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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:

      Edited by                   Con de Wet,              Elizabeth van Heyingen          Chris van der Merwe


ISBN 978–0–9814264-9-5

President M.T. Steyn is one of the heroes Afrikaner history, leading the guerrilla war against the British from 1899-1902, and fiercely resisting submission. He was struck down by a neural disease in 1902 and was unable to participate in the negotiations that ended the war. In 1902 he went to Europe for treatment and, after a partial recovery, he returned to South Africa. Although he was unable to participate fully in post-war political events, he became an 'elder' statesman (still in his 40s) who was consulted by the leading South African politicians on such subjects as the creation of an Afrikaner nation, the self-government of the Transvaal and the Orange River Colony, and the making of Union. He returned briefly to political life as vice-chair of the National Convention in Durban, to decide the terms of Union. His determination to preserve a strong Afrikaner identity, combined with his wise counsel and generosity, made a great impression on the other participants, including old enemies like Dr L.S. Jameson. Sadly, his health was too poor for him to contribute to the new Union. The letters in this volume are an extraordinary record of courage and intelligence. Under other circumstances he might have played a much greater role in South Africa, even, perhaps, altering the course of events. At the same time, in the tempestuous, multi-cultural South Africa of today, 101 years after Steyn's death, many of his ideas are unacceptable, for, like his white compatriots, J.C. Smuts and J.X. Merriman, he could not imagine a society in which black men (let alone women) had a right to political equality. Yet this volume has relevance as it contributes, inter alia, to our understanding of political racism; of equal value is what it tells us about how to make a new country.

For more information about this publication, click 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.  

Special Offers 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 R110 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. We also have a number of second hand volumes available for sale. For a list of these volumes 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).