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
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unpublished autobiography and selected other writings asserts his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.
Wins Prestigious Cultural Award
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:
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."
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
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
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.
Foreign members ONLY
may make use of Paypal.
To pay your subs (of $50), simply click on the Subscribe button.
South African members pay, as usual, by cheque or direct bank
We're now on Facebook! Click on
to add your views and comments
on this innovation
Members – rock-bottom prices!
In order to clear
some space in our store room, we have decided to make a special
offer: 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 see Publications Page. Contact the VRS office to place your orders
firstname.lastname@example.org or 021 423 8424 (Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays 9.30 to 12.30
or leave a message when no one is in the office).