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2016 AGM

The 97th AGM of the VRS was held at Ravenswood House, Gardens, Cape Town on 6 December 2016.

Attended by just over 60 members, it elected a new Council to serve for the next three years (see ‘About Us’ for a list of this Council) and heard the chair, Professor Howard Phillips, spell out the Society’s publishing plans for the next seven years and the major challenges which it would have to address in this period, viz. recruiting new members, solidifying its financial base, taking advantage of the digital revolution to enhance its product and streamline its marketing and, possibly, re-branding itself when it reaches its centenary in 2018. One suggestion made was to re-name it the ‘Historical Publication Society (formerly the Van Riebeeck Society)’. The full report is available on the AGM/Minutes page.


The Society’s chair, Professor Howard Phillips, delivering the annual report, flanked on his right by the treasurer, Danie de Villiers, and on his left by the secretary, Rolf Proske


Part of the large audience at the AGM


Members socializing in the garden of Ravenswood House after the AGM


2016 Volume Launches in Cape Town and Johannesburg

Our 2016 volume, From Cattle-herding to Editor’s Chair: The Unfinished Autobiography and Writings of Richard Victor Selope Thema, edited by Alan Cobley, was launched at three separate venues in December 2016, two in Cape Town and one in Johannesburg.

All three launches were very well attended and addressed by the editor, Professor Alan Cobley of the University of the West Indies, who had specially come to South Africa to do so from his home in Barbados. Two of these launches were, memorably, also graced by the attendance of members of R.V. Selope Thema’s family whose joyous presence turned them into celebrations of their forebear. As much as the Thema family expressed its gratitude to the VRS for putting RV’s autobiography into print at long last, so was the VRS honoured by their enthusiastic and meaningful participation in the launches. It was very obviously a ‘win-win’ situation.

At the launches the significant financial contribution of the Sowetan (the linear descendant of RV’s newspaper, Bantu World) towards the cost of printing the volume was readily acknowledged, while the owners/managers of the three venues which hosted the launches – Patrick Esnouf of Ravenswood House in Cape Town, Nicol Stassen and Wayne Northcote of Protea Books in Rondebosch and Doron Locketz of Bookdealers in Johannesburg – were publicly thanked for their generous hospitality.

Cape Town

The editor, Professor Alan Cobley, presenting a copy of From Cattle-herding to Editor’s Chair to Mr J.J.R. Masemola, the 86-year old son-in-law of Richard Victor Selope Thema (‘RV’)


Alan Cobley presenting a copy to RV’s grandson


Mr Jacob Masemola addressing the audience about his father-in-law


Mrs Phekane Ramarumo, RV’s great-niece, thanking Alan Cobley and the VRS on behalf of the Thema family

Nicol Stassen from Protea Books, Alan Cobley and Howard Phillips at the Launch at Protea Books in Rondebosch



The Society held an extremely successful launch of the new volume at the Blubird branch of Bookdealers in Johannesburg on 13 December 2016. Between 90 and 100 people gathered to meet Alan Cobley and to be present at the launch (the first formal gathering of the Society in Gauteng since the since the launch of Peter Limb’s edition of AB Xuma’s Autobiography four years before), following the two launches in Cape Town the previous week.

It was good to host members of the Society again in this region, but the members who were present were greatly outnumbered by other bibliophiles and interested members of the public, as well as many descendants of RV Selope Thema. The launch could best be described as a blend of a more formal launch and a joyous family celebration. Alan Cobley’s address was followed by presentations and reminiscences from three family members, John JR Masemola (the oldest living descendant of the volume’s subject), Godfrey Mhlongo and Phekane Ramarumo; Siyabonga Gama, the chair of the RV Selope Thema Foundation Trust; and Duma Nkosi, the former mayor of Ekurheleni, who represented the African National Congress. The historian Jane Carruthers, who recently stepped down as a member of Council, rounded off the proceedings before all guests shared some very enjoyable drinks and snacks.

The Society is very grateful indeed to Doron Locketz and Vivienne Yudaken of Bookdealers for their support in hosting this event so generously.


Professor Alan Cobley addresses the Gauteng launch of his volume on RV Selope Thema

Nick Southey, the Gauteng member of Council, hands a complementary copy of the volume to the journalist representing the editor of The Sowetan, Philani Mgwaba

Phekane Ramarumo, granddaughter of Samuel Thema (RV Selope Thema's brother) and Godfrey Mhlongo, eldest granschild of RV selope Thema, express their thanks on behalf of the family to Alan Cobley and the Van Riebeeck Society for the new publication

Some of the many guests who attended the Gauteng launch


2015 Volume Launches

The AGM was followed by the first of three spirited launches of An Entirely Different World, at which a copy was presented to our special guest, the Russian Federation’s consul-general in Cape Town, Mr Roman E. Ambarov. After the editor had explained to a fascinated audience how he had come to compile the book, everyone filled the house’s formal garden to enjoy a rich array of refreshments until well after sunset.

Members settling down for the AGM inside...

... and socializing in the lovely garden of Ravenswood after the AGM and just before the launch...


The spread for the party afterwards. which went on till late

oris Gorelik spoke entertainingly again about the book at two further launches, the one next day during UCT’s Summer School, at which he presented a course on ‘Russians at the Cape’.

Boris Gorelik at UCT

and the other at Bookdealers bookshop in Johannesburg on 11 February. Also, he was interviewed about his volume on radio twice.

