The 98th AGM was a momentous occasion as the great majority of the members present, as well as others voting by proxy, decided that the time has come to change the name of the Van Riebeeck Society. The name was originally chosen as a compromise and an attempt at unifying the Dutch/Afrikaans and English groups in the country. The name has lost relevance and is in any case not descriptive of the range of publications produced by the Society. The new name is to be Historical Publications Southern Africa – formerly the Van Riebeeck Society. The acronym will therefore be HiPSA.

The AGM was held, as it was last year, by kind permission of Patrick Esnouf at his elegant and historic home, Ravenswood House in Hatfield Street, Cape Town.

The meeting was well attended, and members heard the Chair, Prof Howard Phillips, deliver the annual report. Prof Phillips outlined the various activities undertaken during the year, and introduced the events which will be undertaken during the Society’s forthcoming centenary. The financial position of the Society is secure, and a recruitment drive will be undertaken during 2018 in an attempt to increase the membership.

Prof Phillips also reported that the Society had received the prestigious Archives Advocacy Award for 2016-17 from the Western Cape Department of Cultural Affairs at a glittering ceremony in Somerset West. The award citation read in part: ‘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 award had been presented to the Society in the form of a stylised calabash, which was displayed at the meeting. For more see below.

After the AGM attendees enjoyed light snacks and drinks in the cool and graceful courtyard at Ravenswood.

Members enjoying refreshments in the courtyard of Ravenswood House

Verifying the trophy on display, another valuable addition to the historical archive was launched in the second part of the evening. Seleksies uit die Briewe van President M.T. Steyn, 1904-1910/Selections from the Letters of President M.T. Steyn, 1904-1910 was edited by Con de Wet, who initiated the project and selected and transcribed the letters, and Elizabeth van Heyningen, who contributed further historical context. Translation of the Dutch and Afrikaans letters as well as introductory material was ably done by Chris van der Merwe. Similarly to last year, we were fortunate to be able to welcome several direct descendants of the author of the material published to the launch.

Both editors and the translator gave their respective accounts of the story behind the book, with light being shed on Steyn’s life, and the course history might have taken if he had not been unwell. To read these speeches click here. Council member Anton Ehlers, of the University of Stellenbosch, rounded off the launch with a few words about the significant financial contributions to the volume associated with his university.

The editors and translator of the Steyn volume during the lauch at Ravenswood House. From left Dr Con de Wet, Prof Chris van der Merwe and Dr Elizabeth van Heyningen

The Steyn letters were launched a second time in Bloemfontein, appropriately at the War Museum of the Boer Republics, which is also the site of the Vrouwemonument, one of MT Steyn’s most significant projects. About 20 people attended, including Wilhelmina and Jacky Steyn of Onze Rust, Steyn’s farm just outside Bloemfontein. Unfortunately Con de Wet could not join us, so Chris van der Merwe and Elizabeth van Heyningen both spoke after being introduced by Rodney Constantine. There was lively discussion afterwards, some of it concerning the ‘Steyn must fall’ protests at the University of the Orange Free State. We also sold a number of volumes and our thanks go to Biebie van der Merwe, Chris’s wife for her assistance.