South African Society for History Teaching


A History of the SASHT and some reflections on it.

Structure, role and impact

Structure, role and impact


Six regional branches were identified from the onset as it was probably seen as the most practical and effective way to ensure a wider membership interest and activity. They were:

  • Northern Transvaal (including Venda, Lebowa, Kwandebele, Kangwane and Gazankulu);
  • Southern Transvaal;
  • Eastern Transvaal and the Orange Free State (including Bophuthatswana and Qwa Qwa);
  • Natal (Incl. KwaZulu);
  • Eastern Cape (Incl. Transkei and Ciskei);
  • Western Cape, Northern Cape and South West Africa/Namibia.

Exactly how the young SASHT envisaged these branches to operate is uncertain. This initiative started to wane somewhere along the line, with the result that the request had to be explored once again after a general meeting discussion.

A difficulty perceived from the first conference in 1988 at the University of Stellenbosch was how to involve primary and secondary educators from other provinces in subject/discipline development and knowledge exchange opportunities like these. Eventually SASHT conferences mainly operated as an opportunity for educators from a specific SASHT branch to attend, although a very low percentage from other branches always participated. Financial difficulties, and the original time of year at which conferences were held (such as the US conference that was held at the end of January) , were burdens and not ideally suited to the needs of teachers, but rather those of their tertiary colleagues.

Structure related to constitutional issues

Some decisions that were identified in sources:

  • The chairperson (see Appendix B for historical detail on SASHT chairpersons and the executive) could originally be nominated for 4 years The executive members should be domiciled close to each other. The more executive nominations were proposed from all over the country the more difficult (financially and communication-wise) it became to have proper meetings in person on a regular basis. The availability of e-mail, SMS and Internet opportunities removed some obstacles but not all, as some SASHT members (rural and urban) still only operate on snail mail addresses.
  • Conferences would be held bi-annually, and the executive elected for 2 years (from conference to conference).
  • According to the constitution of the SASHT Section 3, p. 1, the official languages are English and Afrikaans.
  • Membership fees: Started with R15 per annum in 1986 and by 2006-2007 the fees amounted to R120 (theoretically a growth of an average of R10 per annum).
  • In 1996 the language accessibility of the SASHT was discussed. At a general meeting in 1998 (in Cape Town) it was decided that in future the general SASHT meeting would be conducted only in English. In a sense this arrangement also spontaneously became the protocol since then, without any specific voting or decision making in this regard.

After 2000 the SASHT constitution “in its absentia” (or what was spontaneously known as the SASHT’s constitutional way of doing) was in many ways not followed or adapted. Changes essential for survival were made from time to time without consultation or consideration of a specific constitution. The need for a newly developed constitution was discussed during the September 2006 conference. A proposal was discussed in 2007 and formally accepted in 2008.

Recruitment and the problems of recruitment were always on the agenda of General meetings. Eventually the success of recruitment very much lay in the hands of the secretary or treasurer who had to market the Association among potential members and remind existing members to continue their membership. With a very low working budget (R15 per member, and by 1998 R20) it became extraordinarily difficult to cover all costs of marketing (electronic reminders included), sending of Newsletters an so forth. The membership fee was eventually raised to compare better to that of other similar associations and to achieve more.

SASHT role

The SASHT decided to follow the path/focus of History as discipline in general when it was decided to determine the role of the SASHT. The role of History in general will always be to serve:

  • the general community;
  • the educational sector;
  • History as science
  • in the best/most improved or innovative ways of the time.

For the newly founded SASHT in 1986 the purpose of its existence was mainly to:

  • improve contacts between educators of training at tertiary level with teachers in the broad educational field;
  • renew training in the didactics/methodology of History education;
  • utilise the expertise of educators teaching History to assist with the training of future History teachers;
  • debate continuously the content of basic and advanced educational programmes in the training of History teachers with the intention to continue to improve quality;
  • make History educators and student teachers aware of the relation between History as academic discipline and the didactics/methodology of teaching History at school level to keep abreast with development and academic debates;
  • encourage educators of History to strive towards achieving and sustaining high academic standards in the teaching methodology and approach towards, amongst others, controversial topics;
  • make educators of History and student teachers in History aware of the relevance/value of History for the existence of communities and nations in general.

The basic activities of the SASHT were the publication of Yesterday and Today and the organising of a bi-annual conference. In a sense a recognition of changed times and a need for having regular workshops (also then to act as a marketing opportunity for the SASHT) were neglected in the past. The year 2006 marked the beginning of a new approach towards History workshops within the SASHT of which the fruit will be evaluated in the years to come.


In general the presence of the SASHT eventually had to, amongst other things, be reflected in the i) SASHT membership enrolment (see Appendix A) ii) the Yesterday and Today content iii) general newspapers iv) education departments and v) tertiary educational activities.

