The Traditions of Popular Education in South Africa - a Collection in the Robben Island Museum Mayibuye Archive

While exploring the Traditions of Popular Education in South Africa, we have collected materials generated over the last 60 years. They span a variety of types, topics and organisations, thought to be relevant to popular education. In order to safe guard and share this collection, in 2016 we set up an archive collection at the Robben Island Museum Mayibuye Archive (Mayibuye Archive) at the University of the Western Cape (UWC). The Mayibuye Archive is … ” a unique and often fragile documentary record of South Africa's history and culture, particularly with regard to the apartheid period, the freedom struggle and political imprisonment in South Africa (SA)” (Read more here).

The materials in our collection go some way to documenting educational efforts in the context of the ‘freedom struggle’ and we see these materials as valuable for on-going struggles of people today. We hope educators and educational activists will add to the collection thus ensuring it will remain a living monument!

Description of the collection

The collection holds materials associated with popular education in South Africa over the last 60 years, including magazines, information booklets, workshop manuals, meeting minutes, policy advice, photographs. The wide range of topics covered in the collection includes organising around: racism, gendered power relations, workers’ rights, access to education, environmental justice, Adult Basic Education and Training, and approaches to community organising. The materials illustrate the social activism and education within organisations. (See image below for some examples, images and click here for a map of organisations represented within the collection). They contribute towards different interpretations and understandings of popular education and its outcomes. 

"Three hundred years" authored by Mnguni (Pen name of Hosea Jaffe), the Unity Movement's History Series

Because popular education is an integral part of social and political activism, its processes and products are integrated into many parts of the Mayibuye Archives. They are within various materials, publications and their organisation within the Archives. They are also imbedded within the history of their use; their making; their dissemination and in the archiving of them too. We hope that the collection can assist social justice activists, popular educators and researchers understand and learn from the history of struggles to inform contemporary practices.

Get involved!

We encourage initiatives of private individuals and activist organisations to utilise and build on this modest collection.  Contact Mayibuye at or send us a message in the contribute section of our website and we will put you in touch! Your histories are important – take time to preserve them!  Many of the materials are still relevant in South Africa post-1994. We thank the friends, colleagues and broader network of activist connections for their contributions to this collection. We hope that it will become a useful resource and source of information and inspiration to both researchers and activist educators.

Examples listed from the collection

·       African History Prints publication including titles "Why do we study African history?", "medieval Africa" and "Responses to colonial conquest". (n.d.)

·       Food Sovereignty Campaign booklet titled: “Land occupations are the new way of doing land reform” (2011)

·       Cape Action League publication titled: "Introduction to “race” and racism: how does the cape action league see the struggle against racism?" (n.d.)

·       A CACE publication, "On our feet – taking steps to challenge women's oppression: a handbook on gender and popular education workshops" (1995)

·       A COSATU publication, "Ekithini - a living wage comic".

·       A NUSAS newsletter titled: "the darker side of apartheid education". (N.d.)

·       A Unity Movement History Series titled "Three hundred years" authored by Mnguni (Pen name of Hosea Jaffe). (1952)

·       Generative codes (pictures for discussion and dialogue) used in literacy programs with migrant workers in Cape Town (Contributed by Judy Favish). (~1970s)

·       A ILRIG publication on Tanzania's struggle for Ujamaa. (1988)

·       Surplus people's project publication on Agroecology and "Water for farming: who decides?". (n.d.)

"Introduction to 'race' and racism: how does the cape action league see the struggle against racism?", Cape Action League (n.d.)

Image from National Women's Coalition, a survey of women's demands for the new national constitution collected from women in shopping centres in the Western Cape