east coast, a one-time friend of Zulu King Cetswayo, but who later
fought against him. He wrote a diary, which was published in the
1880s. As a recognised and important Zulu-chief, he owned substantial
land. Many Dunn descendants are involved now in land-ownership disputes.
Two other great grandfathers were English military men, Nunn and
Nicholson, who were likewise involved in the Anglo-Zulu wars. The
fourth was Piet Louw, an Afrikaner Boer. All of them married several
Zulu wives, John Dunn the impressive number of 48!
One of Cedric's grandmothers (the daughter of Nicholson) is 100
years old and lives isolated on a small old farm in Kwazulu Natal.
There is a marriage picture of her from 1916. Cedric remembers one
Zulu grandmother who died when he was 5 years old.
Cedric's father passed away two years ago; his mother is still
alive, also living in a little village in KwaZulu natal. She owns
a suitcase full of pictures, which is opened occasionally, a source
of an endless number of stories.
Cedric went through the colour classification of the Apartheid
Regime when he was young. He was as the only child of the family
classified as 'Cape coloured' (although he was never near the Cape)
the rest of the family was classified as 'other coloured'. When he
met a friend who was a photographer he had found his great passion.
He became an activist-photographer and went to Johannesburg where
he still lives. He has been photographing his family in KwaZulu Natal
since the early eighties. The mother of his daughter Kathy was white,
which means he could not claim fatherhood when she was born: it would
prove an illegal act! Kathy went always to mixed schools in Johannesburg,
has a black boyfriend (of whom her coloured family in Kwazulu Natal
does not approve!) and likes the black American music and lifestyle.
Central figure is Dolly Rathebe (b. 1928). Her paternal grandparents
lived on a farm in Rustenburg; the parents of her mother lived on
a farm in Randfontein. They had 12 children; one of them was Dolly's
mother. Dolly does not remember much about her grandparents, but
visits their graves every year at Easter, and talks to them, as the
ancestors are important to her.
Dolly was born on the farm in Randfontein but moved to Sophiatown
with her parents when she was a small girl. She was an only child.
Her mother used to sing, also in small groups. Dolly grew up to become
a well-known singer and actress and sex symbol. She performed in
films as African Jim and The magic garden and was the
first cover girl of DrumMagazine and Zonk. Drum photographers
as J�rgen Schadeberg and Bob Gosani made series about her. She worked
many years in the revue African Jazz & Variety. She had a child in
1954, and married in 1956. She then moved to Port Elizabeth with
her husband, who was a Xhosa, and had two more children. As she felt
very restricted in her possibilities, she divorced and went back
to Johannesburg where she came to live in Meadowlands, in Soweto,
as Sophiatown had been razed to the ground by that time.
Her career halted and she moved to Cape Town. She changed her name
to Smith, so that she could live in a coloured designated area. It
was there that she became acquainted with the shebeen business. She
bought a piece of land in Mabupane, a township near Pretoria in 1970.
Ten years later her house was ready. For a long time she ran a shebeen
there, but within the last few years she stopped the hectic life
connected to it. Today she still performs, as a singer but also in
film and on television.
She has three children, two daughters and a son, five grandchildren
and one great-grandchild. Her eldest daughter Zola, is married and
has two children. She lives in Eldorado, a formerly coloured township
in Johannesburg. The daughter of her son Smilo, Matanki, now eleven
years old, is Dolly's favourite grandchild, and the only one who
has inherited the singing talent of her grandmother.
The Dutch roots of the family go back to Douwe Gerbens (Gerbrand)
who probably arrived in the Cape in 1669 from Leeuwarden. He is better
known as Douwe Gerbrandts Steyn, was a mason, and died in 1700. He
married in 1685 to Maria Lozee van de Caap, a slave woman of unknown
origin. They had a daughter.
Maria had already a son called Jacobus. Maybe Douwe Gerbens was
the father, maybe not. But Jacob took the name Steyn, and became
the forefather of many present Steyns in South Africa. Maria Lozee
was the ancestor of two South African presidents, Martinus Steyn
and Paul Kruger. A part of the Steyn family moved to Swellendam in
the 1750s. Martinus's grandfather, who was a wheelwright, moved to
Orange Free State.