As official voice of the SASHT since 1990, Yesterday and Today has entered a difficult second decade after a relatively smooth and successful first decade in the nineteen eighties. Some of the regular financial contributors reduced their support from 1991, and the editorial team had to rely on schools for an annual fee. Furthermore, the closing down of the Goudstad Teachers Training College (GOK) during the same year required a new venue for the formatting and editing of Yesterday and Today that J.M.L. Horn was tasked with since the very early years of the journal. From 1992 the History Department of the University of Stellenbosch took the burden as new editor of Yesterday and Today on its shoulders with Prof. Pieter Kapp as editor. Although the change of editors hardly caused any interruption in the appearance and the production of Yesterday and Today, the publication dates of the two annual issues changed from April to May and from September to October. This arrangement was simply for practical reasons to ensure that the Journal could also cover the September conferences in the 2nd edition of Yesterday and Today instead of waiting for the next year’s edition in doing so.

An interruption and eventual discontinuation of Yesterday and Today became inevitable in 1997. After desperate efforts, such as sending membership forms to 4400 schools and receiving only 77 willing to subscribe, an impossible negativity crept into well-meant efforts to keep a dream alive. In total 241 subscribers had been recalled by 1995. The 1996 conference in Potchefstroom in conjunction with the SAHA, was a last-ditch attempt to recruit teachers and History academics for the journal as well as for the SASHT (as seen from a SASHT executive angle). Apart from the fact that the Yesterday and Today articles became perhaps a bit too intellectual and less classroom-focussed for some teachers since the 1996 conference, no extraordinary recruitment progress was made. The impact that rumours at the time (of “no school history in future”), had on educators of History should also serve as a reason why hopes for increasing subscription to Yesterday and Today by December 1997 were futile.

The “will History disappear?” question, as well as a concern about the future of History in “Curriculum 2005”, and, for that matter, the question of an expanded future for History educators, steadily became issues affecting the future survival of Yesterday and Today that its editorial had to combat. To them 1997 was a crisis year. So much was to be debated but the financial burden of insufficient support, as well as a declining SASHT membership, led to an uphill battle to keep Yesterday and Today alive. Perhaps the complexities and uncertainties with regard to History’s future in schools indeed affected History in the GET and FET educational phases more than was expected by HET educators. The editor of Yesterday and Today, Professor Kapp, in 1997 wrote the following to subscribers:

For the past seventeen years this journal was produced through efforts of individuals who took a keen interest in the teaching of History. Producing the journal twice a year depended almost entirely on the editor. Dwindling subscriptions and the rising cost of paper, printing and postage forced the Editorial Board to decide at its 1996 meeting to discontinue the Journal at the end of that year. The editorial staff, however, decided to risk another year of publication. We have now reached the stage where we have to decide whether we can run a risk for another year…We are convinced that history teachers will need professional guidance and assistance to interpret new developments concerning the position of History in the school curriculum and understanding new trends in the interpretation and teaching of history. We pledge to make a positive practical contribution to your needs. But we need your support. We must have 500 subscribers to continue with the journal…

With a declining membership in the SASHT itself (100 by 1998 and approximately 55 that attended the conference at St Stithians), it was hard to believe that the journal’s pledge would be met in 1998. The SASHT organised a conference in September 1998 in Cape Town at the South African Cultural History Museum that was attended by 55 people. The concerns that resulted from this conference included the SASHT’s inability to communicate to its members what the key discussions were. Among the limited working force of a chairperson (R. Siebörger) and the secretary/treasurer (ES van Eeden) it was decided to develop a SASHT newsletter as temporary replacement for the absence of a journal like Yesterday and Today.

The first SASHT Newsletter was published in March 1998, and was followed by another in July 1998. In a sense this “emergency measurement” eventually lasted eight years, and the History developments over these years were covered in 10 Newsletters. Originally only 6-10 pages of content were printed in A5 format, but by 2005 a reasonable A4 publication of more than 30 pages was sometimes distributed to members. New History teaching trends (such as World History; Outcomes Based History and an involvement of SASHT members in South Africa’s History Curriculum development) are recorded.

For the SASHT the year 2006 will always be remembered as a time when it received a second chance to revive Yesterday and Today (then known as Yesterday & Today) with funds made available for 2006-2007 by the North-West University (NWU). In March 2006 a special edition was published that mainly covered some papers that were presented at the September 2005 conference. The hope was expressed that publishers, schools, tertiary History departments/subject groups as well as individuals would once again, as in the eighties and early nineties, be willing to invest in their discipline/subject to ensure the survival of Yesterday and Today. With Yesterday & Today ‘s new appearance and warm, colourful cover, it wanted to symbolise man and its history as an inevitable past and future process. A website was also launched for the Society which makes it the first of its kind among Historical Societies in South Africa. In 2010 an application to accredit the Journal will serve at the DoE for a possible approval. This step will enhance possibilities to obtain sufficient funds to publish the journal on an annual basis. An SASHT Newsletter also revived again to expose more educators countrywide to the activities of the journal.

