I regret to say that this has not been a good first year for HiPSA.
Our paid-up membership has continued the decline in numbers which began in the 2010s, notwithstanding several imaginative initiatives to arrest this fall. Today we have 607 fully paid-up members, 45 fewer than a year ago. Another 154 are in ‘suspended animation’, not having paid their subs for the last two years. In part this decrease is because a number of older members decided to terminate their membership when the Society reached its century last year; in part because we have been able to sign up only 29 new members this year, compared to 57 in 2018 when people were attracted by the special offer of two volumes for a single year’s membership fee as a centenary special.
We have also sold fewer volumes to non-members this year (139) than in either 2018 (175) or 2017 (194).
Only in the area of reprints sold have we topped last year’s sales figures, 118 to 100 in 2018, but it should be remembered that this year’s reprint is a two-volume work, Jeremiah Goldswain’s Chronicle of 1820 settler life. Yet, as we will deliberately be marketing it in the Eastern Cape next year to coincide with the bicentenary of the settlers’ arrival, we hope that its sales will continue to mount.
Clearly the environment in which we are operating has become less and less congenial to our niche activity, whether because of the lessening appeal of collecting historical books, especially hardcopies, or because of a shrinking book-buying public or because of straitened budgets and decreasing shelf space or because of the demise of the Cape Town International Book Fair which garnered 25-30 new members for us annually for five years running between 2005 and 2010.
To offset such factors we have energetically tried to attract new members and sell more volumes by getting local editors to give public lectures about ‘their’ volumes in Stellenbosch, Worcester, Caledon, Swellendam, Kalk Bay and Newlands or encouraging members of Council to address historical and heritage societies about our 100-year history. But our efforts have not been matched by a host of new recruits or significantly increased sales to non-member and we will have to re-consider such strategies as they are labour, time and petrol intensive. Nonetheless, for their efforts in this regard we are particularly grateful to Elizabeth van Heyningen, Chris van der Merwe and Francois Cleophas, while in January, the editor of this year’s volume, Dr Sandy Shell, will carry this activity forward when she talks about her volume at the UCT Summer School.
A number of Council members have made contributions in other ways: Danie de Villiers, our treasurer, by taking control of producing a brand-new HiPSA website; Andrew Duncan and Ian Farlam by approaching the legal profession in a bid to recruit new members from there.
On the administrative front, Rolf Proske and Sandra Commerford have demonstrated commendable diligence in keeping our office running smoothly and efficiently. The large number of e-mails to them expressing gratitude for the speedy and businesslike manner in which they handle inquiries, orders and payments speaks volumes.
To all of the above and the rest of the outgoing Council go my sincere thanks for their solid input into our Council meetings and their readiness to step into the breach when called upon to do so, whether to staff a table at a conference or open day, assess a ms. or make a judicious choice of a logo for HiPSA. They finally opted for a calabash motif, echoing the ceramic calabash which we received in 2017 as the winner of the Western Cape Government’s Cultural Affairs Award for Archives Advocacy.
The new Council to be elected tonight will obviously have its work cut out to try and check the decline in our membership and sales. Certainly the volumes in the pipeline – Sol Plaatje’s letters, Le Vaillant vol. 2, the ICU papers, F.S. Malan’s autobiography and Samuel Hudson’s Journal – will give them the means with which to do so.
27 November 2019