Oral history of British science

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

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  • Interviewees

    Bundy, Colin, 1944- (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Wilkinson, Robert (speaker, male)

  • Abstract

    Part 4: Was 10 when father died. Suspects the very fragmented nature of childhood memories has something to do with the very traumatic nature of that loss. [00:46] First noticed the difference in treatment of white and coloured people when growing up. Describes growing realisation and anger.  [02:26] Lived in Dover Delaware for a year, with a right wing republican family. The father worked for DuPont, multinational plastics. Their politics didnt influence him very much, was conscious that they disapproved of Kennedy while Colin thought he was wonderful. They were very affectionate and generous and caring so it wasnt an issue. The elder son, Colins age, went to Vietnam. Was very critical of his decision to do so. Didnt keep in touch after that, they did resume contact with Colins parents much later which was nice. [03:50 The National Union of South African Students (NUSAS) had black students. The big push for creating black universities came in 1959 with the extension of university education act which tightened exclusion of blacks from white campuses and simultaneously created what became all black universities, one in Cape Town for coloureds, one in Durban for Natal based Indians. Without exception the African universities were all in rural towns. A conscious effort to keep them out of the cities. The creation of the black universities became part and parcel of the Bantustan Policy, each Bantustan had a fictional statehood. They would have a tiny airport, stamps, an anthem and a university.  [05:30] There were black delegates to NUSAS. They both came from the Natal Medical School which was still non-racial, from Fort Hare. Remembers one in particular Kenny Parker from Cape Town, he would have been classified as coloured but was active in university of Cape Town student politics and was a regular at NUSAS at the time. [06:31] The South African Communist Party had been repressed and was difficult to organise. There was very little sense of organisation within the student body, the period of 1962-3 onwards was immediately post Sharpeville (1960), the banning of the African nationalist movements (ANC and PNC). This follows seven years after the banning of the Communist Party. Now all of the major opposition groups are proscribed and had not yet begun to regroup and form an effective underground presence. The African resistance movement was there, a short lived turn to sabotage. From December 1961there was the armed wing of the ANC and the Communist Party, Umkhonto we Sizwe which carried out a campaign of about 18-24 months of sporadic, small scale attacks. This led to Rivonia, followed by the Rivonia trial and life sentences for Mandela, Mbeki, Sisulu and the rest. The ANC sabotage was very explicitly not intended to cause damage to life, typically pylons and post offices. The ARN became controversial as one member, John Harris, left a bomb In Johannesburg train station which killed a woman. He was hanged. There wasnt much link with ANC and student politics in those days. [09:05] At Oxford was involved in the Anti Apartheid Movement. Involvement in British politics probably follows Oxford. Considers self politically interested and motivated person so did follow British politics very closely. Remembers the Wilson and Heath elections very clearly. It was really at Manchester when, through anti-apartheid activities, became more involved with the left of the Labour Party (unions and so on). Tribune was on the left at that time. The academic department he was in was deeply divided between people who remained loyal to the British Communist Party, Trotskyists and various hues who were critical of them, it was an odd little leftist hot house; International Socialists, IMG, Revolutionary Marxists, RCG.  [10:52] Wasnt on the editorial collective but was very aware of History Workshop. Possibly before involvement in The Oral History Society, Colins academic department had Raph Samuel in to lecture. In 1973-4. He gave a seminar paper for what seemed an interminable time. He unpacked a huge rucksack of papers and journals. It looked dishevelled and anarchic but passionate and captivating and tremendously effective. He was talking about History Workshop and Spitalfields. [12:56] Stuart Hall was another influence in those days; a colleague in the department had been a protégé of Stuarts at Birmingham. Remembers very vividly the intellectual force as well as the moral and political passions on view. He had a really sharp critical intelligence which was very exciting. [13:50] Wasnt too involved in the History Workshop movement. Came to a conference at Ruskin, never submitted an article but subscribed for many years.  [14:12] had taken over as secretary of the Oral History Society from Christopher Storm Clark. Met him in some kind of handover. The woman at Essex gave him the files. Christopher was based at Leeds or York, went over to see him at some stage. The Society was loosely organised in those days. The early issues have a wonderfully homemade feel to the enterprise. It was not an onerous secretaryship. Was formally in charge of membership and subscription, would occasionally book a venue. When he went to California for a year had to hand it back. Left for California in early 1978, guesses he did it for 18-24 months. [16:45] Went to hear George Ewart Evans at Essex and met him. Went to Edinburgh for a conference and something at Leeds for the launch of the dialect atlas. Went to the oral history conference in Bologna, Professor Carmella Pogni was the organiser. Professor Pogni asked them to reduce their papers in half as it was unexpectedly busy. The Anglo-Saxons all cut the work but the Italians spoke twice as fast, it was impossible for the simultaneous translators to keep up. Went to see the Museum of Peasant Life outside Bologna too. This was a moment when Africanist and oral history influences merged. Jan Vansina and Terry Ranger were at that conference; enjoyed hearing them making the case for oral history in Africa. Bill Williams started him off, Ranger (professor of history at Manchester University) and Theodore Shanin ran a very charismatic seminar on peasants (Colin did his D Phil on South African peasantry), they were good enough to involve Colin in that. People there were beginning to use oral evidence too. [20:15] There was not yet liberalisation in South Africa at this time but a reawakening of the possibilities of internal resistance. Durban strikes 1973, the ferment about the creation of black unions, and then in June 1976 the Soweto youth uprising. Was writing about those events for the New Statesman and New Society. [21:13] Cant remember how he got involved with these publications, might have been rash enough to submit something about the 1973 strikes, thinks probably approached them, and they ran it on the front cover. Was writing almost entirely about South Africa; South African or African book reviews. Had always had yearnings to be a journalist, this was important for this reason. Was pleased then and subsequently, to move towards being a public intellectual, this goes back to Stuart hall. Politically this was very important, the study of people from the bottom up. [23:52] 1983 went back to South Africa, had been away for 13-14 years. Remembers talking about the sense that there were people of roughly his own persuasions doing important things, left wing, university based critiques of apartheid. Things had become more fluid and dynamic. [25:00] In the same way as the discipline of history in the UK had flowered and radicalised with social history, labour history, womens history and the history workshop, that had begun to happen in South Africa in the early 80s. in Johannesburg, the University of Witwatersrand had set up a history workshop in homage to the one here. [25:49] The 1983 visit was a research visit, did some seminar talks on a couple of campuses. It was terribly energising, even then they assumed it would last for longer, but it seemed there were things that one could do. Such an exclusive and authoritarian narrative was being countered by all sorts of others. Banned articles people had written in the UK were being passed round, reinterpreting South African history. [27:21] The universities did not try and repress this, there were fierce, academic squabbles between liberals and radicals this wasnt an attempt at suppression however but a spirited debate. There were informers on campus, though at that stage the presence of white leftists at universities was fairly low down the pecking order for the state. [28:39] By the time Colin moved back in 1985 the UDF had been formed, an enormous coalition of civil society groups. Took up the job at the University of Cape Town before moving to the University of Western Cape. At UCT there was an oral history project they got funding for which is still in existence. At the Western Cape they had a programme called Peoples History, the idea was everyman his own historian, this was initiated by a close friend and colleague Andre Opendahl. [30:00] The ones at UCT were fairly conventional; it was the point where oral history and urban history intersected. Was meeting Jim Dios at this time. Describes the Cape Town projects, there were two. One was interviewing people who had been forcibly removed, particularly when District 6 was erased. The second one, a couple of years later, was looking at survival strategies in shanties. Respondents were all black. Used graduate students to interview, lots would have been done in Zulu or other language, employed a couple of translators. Wasnt directly involved in that project, was busy teaching and writing, but had helped fund it. There had been no organised attempts to start this before Colin arrived, it was the right moment. The people in Cape Town were conscious that a big oral history project had been started in Johannesburg. [32:40] Oral history was one strand of this wider awakening. There were others, labour historians, the whole menagerie of different tendencies and strands. There would have been scepticism to oral history, not outright hostility. Remembers talking about oral history at UCT summer school, did four lectures one year. Oral history in South Africa demonstrated its remarkable force. The history of a black sharecropper The Seed Is Mine by Charles Van Onselen is the best known example, 700 pages on an individual who was listed in the archives once. Through enormous interviewing research with him, friends and family, Van Onselen recreated his entire life. He wrote very interesting and theoretical chapters which he published separately in journals. [36:48] Was at