The SASHT and aspects of inclusion, exclusion and non-participation as possible implications for belonging/not belonging

For all theoretical and practical purposes, the activities of the SASHT since 1986 were given some impetus by the new publication Yesterday and Today in 1981. The approach to participation and involvement in this Journal is significant as it was eventually carried forward in 1990 to the SASHT executive approach and structure. Therefore it is worthwhile browsing through the 34 editions of the Journal in an effort to spot specific trends or ideological approaches other than the methodological discussion of content that featured prominently at the time.

Writing about black people, black involvement?

Coincidentally it is Mr Jimmy Verner (the present chairperson of the SASHT) who was the first to specifically write about an aspect of the History of black people in South Africa in a 1985 edition of Yesterday and Today. The need for training of History teachers from black schools was also emphasised at History teaching symposia that Yesterday and Today supported and reported on.

Dr Simon Kekana, who was associated as an executive member of the SASHT after 1986, during this year became the first black academic in History to write no less than two articles for Yesterday and Today, titled: “The textbook and History teaching” and “University education and historical study for blacks” in which he focussed on the need for change of curriculum content.

In 1987 Prof. Herman Giliomee was the first white academic from a tertiary institution to write in Yesterday and Today about history writing and people’s history as far as the black people of South Africa are concerned. Thereafter more contributions followed that mainly focussed on Black student teacher’s historical understanding.

In essence the afore-mentioned contributions reflect aspects of inclusion before and after the founding of the SASHT. However, the question may be asked why it was only included three years after Yesterday and Today started as journal? As there must have been expertise on curriculum development from a wide academic sphere, it would have paid to approach this wider audience rather than choose the easier way of getting a few publications out to secure a membership first. In hindsight (and that is obviously always the best position to be in and respond, even if not all the logistical problems are known) this step required reflection on inclusiveness. This would eventually lead to unnecessary (though important in general) hang-ups among tertiary academic scholars on, for example, ideology, race and language, especially since some firmly believed that Yesterday and Today was an attachment of the former Historia Junior which they may have labelled as an exclusively white-centric approach to South Africa’s history. Perceptions on exclusion and non-participation could have been possible during these times and it could have reflected implications of not belonging.

SASHT Conferences & Yesterday and Today – the level of inclusiveness by the executive/editor(s)/organisers?

The very first SASHT conference (then called congress) during 29-30 January 1988 at the University of Stellenbosch, strikingly reflects a reasonable balance of 19 presenters between the then official language groups English (7 papers) and Afrikaans (12 papers), as well as the topics covered (16 on History teaching methodology issues and 3 from a History content/knowledge-based angle). What is also significant is that the presenters included Historians, tertiary Educators from a broader field than just History Didactics, and History teachers and academics from other disciplines and institutions.

The subsequent SASHT conference in 1990 at RAU was not only intended to commemorate the 10 successful years of Yesterday and Today’s existence, but also focussed on a key topic of the day, namely multiculturalism. Apart from having a speaker with international standing, namely Jörn Rüsen, to present the key address on education in a multicultural society, the memory of the attendance of a wide variety of interested groups/people endures. Among others they were the SASHT chairperson Dr Simon Kekana, Prof. Rob Siebörger (UCT) and a school teacher (also involved in textbook writing) Mr Bruce Mohamed.

At the 1992 conference held at the Mamelodi Campus of Vista University in Pretoria (also to serve as an accentuation of their 10 years of existence), 26 papers were delivered. From the variety of topics covered, it was clear that SASHT members exercised a freedom of right to debate contemporary educational trends, theoretical views as well as practical applications of History for the classroom, especially in an era of electronic development. Apart from the publication of most of these papers in Yesterday and Today, they (as was the method in 1988 and 1990) were also included in a conference publication. The quality of some papers apparently caused problems to the editors of Yesterday and Today who had difficulty to decide which ones met at least a reasonable publishing standard. In the years that followed this concern grew.

