(Delivered by Professor Howard Phillips at HiPSA AGM, 17 November 2022)


This is what I will call a two-handed report as it is filled with plenty of ‘on the one hand, but on the other’. In many ways it has been a year of very mixed fortunes for HiPSA, several of them rather dispiriting.

On the one hand, we signed up 22 new members; but on the other we lost 23 primarily due to downscaling and death. This means that yet again our overall paid-up membership has dropped – from 725 in 2016, to 603 in 2019, to 505 this year. It is a depressing trend.

On the one hand, we sold 233 hardcopy volumes and 11 eBooks to non-members this year, but these numbers do not come close to the 633 and 22 in 2021. To be fair, however, last year our sales were hugely boosted by the purchase of 350 of our volumes to two big institutional buyers. This year there was no such windfall.

Consequently, last year we ended the year with a surplus of R47000, while this year our treasurer is budgeting for a deficit of R86412 because of no windfall, no subsidy for this year’s volume and the increased direct cost of the delivery of our annual volume.

With regard to delivery, on the one hand switching from using the despairingly inefficient SAPO to The Courier Guy for the bulk of our local deliveries vastly improved the speed and security of getting our annual volume to you, once some teething problems were overcome; on the other hand, this has come at  an increased cost to us of some 35% over last year. Efficiency comes at a price.

An increase in our annual subscription must be high on the agenda of the new Council.

While the untimely death of two of our support staff last year, Sandra Commerford and Sakkie Nieuwoudt, called for crisis management at short notice – thankfully our administrator, Rolf Proske, and our treasurer, Danie de Villiers, stepped into the breach very ably and willingly – we have this year been able to appoint Denise Fearns to succeed Sandra Commerford. A warm welcome to her (and thanks to our member, Michael Bowes, for recommending her to us) and a sincere word of thanks to Rolf and Danie for so readily keeping our show on the road for some 9 months.

On the one hand, through 2020 -2021 the Covid-19 pandemic prevented the holding of lectures, conferences and exhibitions where we could market HiPSA and its books. This year, with the waning of the pandemic, we were able to seize the renewed opportunities to publicize ourselves and did so with gusto at festivals, conferences and lectures in Plettenberg Bay, Hermanus, central Cape Town, Franschhoek, East London, Genadendal and Bloemfontein. On the other hand, except at the Plettenberg Bay History Festival where 2 of our volumes formed the subject of popular lectures, we were able to sign up very few members or even to sell more than a handful of our books at these events. This does raise the question of the benefit of having a presence only as a side-show on such occasions.

With regard to another publicizing initiative, it is still too early to determine whether allowing a HiPSA member to feature month-by-month extracts from Jan van Riebeeck’s Journal in a newsletter he edits will pique sufficient interest among its readers to want to buy the whole volume from us. Maybe it will; on the other hand, maybe it will not. If you wish to sample this monthly dose of extract of Van Riebeeck, you will find a link on our HiPSA website.

To switch from my two-handed format to a more single-minded approach, let me tell you where we are definitely going with our future publications. As ever, they are rich and varied – from the ‘Herinneringe’ of Smuts’ political number 2 until the 1920s,  F.S. Malan, to the private correspondence of South Africa’s Governor-General during World War I, the Rebellion, the invasion of German South-West Africa, two miners’ strikes and the Spanish flu pandemic, Viscount Buxton, to Samuel Eusebius Hudson’s gossipy, argus-eyed journal from his arrival at the Cape as Anne Barnard’s servant in 1798 until his death in 1828, to revelations of San genocide in the 1860s. We are on track to provide you with reading which will engage you as it illuminates a wide spectrum of our past. Of texts to do so we are not short, and to this I will add no ‘on the other hand’.

Instead, let me express the wish that at the 2023 AGM members will, in person, be able to put their hands together enthusiastically to applaud the first year’s work by the new Council which you will elect tonight.

Finally, words of sincere thanks to all members of the outgoing Exco, Council and particularly to two members, Adam Mendelsohn and Anton Ehlers, who are not available to stand again. Both have contributed in a variety of constructive ways to our activities. To Rolf Proske, our tireless administrator, goes our gratitude too for his devoted and ever-willing service to HiPSA. You are well named Rolf for I understand that your surname, ‘Proske’, comes from the proto-Slavic verb ‘to ask’. I can testify from personal experience that if I need something done, I only have to ask you, Rolf. Thank you for always answering positively.