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Project dips into melting pot of G’town

Date Released: Mon, 9 July 2012 14:59 +0200

City of Saints' original communities explored

RHODES University's history department is producing, as part of Grahamstown's 200th anniversary, an exhibition at will bring to the fore the history and experiences of different ethnic groups that lived in the town during its formative years. The exhibition, which is due to open at the Albany Museum this week, is centred around four ethnic groups that were important in the first 50 years of Grahamstown's history.

Rhodes University's senior lecturer in history, Dr Julia Wells, says the aim of the exhibition is to find ways to help people understand the background, history and experiences of groups that might be different from themselves. The descendants of the Khoi San are the first of the groups which the exhibition focuses on, Wells explained. These descendants of the so-called coloured people lived in a community called Hottentot Village. The exhibition also focuses on Piet Retief and his voortrekkers. Wells said most of the information they had on Retief focused on his role as one of the builders of many buildings in Grahamstown.

"Part of this part of the exhibition will be photographs as most of his buildings are still around. He was literally central in creating the town's existence." The third part focused on the Fingo identity, she said. "Fingo Village was started across from Hottentot Village, a decade later. They were a large group described by the British as the Fingo [from the original Mfengu meaning "hungry people"]. "The Mfengu were mixed, some from Zulu descent, some from Xhosa descent, but ultimately they did establish a special township called the Fingo Village in Grahamstown and that had unique characteristics."

Wells says it was in the village that it was decided that people were actually allowed to buy plots and got title deeds. "There was a huge fight to have them removed. A lot of people intervened and that's why it is still where it was. It is one of the very few areas in South Africa that survived the Group Areas Act." Lastly, the exhibition will touch on "Englishness and the media". There had always been a very robust media in Grahamstown, Wells argued, which helped consolidate and forge the English identity.

"The media was a tool for consolidating identity and keeping up a sense of what it meant to be English. They were [also] creating an identity as South Africans." Wells said she hoped that, through the exhibition, people will be challenged to think about how far they had travelled. "Particularly for a town like Grahamstown, as it was a centre of a lot of wars . . . we would like people to appreciate that it has evolved from a centre of conflict to being a centre of education and culture, which is a big transition which took 200 years."

Metro FM DJ and South African Idols judge Unathi Msengana, who was born and studied in Grahamstown, said the town had significant meaning for her. "Grahamstown is a place of my birth. I will forever be connected to it. It's where my umbilical cord was buried. So many of us come from disadvantaged backgrounds and to be able to get an education at an institution like Rhodes is an honour."

Story courtesy of HERALD (Morning Final) 09 Jul 2012, Page: 3

Written by Nomahlubi Jordaan

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