The September 1994 SASHT conference at the Wellington Teachers’ Training College featured at least 10 papers of a practical nature. At this stage a declining membership led to a decision to have a joint conference in January 1996 with the SAHA in Potchefstroom. In hindsight, it did not serve the actual purpose of strengthening the SASHT membership, neither did it reflect the approval of the majority of its members. The closure of Yesterday and Today in 1997 was also a depressing announcement. Somehow all these efforts of being inclusive and creating a sense of belonging may have reflected the opposite thinking, namely, i) the SASHT was not good enough to stand on its own feet; ii) some SASHT members did not want to have a joint conference with the HASA; iii) the closure of Yesterday and Today could have justified the majority’s supposition that the tertiary academics also won in their efforts regarding the future of History in schools. It may also be argued that the approach to the last editions of Yesterday and Today was far too academic for the majority of History teachers wanting to have practical guidelines on how to understand and teach History in the new democratic South Africa. In addition, the publishing of each and every article in Afrikaans and English from the mid-nineties was not only costly, but could have reflected perceptions of either multi-lingual inclusiveness or lingual exclusiveness, and even non-participation and/or a specific ideological/cultural focus – depending on your language preference/racial descent. Seen from these angles, aspects of exclusion and non-participation certainly featured, although it remains debateable whether it was ever the intention.

In 1998 Cape Town was the next conference venue. The attendance of 30 was regarded as poor seeing that 1500 invitations were distributed. This one-day conference was in many ways a mixture of theory and practice (that included a visit to the Alabany museum and Robben Island). Of crucial importance was the decision to have the general meeting in English and this has remained the status quo for the SASHT up to 2006. In many ways this step towards inclusiveness (as English was acknowledged as the voice for communication by the majority of academics regardless of race and in which mother tongue you were raised) was apparently much more acceptable to the majority of teachers who had to teach History in English. Obviously the use of English advantaged some more than others, but it is important to bear in mind that it could have been seen as a step towards inclusiveness by some whereas others could have experienced it as a step towards exclusion.

Membership difficulties and a SASHT executive management crisis led to the organising of a SASHT conference in 2001 instead of the regular biannual meeting. In many respects this also led to broader impressions that a RIP situation for the SASHT existed. Without being officially elected, Mr Jimmy Verner took over the responsibilities as SASHT chairperson after the resignation of Bruce Mohamed. St Stithians Girl’s College in Johannesburg (where Jimmy was a History teacher) was the only option at the time because Elize van Eeden then also moved from Potchefstroom to Pretoria after July 1998. In a sense this left the SASHT rootless as it was not specifically attached/connected to any tertiary institution that usually provides for the important infrastructure as required in any academic society. The 2001 conference was nevertheless quite fruitful in the sense that the future of History in the newly created learning area of Human and Social Sciences (HSS) was discussed, and that June Bam also addressed the SASHT members in her capacity as co-ordinator of the Social Sciences Working Group of the Ministry of Education. Practical issues in History methodology, useful to History teachers, still covered the main part of the conference papers. More importantly, from an angle of inclusiveness, this meeting featured more papers presented in languages other than Afrikaans. Another extraordinary decision that resulted from this meeting was that the acting chair and the secretary treasurer (respectively J. Verner and E. van Eeden), should continue to drive the SASHT in an emergency phase, because the number of members were too limited at this conference to make any purposeful recommendations on the way forward.

Perhaps new “competition” for the SASHT, as far as the recruitment of History teachers was concerned, was the existence of the South African History Project – spearheaded by the DoE. It was intended that the SAHP would found a national History Society, although nothing came of this intention.

The “restructuring” approach started with the organising of a SASHT workshop for 22-23 June at the Emfuleni Conference Centre at Vanderbijlpark and strongly (as well as financially) supported by the NWU and the DoE (Gauteng region) through Ms N. Parsaro. The overwhelming didactical focus was “Empowering the History teacher” in the classroom. As it was promised to be a practical workshop approach in the true sense of the word (and a very first experience of this kind for the SASHT), roughly 125 people attended. This historical event also marked an inclusiveness that academics and teachers were hoping for, for many years. Though a growth towards a still better understanding of the History educator’s needs, their historical and professional hardships as well as language issues still were requirements each and all in the profession could invest in for a healthy cooperation in future that will benefit the subject/discipline and not selfish preferences.

With a handful of loyal members, the 2003 conference of the SASHT was held at RAU (UJ). Approximately 36 people attended this conference. As an effort to approve the still unhealthy status of the Society, the attendance requested the newly appointed executive to explore the market for more members; that regional SASHT branches should be formed to organise regional workshops; and to meet with SAHP members and to organise national SASHT workshops. Mr Jimmy Verner was once again nominated as chairperson (and Van Eeden as secretary/treasurer) of the Society to add a “sense of solidness and strength to a still vulnerable Society”, despite some hope and progress. The rest of the SASHT executive reflected a sound inclusiveness from all over the country and from a variety of academic institutions.