Martinus Steyn was born in 1857, the fourth of 11 children. He
grew up at the farm Zuurfontein at the Modder River, 13 miles north
of Bloemfontein. He went to school at Grey College in Bloemfontein,
and farmed, thereafter. In 1877 he departed for the Netherlands,
where he enrolled at the Gymnasium in Deventer. In 1879 he left for
London to study law. After being admitted as an advocate in Cape
Town, he left for Bloemfontein, built up a practice and married Rachel
Isabella (Tibbie) Fraser, a clergyman's daughter from Philippolos.
Martinus Theunis ran for president in 1895 and was elected in 1896
as State President of the Orange Free State. Directly he started
to cement ties with the ZAR (Kruger), and tried to mediate between
Kruger and Milner, Cape Governor and High Commissioner in South Africa
since 1897, but to no avail. In 1899 war broke out: the second Anglo
Boer War. Steyn fought until the end for independence, but became
seriously ill. After the peace treaty was signed, the Steyns left
for Europe for treatment, stayed in many places, returned to South
Africa in 1905, and settled on the farm. Martinus was not very active
after that time, but played a role as adviser. His sympathies lay
with Herzog and De Wet who left the SA Party in 1913 and founded
the National Party in 1914.
Partly as result of the internal clashes in Afrikaner ranks he
collapsed and died in 1916 and was buried at the foot of the Woman's
Monument in Bloemfontein. His wife Tibbie lived until 1955. Two plays
were produced about her life and the letters she exchanged with Emily
The family farm 'Onze Rust' near Bloemfontein since 1897 is still
in the hands of members of the Steyn family. Mrs. Yvonne Steyn lives
there, the widow of Martinus Theunis, "judge Steyn", grandson of
the President, together with one daughter and the family of her youngest
son, called Colin Steyn.
Her second daughter and her eldest son Martinus Theunis Steyn live
in Cape Town. Martinus Theunis is married, has two daughters and
a son. One daughter, Martine, is 17 years old and reflects occasionally
on the question whether her future will be in South Africa or elsewhere.
In September 1999 Ebrahiem Manuel, born in Simon's Town, now living
in Grassy Park, was welcomed by members of his family in a small
village, Pemangong, on the island of Sumbawa in Indonesia. He is
a seventh generation grandson of Deo Koasa, a leader from that community,
who was captured by the Dutch in 1788 and brought to the Cape as
a slave. His son Ismail Dea Malela became the first imam of Simon's
Ebrahiem is a sailor. He started his historical quest by spiritual
guidance, he claims. He used his father's documents, the old Muslim
graveyard at Seaforth, documents in archives and museums and an old
kitaab (religious book), which is handed down in the family.
Ebrahiem's father worked in fish factories, as many people in Simon's
Town worked in relation to the harbour and fishing industries. Ebrahiem's
mother was an Irish nurse, who lived in Plettenburg Bay before her
marriage. For her marriage she had to convert to the Islam faith.
Ebrahiem's parents are no longer alive, but there is still a sister
of his father, Hadji Koebra, who is 82 and lives in Oceanview, the
township where the non-white population of Simonstown was resettled.
She is very bright and lively and loves to tell stories. One of the
stories in the family is about her father (Ebrahiem's grandfather)
Hadji Bakaar Manuel who went on a pilgrimage to Mecca with his wife
in 1903. The trip took seven months. They first went to London, and
then through the Suez Canal to Mecca. He kept a diary, which still
is in the possession of the family.
Ebrahiem is not married and has no children, but has three brothers
and three sisters. Two brothers have two children each, and one brother
has four wives and 20 children. The sisters have 12 children between
them. One of Ebrahiem's nephews is Gavin Mauritz, who lives in Grassy
Park with his parents and siblings. He plans to study Information
Technology, earns money at Pick and Pay, and plays pool with his
In the late 18th century a community of people with (partly) Khoisan
background, developed around a mission post of the London Missionary
Society. The people were named Griqua; on the instigation of a missionary
the settlement was renamed Griquastad. The first leader or chief
was Adam Kok I (1710-1795) who lived on lower Orange River and Namaqualand.
A part of the group moved out later and founded a city named Philippolis.
Later still there was another massive migration of the Griquas to
the east; they founded Eastern Griqua-land, the capital was named
after the first leader, Kokstad.
