Oral history of British science

Bundy, Colin (2 of 4).  Oral History of Oral History

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  • Interviewees

    Bundy, Colin, 1944- (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Wilkinson, Robert (speaker, male)

  • Abstract

    Part 2: Upon leaving school spent a year in the United States before going to university. There were about 150-180 students in the school, 30 boys in the same graduating year. Turned 17 just before final exams. Stepfather got a librarian job in another university and moved to another town. Started first year knowing would not be able to complete it; won an American Field Service scholarship to study for a year at an American high school. This was a Quaker organisation, they organised a large scale exchange programme in the 1960s and put foreign student up with American families. Lived with a right wing republican family in Dover, Delaware, aged 17 and a half. This was 1962-3, Kennedy was president, recently found letters hed written home at the time concerning the Cuban missile crisis. There were some black students at the school which was a new experience. [03:41] Went back to South Africa and recommenced first year at university. Partly because of the year in America but more significantly because it was the early 1960s. Sharpeville was 1960 and the future South African prime minister and current minister of Justice Vorster cracked down in 1962-3 on a range of targets. One of these was the National University of South African Students (NUSAS), became involved in this. It was a quick learning curve of radical politics. Also became part, less publically, of a group who turned out to be one of the last remnants of the South African Communist Party, operating underground. Also got involved heavily in student journalism, edited the campus paper and was a member of the student representative council. [05:25] The apartheid regime set up some black universities, only black students who were doing otherwise impossible combinations of degrees were they able to integrate. There were a few black students at the four liberal campuses, historically white and English language campuses. There were also medium Afrikaans universities which were totally segregated. Also met students from the black universities through NUSAS. Had some very intense exchanges and debates at NUSAS congresses. [06:30] NUSAS was left/liberal. They were involved in the politics of protest, mounting public displays of protest against legislation. By 1964 there were individuals within NUSAS, particularly in the leadership, who had opted for rather experimental and not very effective forms of arms struggle. Thea Vignes brother Randolph was part the African Resistance Movement (ARM). When the NUSAS congress was held in Colins campus of Pietermaritzburg in July 1964, the residences were raided at night and two delegates were taken away. They were later tried for sabotage, it was intended to be non violent, against objects not people.. A lot of people radicalised at university went on to become either fully engaged in political resistance at home or went into exile. [09:50] The ANC, The Pan African Congress and before them The South African Communist Party had been proscribed. ANC was illegal since 1960, in all the student radicalism Colin was involved in there was virtually no contact with an organised resistance. Came closest at a leadership seminar of NUSAS, the then President, Jonty Driver (who became a very distinguished British headmaster), put two positions to them; one was from Martin Leggassick (a student at the time, working elsewhere in Africa). He proposed they ally themselves with the ANC. Copies of the document were leaked and it became a national cause celebre. This as the only time people in student politics talked of linking with the liberation movement.[11:44] The other group Colin was involved with would have been critical of NUSAS and dismissed it as a liberal organisation. After the Rivonia trial, where the entire ANC leadership were either arrested or fled, they were youthful vestiges left in South Africa, this was one of them. They were eventually rounded up, a couple broke under solitary confinement and gave state evidence against the others. [12:49] Was personally lightly involved in illegal activities. Came to England for the first time in December 1965 on an A. Bailey travel bursary in a group of all white men. brought some documents to a fairly senior Communist Party couple in London, Rusty and Hilda Bernstein. When the group was rounded up was questioned by the police for a couple of days. Was not fearful but was lightly involved, there was some minor danger of charges. Others in the circle went to jail with sentences of 5 and 7 years. The ones who cracked had far longer repercussions than those that were imprisoned. [14:45] Continued to enjoy doing journalism, the campus paper was terribly important at that time. This ended with the 3 year undergraduate degree, then went for a single year to Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg  and did History Honours. Didnt do any student journalism in Johannesburg. Shortly after this got a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford in October 1968. For the next 20 odd years dabbled in journalism, did lots of book reviewing for The New Statesman and New Society. History became more important. Did two postgraduate degrees, for five years in total. First in American History as by this time had made the general decision not to return to South Africa.  After the M.Phil in American history, felt pulled back into South African research. Did a degree on economic history, it later came out as a book called The Rise And Fall Of The South African Peasantry looking at how black pastoralists responded to colonial conquest and to markets. [17:50] There was no oral history at this stage. The South African government effectively took away Colins passport at this time. They would only renew it for 6 months at a time. Got it back in the early 80s, somebody contacted the ambassador who arranged it. Went back for the first time in 1983 after 15 years away. Went for a research trip, by 1985 returned to South Africa. This situation was not unusual, particularly a group of academics went back. [19:10] Was very lucky to be a part of a revisionist or radical moment within southern African studies, largely coming out of London but Oxford, Sussex, York and Cambridge were involved too. Research years felt part of a collective intellectual endeavour rather than the lonely enterprise it can be. This was very important, was working with and alongside highly committed, politically charged individuals and they did produce important work. They were very critical