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The Van Riebeeck Society was founded in 1918 with the purpose of making primary sources available in a readable and enjoyable form to anyone interested in Southern African history. Since then a volume has been published every year, with very rare exceptions. The Society depends for its survival on its members, whose fees finance the publications; and its editors, who have selected and edited the volumes. Society publications have achieved a high academic standard and out-of-print volumes have become valuable Africana.


Our latest publication is the following:

Richard Victor Selope Thema (1886-1955) was one of the most influential black figures in South Africa in the twentieth century - yet he is largely forgotten today. This edited and annotated edition of his unpublished autobiography and selected other writings asserts his claim to a place in the pantheon of heroes of the black liberation struggle in South Africa.

‘RV’ – as he was known to his friends - was a leading member of the ANC for almost forty years from 1912, serving for many years on its National Executive. He was also a founder member of the All-African Convention, an elected member of the Natives Representative Council (1937-1950), and was in constant demand to serve on deputations and committees as one of the leading spokespersons for Africans of his generation. Thema was also widely recognised as the leading black journalist and intellectual of his time. Many of his early writings appeared in the ANC newspaper, Abantu-Batho, but he cemented his national reputation as founding editor of Bantu World, a position he held for twenty years (1932-1952). Under his leadership, Bantu World became the leading organ of the black middle class in South Africa, and a generation of black writers launched their careers in its pages under his tutelage. It is still published today as Sowetan.

In his writings Thema was a tireless advocate of African rights and an implacable enemy of segregation. An ‘Africanist’ before that term was popularised by the Congress Youth League in the 1940s and 1950s, he can be considered an intellectual fore-father of both the Youth League and of the Pan-Africanists of the 1950s.


Second Hand Publications Available

Council decided to offer a service to members whereby we will advertise second hand publications on our website and newsletters. This will apply to all VRS publications as well as other publications of considerable importance on Southern African history. We have received donations of second hand books from members which we will sell and the full proceeds will accrue to the Society or alternatively we will advertise and sell books on the basis of the Society earning a commission on such sales. The publications that are currently available are listed here


VRS Wins Prestigious Cultural Award

The VRS has won the prestigious Archives Advocacy Award for 2016-2017 presented annually by the Western Cape’s Department of Cultural Affairs. The citation for the award reads:

"The Van Riebeeck Society, founded in 1918, has done a lot of good work over many years promoting archives by publishing transcribed primary sources. In this way, the society has made available archival sources to many people and has made the public aware of the richness of history and sources available. The publications are prestigious, with contributors from a wide variety of experts in their field and are available in libraries across the world. Without their valuable work, much history would be hidden."

The photos below show the award being presented to the Society’s chair, Professor Howard Phillips, by the Director of the Department’s Archive Service, Ms. Nikiwe Momoti, at a grand function the Lord Charles Hotel in Somerset West on 25 March 2017



Launches of our 2016 volume 

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. See  the ‘Activities’ section of this site for photographs of the three launches. 

2016 Annual General Meeting 

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)’. To read the full annual report click here. After the AGM, the 2016 volume, From Cattle-herding to Editor’s Chair: The Unfinished Autobiography of Richard Victor Selope Thema, edited by Alan Cobley, was launched. Speakers included Professor Cobley himself, all the way from the University of the West Indies in Barbados, and three members of Selope Thema’s family who had come to Cape Town from Gauteng and Limpopo especially for the launch. As the photographs in the ‘Activities’ section of this site show, members then enjoyed drinks and snacks in the elegant garden of Ravenswood House.  

Increase of subscriptions

With great reluctance Council has decided that the annual subscription will have to be raised to R250 p.a. in 2017 to cover increased postal, administrative and printing costs. 2017 Subscription for SADC Members will be R300 and for Foreign Members paying in local currency R410. When paying in Foreign currency the subscription will be US$ 50.  We regret this unavoidable step.


New office hours - Please Note!

The opening hours of the VRS office have been changed. We will now be open on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 09h30 to 12h30. However, e-mail and phone queries will be handled promptly and books dispatched as usual.


Extra-special Offer to Members

In order to clear some space in our store room, we have a special offer to members. You may order any of the back volumes on the list at a price of R100 plus postage (within South Africa) – as many copies as you like and as long as stocks last. For a list of back volumes available click here. Contact the VRS office to place your orders at office@vanrs.co.za or 021 423 8424 (Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays 9.30 to 12.30 or leave a message when no one is in the office).