Western Cape as a professor which was more stimulating, an institution in flux. It was predominately Cape Coloureds, each year it took on a bigger proportion of African students. The Vice Chancellor in his inaugural address said he wanted to make the university an intellectual home of the left. A couple of them ran an MTS Marxist theory seminar, the Vice Chancellor attended one. After 1990, a number of exiles came back to South African and a number ended up in positions at the university, sometimes controversially, in terms of who had funded them and why. About half a dozen members of the first Cabinet had associations with the university and the Vice Chancellor became Mandelas first Director General, Secretary of the Cabinet. He was politically active within ANC inclined domestic structures, like the UDF. [39:53] Was in Cape Town until 1997, spent one year at Yale during1993. Was there when Mandela was released. Was back in 1994, the Vice Chancellor Jakes Gerwel  moved and so created a vacuum. Colin was asked to become Acting Vice-Rector. It happened by accident rather than choice. It was a mixed blessing, it significantly curtailed the amount of academic work hes done since then. On the other hand has been heavily involved in University leadership in South Africa, principal of SOAS for 5 ½ years and is now at an Oxford college, would be churlish to be too resentful. [41:55] At Cape and Western Cape universities, was teaching almost entirely South African history. Had taught contemporary British and American politics at Oxford. In Yale, began work on a biography of Govan Mbeki, Thabos father. He was released a couple of years before Mandela, something of a dry run, though this wasnt known at the time. Contacted him very soon after his release and he was welcoming. By that stage he had been restricted, had a banning order served on him. He was unlike Mandela in that he made very strong left wing statements and insisted on his loyalty to the Communist Party and the ANC. When first meeting him, flew to Port Elizabeth and had to be escorted, changed cars and went into somebodys garage. Did 88 hours, not all with him, interviewed his wife, one of his sons and other activists. The repression did come out. Had stuff on Robben Island but was less interested in that. Mbeki was historically important because he sought to mobilise peasants and that wasnt ANC focus at all. He was also important in the intellectual and political effort to combine nationalism and socialism. On Robben Island a rift opened between Mandela and others on one hand and Mbeki and others on the other. Describes Mbekis background. Interviewed him in the late 80s early 90s, continued to see him after Yale but didnt conduct anymore interviews. They had a friendship, went to concerts and went to his official residence. [47:50] Other than Mbeki, has not made significant use of oral evidence since then. Was involved structurally in South Africa, almost as an ambassador. [48:28] History Workshop in South Africa was looking at the underclasses in society. [49:30] May 1994 went into administration as Vice Rector, then went to Johannesburg in late 1997 and then changed to SOAS in 2001. This was largely domestic, parents were getting old and frail and living in Oxford, also was not seeing enough of own two children who were in England. At the same time was headhunted about the SOAS job and was flattered and excited. At Johannesburg was Vice Chancellor of the University of Witwatersrand. [51:00] SOAS was not a culture shock, the main thing was how much more managerial university life in the UK had become since hed left. Had missed out on Thatcherism, was now encountering a post Thatcherite or Blairite university life. Wrote on it Under New Management: A Critical History of Managerialism in British Universities. However it was managed and however poorly funded, SOAS is a place of extraordinary scholarship, discusses the changes he made to its management. [54:34] Was appointed initially on a 5 year contract at SOAS, had the choice of another 3 years or something different. All the time family home had been in Oxford, wife was living there and was coming back and forth. Decided to move to Oxford and look for something else, then this job popped up. Will retire in 6 months. This is a post graduate college. Has presided over this merger, a big thing to have achieved. Has kept a hand in historical life. Is doing some graduate supervision, is teaching a masters class and has done the odd lecture or seminar every year. Even through the SOAS years was managing to publish something every year, was writing for The Times, The Guardian Education, but was publishing on South Africa. Public intellectuals now tend to be outside universities; NGOs, journalists. [59:05] Has kept abreast of South African oral history projects to some extent. Takes South African journals and it does crop up, Sean Morrow has done some pieces over the years. It continues to be very much one of the strands. Oral testimony has been used by socialists, anthropologists and historians there in a much more interdisciplinary way. It has stalled a bit in the UK. [1:00:25] The 18 months as secretary of the society is a long way from his own practice, but remains a memory and was something that shaped a good deal of his practice and theory. History from the bottom up.

  • 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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