Busy schedules and the difficulty of recruiting regional SASHT members to organise workshops in branches led to limited success in this regard. The 1995 SASHT conference at St. Marist in Durban followed, but was only attended by 20 people. The outcome, however, was very positive in the sense that the group wanted the SASHT to continue its activities. Regional assistance and marketing were offered by all. The detrimental decision of teachers that, for the time being, the NWU should operate as the seat for the SASHT just to give it a strong start, was accepted. With this in mind no less than three executive members were nominated from this University (one from the Potchefstroom Campus and two from the Vaal Triangle Campus). It was also decided to rather organise a conference for 2006 again than to wait for another two years before addressing more critical issues. That would prevent a continuous decline.

The “restructuring” approach started with the organising of a SASHT workshop for 22-23 June at the Emfuleni Conference Centre in Vanderbijlpark. It was strongly (as well as financially) supported by the NWU and the DoE (Gauteng region) through Dr N. Parsard. The overwhelming didactic focus was “Empowering the History teacher” in the classroom. As it was promised to be a practical workshop approach in the true sense of the word (and a very first experience of this kind for the SASHT), roughly 125 people attended. This historical event also marked an inclusiveness for which academics and teachers have been hoping for many years. Though growth towards a still better understanding of the History educator’s needs, their historical and professional hardships as well as language issues were still requirements, each and all in the profession could invest in a healthy cooperation in future that would benefit the subject/discipline and not selfish preferences.

For the September 2006 conference, the marketing process was much more thorough than ever in the past (as a result of the availability of an infrastructure) and effective (via the University website; SMS messages and personal calls). A website for the SASHT also operated from December 2006. As more money becomes available and a solid infrastructure can be developed, the SASHT should continue to grow from strength to strength. The Executive is now more positive about its future than in the last 8 years of existence of the Society.

By 2006 the SASHT list of members presented a balanced group of expertise from all racial and language groups. This has been the SASHT’s focus since foundation, and it remains its focus in 2010.

Themes in History and the History teaching methodology – the level of inclusiveness of contributions by editor(s)/writer(s)/member(s)

In many respects the approach to content in Yesterday and Today up to its abolishment was, and still is, a reflection of the thinking by SASHT members on the transformation/development needs of the subject/discipline of the day. From April 1981 to 1997 the article content in Yesterday and Today/Gister en Vandag could roughly be analysed as follows:

Number of editions: 34 (The special edition of 2006 excluded) Articles on History Teaching Methodology: 220 topics on how to apply local and contemporary history; maps, assessment in SA [in 1983 and 1984 already], sources, skills-based teaching, exam creativity; new teaching trends abroad; interdisciplinary methods; learning outcomes in SA (in 1990 already); bibliographies. Discussions on historical consciousness, teacher training; political literacy; reinterpretation; People’s History; teaching in multicultural communities; distance training; indoctrination; syllabus concerns; History teaching in other countries and in South Africa after 1994; computers and History; teaching controversial issues; World History and classroom differentiation are also prominent). Articles in Studies (in depth and broadly with only an indirect, if any, reference to History teaching) on History themes: 105 Afrikaans articles: 205 (a rough count) English articles: 120 (a rough count) Book reviews: (handled in all editions. Mainly on History publications)

From the statistics above it appears as if the articles on teaching methodology formed the bulk of the articles in Yesterday and Today and the papers presented at SASHT conferences (with a number of papers most of the time published in Yesterday and Today). Though Historical writing in its variety most of the time represents the perspective of a Historian, the bulk of the content in Yesterday and Today and at SASHT conferences never blatantly/explicitly promoted a specific race or language group in South Africa. However, the semantic approach to sustain an obsolete multi-perspective, empathetic approach to all historical content from all writers/participants cannot be confirmed. The acceptance that all contributors first of all wanted to promote the value of the subject/discipline as well as to exchange their experience/efforts to improve the teaching of History in many interactive ways, should never be questioned or evoke a perception of narrow-minded interpretations.

Openness to different interpretations and perceptions stimulated debate and eventually cultivated a more considerate approach to the past. In fact, SASHT members and participants from all language groups never shied away from debates like curriculum content and alternative suggestions, Apartheid and People’s History, the value of historical consciousness; changing South Africa’s history, and so forth. Furthermore, disappointment and frustration of the SASHT executive is recalled in that they were not able to include members from all academically active scholars as a result of perceptions and a fear that the South African past may be repeated or/and cultivated in the SASHT structures. For the SASHT their membership enrolment reflected a balance between historians and History educators from all race and language groups. This has been the SASHT executive’s vision since its foundation in 1986.