After the first leader Adam Kok I, the chieftaincy was taken over
by his son Cornelis Kok II (died in 1820s) and then his grandson
(Adam Kok II, first Kaptyn of Philippolos, d. 1835) and Adam III,
Kaptyn of Philippolos and Kokstad, but there the line stopped. Through
a complicated relation Andrew Abraham Stockenstrom Le Fleur, aka
the old prophet followed up the line. He was involved in the Griqualand
East Rebellion of 1897, sentenced to gaol, spent five years in prison,
and was released. He spent several years in and around Cape Town,
and a short time in Johannesburg during which time he founded the
Griqua Independent Church and ran a newspaper, The Griqua and
Coloured People's Opinion. During World War I he returned to
Kokstad, and persuaded a considerable number of Griquas from there
to trek with him to the Western Cape, to found a new community. This
failed, but eventually he arrived at Kranshoek, near Plettenbrug
Bay. The majority of his followers were rural people of Khoi descent,
very many from Namaqualand.
Andrew Abraham Stockenstrom Le Fleur died in 1941, and was succeeded
by his son Abraham Andrew Le Fleur, until 1951. For two years there
was a caretaker for the position, then the new leader was installed,
Andrew Abraham Stockenstrom Le Fleur the Second, who is still in
function but old and sick.
In 1969 a split occurred in the family and the Griqua movement.
A younger brother of the Chief broke away and formed his own Griqua
National Congress. They still exist side by side. The factual leader
and spokesman of the original group is Cecil Le Fleur.
For many years the Griquas of Kranshoek were a fairly exclusive
group, stressing their partial whiteness. In the last ten years,
in contrast, they have come to stress their Khoisanness and have
become leading figures in the Khoisan revival movement currently
on the go, and are causing great headaches for the government which
does not know how to deal with them, as they claim to be traditional
rulers. Cecil Le Fleur is also involved in the international Indigenous
People's Movement, and is in that capacity often spokesperson for
Andrew Le Fleur is the brother of the leader of the other group.
He is a magistrate, and lives with his wife and three children in
Worcester. His youngest daughter Audrey is 12, very bright, and interested
Cynthia Galada lives with her husband and four children in the
township of Lwandle, in the Cape flats near Cape Town. Her husband
Elliot was injured in a bus-accident and has no work at the moment.
Cynthia works at the local childcare, which she founded.
The story of Cynthia's family is basically the story of migrant
labourers, travelling from impoverished rural areas in the Eastern
Cape to the city, looking for work and prospects, still keeping contact
with family back home, building up a life in the township.
Cynthia ran away from home when she was 17 (ca. 1983) to avoid
the marriage that her parents had arranged for her. She jumped in
a river, nearly drowned, but survived and escaped to Cape Town. She
first burned the letters she received from her parents, but later
made peace with them. She found work as a waitress, had a child.
She married her husband in 1987 and had three more children.
Every year in December, for the Christmas holiday, the family travels
back to the place of birth, Barkley East. Cynthia's parents still
live there, together with her grandmother. Cynthia did well for herself
within the limited possibilities and could buy a small house for
her parents, in the formerly all-white town, where they are the only
black people now. In the countryside there is the plaas of
the white Boer, where Cynthia grew up, a small hut between the mountains.
The trip to Barkley East is a trip back into time, back to the memories
of childhood, the stories of the family that stayed behind, the stories
connected to it, some good, some bad.
This is not a family with a wealth of written documents or photographs,
but what there is very meaningful: like the Dompas of Cynthia's father,
a document that comprises his working career during apartheid. And
there are surprisingly quite a lot of objects, kept in trunks, beautiful
old beadwork, and farm equipment. And the real history is told and
lived, and relived, especially through the yearly visit.
In the presentation, the annual December visit will play an important
role. We have recorded this trip back home, back to childhood, back
to parents and grandparents, by a photographer and a videographer.
On the other side, there is present day township life, with the
living conditions, the bareness of the location, but also the social
life (church, youth), the music (Cynthia sings in a choir), and Xhosa
customs in an urban setting. Xhosa tradition is strong in the family
as well: Cynthia's grandmother is an amagqirha, a spiritual
healer, and Cynthia has inherited the power. She uses her spiritual
side especially in the Methodist church, of which she is an important
member. Her eldest daughter is Nomakaya, fourteen years old. She
is at the moment at the Hottentot Holland High school, a formerly
white school. She finds it hard to cope with her role in the shifting
Family of Indian descent. Dhani Jiawon (1864-1928) from Faizabad
in North India came in 1889 to Durban to work on the sugar cane plantation
of William Campbell. After a year he married Sundari, a widow and
devoted Hindu, who had come to South Africa from a place near Poona.