of the existing accounts of South African history, the two main strands of the work were Africanist, a manifesto stated they were looking at African agency, African initiative, and African identity. The Africanist recovery of the history of pre-literate peoples on the one hand and Marxist theoretical history from below, were the two strands of history they pursued. [20:46] Own work was influenced by both, the story of the African peasants was Africanist but used a framework using underdevelopment theory and discussing their identity as a class in relation to capitalist farmers. This was influenced by intellectual tides of that day. This was all done at Oxford. Worked entirely from secondary source material, was fortunate to read screeds of 19th century South African newspapers. Read lots of original missionary archives which were very important to the thesis because the missionary, the magistrate and the merchant were the front column of colonial conquest. What missionaries were saying was important. Also looked at blue books, newspapers and government reports as well as all the secondary material.[22:10] The actual thread of the thesis was original and fairly pioneering but was animated by and responding to others work, people who were doing more purely Africanst work in their thesis at the time. Jeff Guys work on the Zulu, Phil Bonner on the Swazi, William Beinart on the Pondo, John Wright on the Drakensberg San.These were scholars working on pre-literate communities and all became involved to some extent with oral resources and tradition. Jan Vansina and the oral tradition legacy didnt concern them as much as speaking to the descendants of the people whose history they were writing. These pre-literate communities had very strong oral traditions which could be easily tapped into, as opposed to here. Was keenly aware and wished had done more of that in own doctoral thesis, this was finished in 1976. By this time was at Manchester Polytechnic, started there in October 1973 and stayed till the end of 1978. [24:24] The two electric charges sparked in Manchester. A colleague Bill Williams was already very involved in interviewing elderly members of the Manchester jewry. He either brought about or was part of the group which brought about setting up a research pocket within the polytechnic called Manchester Studies. They got various bits of funding, was seconded to work alongside Bill Williams and one of the early things they did was an oral history project. Presumes Bill gave him oral history stuff to read, cant remember if hed read Paul Thompson. By 1977-78 was very keenly aware of the extraordinary vitality of that moment of oral history in the UK at the time. Also hugely enjoyed the project that Dermot Healy and Colin had done. They interviewed numbers of women who had been domestic servants before or during the First World War. Little bits of it were published, some in Oral History Journal early on. This was when Colin started to very much embrace oral history as a research method. That Moment of History Workshop, Oral History Journal, Social History, history from below was very much attuned to own politics at the time and subsequently. [27:21] In 5 years at Oxford, was a Rhodes Scholar for the first 3 years and for another 2 somebody else paid for Colin to stay on. Was part of the history department, Colins own political approach to history and the South Africanists were all regarded as a bit odd anyway. Supervisor Stan Trapido didnt have a college fellowship, He was somewhat marginal to mainstream historical life at Oxford. The famous South African historian Charles Van Onselen who wrote the massive oral history based study The Seed Is Mine, they were PhD students at the same time, part of the tight knit group of Africanists within oxford. They also went to London every Thursday to attend a famous seminar at the institute of commonwealth studies. [29:30] Political affiliations in Oxford was student politics. Signed a letter with 4 others to The Times when Peter Hain was protesting against the Springbok tour of 1969. This was the reason for the passport trouble.  Politics was forming and was very interested in South African politics, it wasnt affiliational. That happened in Manchester; became an active member and then chair of the anti apartheid movement in Manchester. Worked very closely with ANC and Communist party exile politicians. There were tensions within the ANC which bled over into anti-apartheid over a group, The Marxist Workers Tendency, who were accused of being workerist and were expelled from the ANC, In about 1978 was close to one of them Martin Legasssick, and tried in Manchester as he was doing in Coventry to do anti-apartheid work alongside British Labour, trade unions and left unionist elements in Manchester. [32:00] For some more oral history work looked into the fact Manchester had hosted the Pan African Conference of 1946, started researching and interviewed some people who had been involved. A signatory of a meeting of anti apartheid rang a bell Faro; he had been at the conference in 1946. Had a wonderful interview with him 30 years later, he was a Nigerian who had wound up in Manchester.  [32:49] Considers career direction if had stayed on in Manchester, would probably have become some kind of social historian of British history. In 1978 was invited at short notice to stand in for Martin Legassick who was a well known revisionist historian, he had been going to go to Stanford for a term but didnt for some reason. He recommended Colin who had some reputation and left for Stanford on a negotiated long leave. Was teaching South African history fulltime, intensively for the first time. In Manchester was either doing Manchester Studies or teaching American history. The immersion in South African history at Stanford was very compelling. Was then invited to apply for a post at Oxford and got it, then plunged back into South African research and slowly links with oral history just dried up. [35:16] Mother and stepfather came to Oxford at around the time Colin left. This was independent of his situation; his stepfather got a job working for Blackwells in the Blanket Orders Department which serviced mainly university libraries. They never left Oxford; he had wanted to come back to Britain. He retired at 60 and came back to where he felt he belonged. Mother was very keen to leave South Africa to be near her children. [36:40] Sister came over to work for Collets bookshop near the British Museum then decribes her career and politics.

  • Description

    Life story interview with Colin Bundy, South African oral historian, former Head of SOAS and retired Principal of Green Templeton College, Oxford.

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