Boris and Council member Professor Jane Carruthers at the Bookdealers' launch in Johannesburg...


...and the obligatory party afterwards!

2015 Visit  to PaarlMedia, our Printer

We started a tradition last year! On Tuesday 15th Ocotber 2015, seven or our members visited PaarlMedia to see our book for this year ('An Entirely Different World': Russian Visitors to the Cape 1797-1870) rolling off the presses! They were conducted round the vast building by Jermayne Dryden and Rhosa Chamba who went out of their way to make the visit entertaining, informative and just unforgettable. Coffee and biscuits afterwards concluded a memorable day. .













PaarlMedia's impressive frontage

And here they all are: Jackie Loos, Allain Ravelo-Hoerson, Andrew Duncan, Sandy Shell, Francois Verster, Peter Wight and Elizabeth van Heyningen...

... and their faithful cicerones, Rhoda Chamba ans Jermayne Dryden

Sandu Shell holds up the cover


And Jermayne displays the pages telling Posyet's story 

Richmond 'Boekbedonnerd VII' Fair

Elizabeth van Heyningen was at there  from 23 – 25 October to talk about Olive Schreiner’s letters. The talk was well received, four new members were gained and a great time was had by all. The Bookbedonnerd Fair has been running for several years now. It's organised by Darryl David of UKZN, Pietermaritzburg, who brings a delightfully relaxed and friendly atmosphere to the event. Since there were no parallel sessions, everyone was able to attend all the talks and, in between, authors and readers were able to meet and chat.

A cheerful Elizabeth and other speakers!







Very fifties, isn't it?

Can you spot the Schreiner for sale?

The sessions, which were very bilingual, ranged from talks by a Natal vet, to a number of poets reading in both English and Afrikaans, a history of Barrydale and a volume on Eastern Cape bridges. The latter sounds dry but the author won us all over by his enthusiasm, as did many of the other speakers. Richmond is a long way from anywhere and accommodation is limited but it is a really worthwhile Fair.

In the evening, an "Elvis" concert!

Elizabeth says: "If I can possibly work it, I’d like to make the VRS presence a regular. I had such fun that I’m quite happy to go on my own account if Darryl can’t fund everyone.".
Here's the Boekbedonnerd website:

Book Fair Friday 13th to Sunday 15th June 2014

Our brave, noble and beautiful volunteers: Sandra Commerford, Howard Phillips, Nigel Amschwand, Tanya Barben, Stephen Craven, François Cleophas, Yvonne Reynolds and Cora Ovens staffed the tiny "Publishers' Pavilion" in three shifts every day. They recruited 12 new members and sold 23 of our beautiful volumes. We thank them heartily!

Sandra and Nigel beguiling a customer!

Cora looking a bit apprehensive!

It was lovely meeting members new and old and networking a bit.
Since we had received a lot of complimentary tickets from the organisers, we sent out a quick email to Western Cape members telling them that the first ten to phone would get a free ticket, and members Patrick Tummon, Chris Rainier-Pope, the Librarian at the Iziko Museum, Mike Bosazza, Ian Rauch, Joe Tyrrell, John Plummer, Alain Ravelo-Hoërson, Wilhelm Snyman and James McFarlane got there first!
Moreover, Howard Phillips was interviewed on Fine Music Radio by Gorry Bowes-Taylor and we offered a prize of one of our volumes to the person who first phoned in the correct answer to a simple question. Renate Krentz was the lucky winner!

Renate Krentz, holding the copy of Trials of Slavery she has won

Recorded Interviews

We have quite a few soundbites on VRS matters! Gillian Godsell interviewed our member Gerald Groenewald (whom some of you may have heard lecturing on our volume 36, Trials of Slavery, which he co-edited with Nigel Worden, in January 2009 at UCT’s Summer School) about the VRS on Radio Today, a Johannesburg radio station, on Tuesday 22nd September 2009. Click on interview to listen in!
We also have Randolph Vigne's interview with Gorry Bowes-Taylor on Thomas Pringle.
And the websites of two interviews with Peter Limb on A B Xuma, at
 http://afripod.aodl.org/ and   http://www.youtube.com/user/SABCSAFM?feature=mhee
Happy listening!

Forthcoming attractions

In the pipeline for publication in future years are works in a variety of genres, from 18th century travellers’ accounts to diaries of long-time residents of the Cape and collected letters by prominent South Africans. In the last category, for instance, are the letters of politicians like M. T. Steyn (president of the Orange Free State from 1896 to 1902) and Dr A.B. Xuma (president of the A.N.C from 1940 to 1949), of novelists like Olive Schreiner (author of The Story of an African Farm), and of doctors like James Barry (about whose sexual identity far more has been written than about his important medico-political work at the Cape between 1816 and 1828).

In the category of travellers’ accounts two forthcoming works stand out, Peter Kolb’s Caput Bonae Spei hodiernum (‘The Cape of Good Hope Today’), originally published in German in 1719, and Ensign August Frederik Beutler’s account of his pioneering expedition to the Eastern Cape in 1752, while in the category of diaries, those of Lady Anne Barnard’s sometime manservant, Samuel Eusebius Hudson, and of the Eastern Cape missionary, the Reverend James Laing (1803-1872), will add richly to our knowledge of emerging Cape society.

Despite their diversity, what all of the above have in common are the fresh perspectives they will offer on South African history from an array of contemporaries, fulfilling the VRS’s goal of enabling its members to listen to the past in its own words.