After the five year indentured period, they settled in Verulam where
they lived until 1911 as farmers. Their six children were born there,
the eldest was Juggernath. In 1911 the family moved to settle on
Acutt's Estate in Inanda, near Gandhi's settlement. Juggernath married
Surjee in 1910 and continued to live with his parents. Two children
were born to them, Balbadur and Sookrani. Later nine more followed.
In 1914, the extended family moved once again, to Merebank, and
in 1923, to a piece of land in (nowadays) Duranta Road. Juggernath
was a deeply religious man, and also involved in promoting educational
possibilities of the Indian community.
The joint family system came to an end with the marriage of Balbhadur
(1913-1989) to Harbasi (1919-1989), in 1936.
Balbhadur and Harbasi had nine children, all of them ended up in
education. The youngest ones were Spider and Janey. They were both
activists, involved in several operations in the struggle. Spider
is the only one who stayed in politics, running for election as a
local councillor for the ANC in 2000. Janey is disappointed in what
the change brought.
Janey married Ishwar and has two daughters, Nikita (16) and Yuri
(21). Her older brother Sundjit still lives in the old family house.
Janey is a teacher in a primary school and active member of SATU,
the South African Teachers' Union. She teaches Grade 2 has a class
of ca. 50 kids, half of them black, half of them of Indian background.
The Juggernath family is a closely-knit. They all see each other
regularly; have special days in the year for family outings, meet
in the summer every Friday at Bay of Plenty, a place at the beach.
There is a special but different relation of the family members
to India and South Africa and aspects of Indian religion and culture,
from an outward condemnation of backward traditions to respectful
embracement. Balbhadur and Harbasi visited India in 1972-73. In contrast
Janey visited only Cuba, in 2000, a trip that made a deep impression.
Nickie and Yuri are much more sympathetic to Indian traditions and
Many details of the family have already been described; the family
published a brochure on the family history with much information
and photographs. There are some heirlooms too with beautiful stories.
Zonkezizwe Mthethwa, better known by his nickname khekhekhe,
born in 1919, is a well-known traditional healer or sangoma living
in the area of Ngudwini. He receives his patients and trains some
of his children but also others in the profession of sangoma.
Khekhekhe stems of a long line of Mthethwas, a prominent Zulu family,
and claims to be a descendant of Dingiswayo, Shaka's mentor. It was
in this region that Shaka was trained as a young man. The area is
close to the Tugela River, which forms the boundary between Natal
Quite central among the houses of his compound is the burial ground
where a few of Khekhekhe's forefathers are buried. He himself is
also the official history keeper of the Mthethewas and the presence
of the ancestors is very important in that respect. Every year on
23 February there is a special ritual where Khekhekhe pays respect
to the ancestors and recites their names.
Khekhekhe claims to have had 14 wives, of whom seven are still
alive. Among these seven wives are three pairs of sisters. He also
claims to have close to a hundred children, which says a lot about
his status and income as a widely known healer. Most children and
grandchildren are living close by, in houses on the compound.
The family participates also in other worlds. The family owns a
driving school and a bus company. Some of the family members left
for the city.
One of them is Mfanawezulu, his eldest son, born in 1951, who works
as a bus driver in Durban. Mfanawezulu married two wives, but divorced
one of them. The remaining wife lives in Ngudwini, which Khekhekhe
considers his home, with most of his 27 children. Mfanawezulu bought
a house in Inanda, a township near Durban, because he needed to be
closer to his job. He lives there with six of his sons. His third
son, Qondokuhle, is a gifted guitar-player. He is doing grade 11
in an ex-Indian school in Phoenix, a former Indian settlement founded
by Gandhi. He is keen to be educated but also values strongly the
traditions that are kept up high by his grandfather.
Opens: March 31
Closes: December 2004
National Cultural History Museum, 149 Visagie
Tel. (012) 324 6082
Fax (012) 328 5173
Hours: Monday - Sunday 8am - 40pm