A typical example of the opportunity to openness is the personal response on the 1st SASHT conference at US in 1988 by the 1998-2006 chairperson, Mr Jimmy Verner, in Yesterday and Today:

…The opening address …discussion on the relevance of political literacy for schools…by a panel…composed of Prof. Trümpelmann of RAU, Prof. Stuart of UNISA and Prof. Kotzé of Stellenbosch. These are all Afrikaner academics and their common ground is too great for a really effective panel…My overall reaction was of an opportunity missed – the discussion was too theoretical and lacked the spice of divergent concepts of political literacy and its values. If the panel had been more disparate, for example, a Xhosa, a Coloured, an Englishman and an Afrikaner we might have come closer to the problems of what political literacy is and how to teach it…

To Mr Verner the listening to and following of papers in the “other” official language [Afrikaans] were just too tiresome as far as the “extra effort of concentration” was concerned. With this comment he probably accentuated the difficulties many had with any other language being used as a second or third language. Times have changed since, so that the language concern became more the concern of the presenter than that of the audience, but it is still not as effective as it can be because of the difficulties to accommodate all language groups at a conference.

Another obstacle that school educators experience within the SASHT (and even other History-related societies that were also supposed to accommodate History educators in schools) was the overwhelmingly theoretical approach to papers presented at SASHT conferences. Sometimes it appeared as if only History educators from tertiary institutions and not History teachers were willing to present papers on newly researched topics or issues of the day. Arguments such as that stage fright or a fear that longstanding scientific research is the master over experience and practical hands-on efforts inhibited teacher participation, cannot be excluded but it remains a pity. This trend of more theoretical discussions than the organising of workshops and hands-on ideas for classroom facilitating was also noticeable in the SASHT conferences that followed. Thus, in a sense a reference to a lack of academic inclusiveness was the order of the day.

In 1994, for the very first time since 1981, Yesterday and Today under the editorship of Prof. Pieter Kapp, published some papers that were delivered at a conference of the South African Historical Association. Its controversial nature, namely the future of History as school subject within the new dispensation, most probably was the reason for this decision. The fact that respondents (such as Dr Neville Alexander and Prof. B.J. Liebenberg) were asked to reply to articles by, for example, Prof. Kapp, Prof. Van Jaarsveld and Dr Broodryk, should be seen as an opportunity the Journal took to ensure an open debate. On the other hand it raised eyebrows on the competency of the SASHT at that stage to provide meaningful content as its voice for debate in its own journal. It was only in 1996 that the academic marriage of Yesterday and Today and the SASHT featured prominently in the journal. A reference to the SASHT or/and any conferences in Yesterday and Today, was noticeably lacking between 1994-1996.

In the 1994-1996 journals of Yesterday and Today article contributions from HET academics for, amongst others, HET History educators featured more prominently than ever before. The journal also became much bulkier (up to 80 pages). In his capacity as chairperson of the History Commission’s History Olympiad Committee within the South African Academy for Science and Arts structures, Prof. Kapp published the winners of this Olympiad on an annual basis. Great efforts were made by the editorial team since 1995 to publish articles of importance to a wider audience in both Afrikaans and English. Issues such as whether History will disappear in the new curriculum, the importance of History content, and how the development of Learning Outcomes since 1995-1996 must be interpreted, featured prominently. The SASHT newsletters from 1998 also prominently featured certain events and developments that concerned History (such as assessment, the SAHP, OBE and History, and so forth). The content focus was always that of all-inclusiveness of all History educators. However, a critical reflection may leave the perception of it being the other way around.

Within the structure of the SASHT it can perhaps also be argued that some members of the executive and/or some members within themselves may have cultivated a certain sense of not being “open” that sometimes came to the surface when least expected.

International associations

Apart from the SASHT’s connection with the Bielefeld University in West Germany from 1990, no other international connection is recalled. Prof. Jörn Rüsen from this University in 1990 delivered the key address at the SASHT (RAU) conference on Historical education in a multicultural society. His plea was for identifying a common identity to establish a national identity. With his extraordinary input The Georg Eckhardt Institute supported South Africa’s history financially (as part of their activities worldwide). They assisted by helping societies like the SASHT in bridging the gap between differences. As specialists in textbook analysis they certainly played an important role in ensuring a multiple perspective. The organising of such an international association and liaison could be regarded as an effort by the SASHT executive to operate as a society that is all-inclusive and to which the majority of educators should belong.

The SASHT members’ involvement in curriculum and other History-related changes

Despite a SASHT concern that a feeling of exclusion existed from time to time with regard to DoE structures on curriculum change and development since 1986, the SASHT (and some members/former members in their individual capacity) was always in some way involved in directing the way forward for History in the GET and FET phases. The following are some examples to recall a few achievements:

  • The first chairperson, Prof. Trümpelmann, was involved in the compilation of a HSRC report on an alternative History curriculum in the late eighties. Some Yesterday & Today editorial team members were also involved.
  • A few SASHT executive members were actively involved in the development of Learning Outcomes for the HSS for implementing in the GET and FET phases. Dr June Bam (former SASHT executive member was involved in the working out of Curriculum 2005. She also later headed the South African History Project);
  • Prof. Rob Siebörger (former chairperson) played an important role, amongst others, in assisting in the way forward for assessment in Grade 12 as far as the sources approach is concerned. He was also involved in the development of Specific Outcomes for the Human and Social Sciences.
  • Elize van Eeden was a member of the first group that developed Learning Outcomes for the Human and Social Sciences; she was also member of the reference group with regard to curriculum development. She also proposed the implementation of world history in classrooms in a structured way before it was actually made part of the History curriculum. Her introduction of a new learning programme for “Practical History/Vocational History” in the FET phase, Grade 10-12, certainly has the ingredients to lead to the changing/adaptation of History curriculum themes in future to benefit History’s vocational value.
  • Mr Jimmy Verner (and others like Ms Gill Sutton and Van Eeden) are involved in the writing of History textbooks;
  • Prof. Kapp’s outstanding role in the 1981-1997 Yesterday & Today initiative and his memorable academic involvement for 17 years in promoting quality History teaching.

Sense of community, identity and memory

From the discussions in Yesterday and Today and at SASHT conferences it can be concluded that the Society always proved to be informed on the newest trends and prepared to debate issues that created concern. The History curriculum (old, new, interim and newly developed) always gave rise to debate. Similarly, historical consciousness, the influence of ideologies and the value of political literacy were always critically assessed and/or debated. In 1992, for example, Yesterday and Today (as SASHT mouthpiece) raised its concern and doubts about the new curriculum suggestions that the DoE intended to phase in as Social Studies. The defending of History as independent, autonomous and essential subject in any school curriculum can be traced in the Journal since then.

From a community perspective, it is always difficult to obtain a representative view on the thinking about History, although Yesterday and Today published letters from readers and FET learners on a regular basis. These letters were mostly along the lines of “I love History/I don’t love History” followed by some form of explanation. In essence negative feedback also forced educators to rethink and market their profession in History. Creativity and renewal were expected, and communication on the value of History was often exchanged during conferences and in Yesterday and Today.

Not enough appeared on the improvement of History teaching at tertiary level in Yesterday and Today up to the termination of publications in 1997. At SASHT conferences a number of papers were presented that also focussed on HET educational improvement. In hindsight, however, much more could have been done in this phase because tertiary academics are not necessarily effective in a classroom situation even though they may be masters of knowledge.

A new page to be reviewed?: The Yesterday&Today revival, 2006-2009

Perhaps 2011, when the SASHT will celebrate its 15th conference, could serve as a podium to reflect its own past and doings through its conferences, its Newsletters and Yesterday&Today publication through the means of a session during this conference that will be held at the University of South Africa.

A short history

Its foundations

Since the first official strides to ensure a space for teaching History as outlined earlier, it appears as though some practitioners of the subject/discipline have always been willing to function constructively within the security of an academic association, specifically focused on History development and History issues. In 1913 such an association was formed by the two tertiary institutions mentioned earlier. Unfortunately, ideological differences between the Dutch-Afrikaans and English language groups, exacerbated perhaps by the uncertainties associated with these years as a result of World War I, meant that this well-meant effort was sunk in 1916.

Tensions between political parties during these times eventually resulted in History teaching being declared non-committal during the period 1918-1948 as far as official History syllabi in schools were concerned. Nevertheless, this drawback did not affect the production of History publications by academics.

During this period the Ministry of Education and a variety of associations were involved in educational activities that also benefited History to a lesser and/or greater extent. Cultivation of the development of History as subject for community purposes (especially ensuring that learners develop a historical consciousness), was a central focus.

Past ideological differences between the language groups still lingered on by the time the National Party took power in 1948. No official national historical association in South Africa existed as an independent voice from the government’s educational structures in 1950. Once again, the teaching community felt the need for a historical association most strongly. Perhaps the Department of Education’s announcement of the implementation of a new integrated subject, namely Social Studies, also triggered the defence mechanisms of all History practitioners – and perhaps also created another platform for differences in this regard.

Despite some constraints, the enthusiastic Inspector of Schools during those days, Dr. J.J. van Tonder, took the initiative and on 11 February 1956 all his efforts came to fruition when the Historical Association of South Africa (HASA) was founded by 400 people in the City Hall of Pretoria. Although HASA generated excitement among primary and secondary History educators, it eventually became the mouthpiece for tertiary History educators/Historians, and was especially dominated for years by concerned white historians from the historically Afrikaans universities as far as its conferences, articles (in its journal Historia) and its administrative management were concerned. Concern among Historians that HASA still had an overwhelming focus on History educators and History teaching issues, resulted in another foundation effort – 1965 –by historians of both official language groups in Bloemfontein. The South African Historical Society (SAHS) was formed by 37 historians of whom 6 were English.

It was firmly believed that both HASA and the SAHS had a function to fulfil that should complement each other. In practice, however, this “difference” in function was not easy to define, especially if the production of articles and publications of both (not even talking about its membership that reflects similarity) are criteria. Fact is that historians had to establish for themselves to what degree they wanted to be associated with the people they had trained (directly and indirectly) who found themselves in primary and secondary education (nowadays General Education and Training – GET and Further Education and Training – FET). Meanwhile, from 1978 the History educators were floating desperately between both these History ventures in search of a permanent identity, needing more practical hands-on assistance from professionals in the Higher Education and Training Band. Apart from Historia Junior, at least still in operation, other useful History teaching information lay scattered between journals such as Historia, Die Unie, Neon, Mentor, Tydskrif vir Middelbare Onderwys, Standpunte, Skoolblad, Educa, Onderwysblad and Onderwysbulletin. Historians and History educators with English as mother tongue published articles related to History teaching in journals such as Perspectives in Education, Education and Educational Review.

Divided perspectives and perceptions among the practitioners on the school History curriculum did not contribute to set a healthy platform for History activities within a society structure. HASA’s Historia Junior journal declined in the seventies. Perhaps its primary focus on South African History was a reason, although it has to be acknowledged that the retirement of Dr Van Tonder also had an impact. Perhaps the unfortunate absence of open-minded, balanced and/or representative perspectives has kept the ideological argument between historians from tertiary institutions and History teachers alive, with no unity in sight.

As a “last” effort in his professional capacity, Dr Van Tonder approached the former Rand Afrikaans University to take responsibility for the production of Historia Junior. This never happened, but a counter-initiative resulted from this plea and also probably the sense of a wider need among school History educators from all languages and races. In its first editorial note this new initiative, named Yesterday and Today, financially supported by the HASA, reflected concern over History as a declining subject because of the existing need to serve the educational community with creative and useable articles, having no intention to support any official viewpoint. It is also interesting to note that symposiums and seminars on History teaching, organised by tertiary institutions, took place from time to time outside the ambit of existing history associations or societies.

Tertiary academics, also involved in Yesterday and Today, organised a conference for History practitioners (didactics) at Unisa in July 1985. During this conference the first strides were made to establish a society for History teacher training.

In September 1985, Yesterday and Today reported as follows:

Society for the training of History teachers almost a reality

There was widespread enthusiasm for the idea of a Society of this nature. It was felt that a closer interaction between the different institutions and groups should be established. Accordingly a pilot committee consisting of Prof. M.H. Trümpelmann (RAU), Dr F.J. Stuart (Unisa) and Mr J.M.L. Horn (GOK) was elected to proceed with the drafting of a concept constitution and the planning of administrative arrangements. It is hoped that the proposed society will be a reality in 1986.

With a healthy and growing circulation of approximately 400 members of Yesterday and Today at hand (which can be regarded as proof of its need in especially primary and secondary education), another conference initiative by didactics specialists and historians, held in July 1986, finally prepared the ground for the founding of a society for History teachers.

The groundwork for this society was done by the History Teaching Methodology/Didactics specialists of RAU, Unisa and the Teaching Colleges of Goudstad, Pretoria and Johannesburg. At this conference (Unisa) the South African Society for History Teaching/Suid-Afrikaanse Vereniging vir Geskiedenisonderrig was founded. The name of the Society appears to have been used in two ways. Initially, from the date of its founding until at least 1988 when the first conference at US took place, it was referred to as the Society for the Training of History Teachers. During the annual meeting of the SASHT executive at US, the name change was accepted. By the time the 1992 conference took place, the new name of the Society was widely used. This change was apparently made to ensure that the Society’s focus was also inclusive of tertiary history educators from the History Didactics/Teaching Methodology and History Departments (See Appendix A for a Conference venue detail). For many years the SASHT did not use a specific logo to identity itself. After Yesterday and Today officially became part of the SASHT activities, this journal’s identity was spontaneously used for the SASHT as well.


The South African Society for History Teaching

1986-2010 – A focus of 24 years on trends of regression and progression as Society


A society for history teaching was formally established in 1986. This Society held national conferences on a bi-annual basis. This broadened the pool of possible contributions for the Yesterday & Today Journal (founded in 1981) substantially.

Since 1986 it all along remained an uphill struggle to maintain the position of history as an important school subject in the face of a host of negative issues that impacted on history. In short an historical and materialistic time and age had a negative influence on history as a school subject. The uncertainty and new priorities of a new political dispensation were not helpful either. Old prejudices and perceptions around power structures aggravated the tensions. A number of tertiary institutions took the responsibility for organising SASHT conferences. The intention with this paper is to focus on the following aspects regarding the SASHT:

A short history

Structure, role and impact

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