Minutes of the 99h Annual General Meeting of Historical Publications Southern Africa – HiPSA (previously the Van Riebeeck Society for the Publication of Southern African Historical Documents – VRS) held at Ravenswood House, Hatfield Street, Cape Town at 17h30 on Thursday 31st January 2019.


1. Welcome and apologies

The Chair, Prof Howard Phillips, welcomed the members present, and noted the schedule for the evening; the Annual General Meeting followed by the launch of the two 2018 volumes. He expressed his thanks to Patrick Esnouf for the generous use of the venue and thanked the staff of Ravenswood House. This was a momentous meeting as it was the first under our new name, and the first at which two volumes in one year were launched.

Apologies were received from the following:


Banie Penzhorn

Namibia Scientific Society

Sandy Murray

Des Mahony

Chris Roux

Winthrop Ruml

Peter-James Smith

Valerie Mizrahi

Rufus Gouws

Angela Heslop

Digby Sales

Patricia Rademeyer

Dorothy Malan

Mr S van der Merwe


2. Condonation of delay in holding AGM

Condoned by meeting. Proposed by Dr S Shell and seconded by Dr E van Heyningen.

3. In memoriam

The meeting stood in silent commemoration of the passing of Mr John Plumme


4. Confirmation of minutes of the 98th AGM on 23rd November 2017

The minutes were confirmed. Proposed by Mr K Evan and seconded by Dr E van Heyningen.


5. Report of the Treasurer

Financial reports were circulated.

Mr D de Villiers reported. Society membership is unfortunately decreasing. During the year (2018) the Society lost 45 members through resignation and decease. However, we had gaianed 55 new members in the same period. Sales of books were healthy. We had sold 45 copies of the Teenstra reprint.

Centenary Fund contributions stood ad R560 000, which amount was still to be invested

Expenditure for the Centenary function was reasonable. Printing and stationary costs had risen due to the number of reprints. The official 2017 financial statements had been audited.

Ms S Commerford noted that membership had fallen partly due to “sleeping members”, i.e those members who had not paid for the last five years.

The Society has in total 1 300 members of whom only 700 are paying members.

Dr E van Heyningen noted that the Society was at the least not insolvent.

Mr de Villiers explained that we had a surplus of R240 000 in 2017.

The report was accepted by the meeting. Proposed by Dr S Shell and seconded by Mr H Amoore. .


6. Report of the Chair

2018 was a year marked by CULMINATION and TRANSFORMATION.

CULMINATION because we reached our century, celebrating this in a number of memorable ways:

  • by organizing a UCT Summer School course, ‘Witnesses to South African history’, convened by Elizabeth van Heyningen, which shop-windowed the contribution to the writing of South Africa’s history by our publications;
  • by publishing two volumes in the year to bring the number of volumes produced under our imprint to 100 (or 106 if we include Jan van Riebeeck’s journals which appeared under our auspices but not as part of our standard series);
  • by holding grand centennial functions in Cape Town, Pretoria and Johannesburg, the latter two put together by our Gauteng Council member, Nick Southey, and the former made possible by the ready efforts of our administrators, Rolf Proske and Sandra Commerford, and the members of my Council, to all of whom go our sincere thanks;
  • by mounting an exhibition on the VRS’s history at the Cape Town campus of the NLSA which is where our founding meeting was held in 1918;
  • by launching a fund-raising appeal to raise funds to help sustain the Society for the next 100 years: to date it totals R562,900, but it remains open for further contributions as we are striving to reach a total of R600,000.


TRANSFORMATION as we gear up for our next century by:

  • re-branding our Society as HiPSA (formerly the VRS/voorheen die VRV);
  • adopting a logo which, at the suggestion of one of our members, is based on the ceramic calabash sculpture which we received for winning the Western Cape Cultural Affairs Department’s Archives Advocacy Award in 2017;
  • comprehensively re-vamping our website, in which our multi-skilled treasurer, Danie de Villiers, took the initiative;
  • collaborating with Media 24/Naspers in its publication in soft-cover format of one of our recent volumes, From Cattle-herding to Editor’s Chair: The Unfinished Autobiography of Richard Victor Selope Thema under its Kwela ‘Pocket Revolutionaries’ imprint, from which we have received royalties of R3003.11 to date.

In the wider public sphere our editors and translators have been very energetic in promoting their volumes. Elizabeth van Heyningen, Con de Wet and Chris van der Merwe have spoken to audiences in Swellendam, Montagu, Hermanus, Stellenbosch, Cape Town and Bloemfontein about the Selected Letters of President M.T. Steyn, while the Society also ran promotional stalls at the Western Cape Archives Week, the South African Oral History Society conference, the Stellenbosch Woordfees and the Fish Hoek Public Library. Our thanks go to all Council members involved, especially Elizabeth van Heyningen, Chris van der Merwe, Francois Cleophas and our administrator, Rolf Proske, for giving of their time and knowledge to spread the word about our volumes.

There will be more such activities as the Spanish flu spreads through the country. Two weeks ago, I co-presented a UCT Summer School course on the epidemic, while on Monday I opened an exhibition on this topic at the Montagu Museum. Both were accompanied by launches of In a Time of Plague. A word of thanks is due to the organizers for the invitation to speak under their auspices.

From what both the treasurer and I have outlined, it would seem that the Society is thriving despite its age. However, if we probe deeper, there is cause for concern about our future.

Firstly, as some of you will know from personal experience, our reliance on the SA Post Office for delivery of our books has often meant long delays in members receiving our volumes, or even in their not receiving them at all. Although both we and the affected members have been driven almost to distraction by these service delivery failures, we are reluctant to resort to courier services because this would require us to raise our subscription appreciably, so we are faced with a conundrum in this regard which may well force us to choose the lesser of two unappealing options.

Secondly, our membership continues to decline steadily, from 763 in 2017 to 706 in 2018. Although we signed up 55 new members in 2018, we lost 45 to death, resignations and downscaling. At times it feels as if we are playing snakes and ladders! In a bid to counteract the loss through downscaling, we are toying with the idea of introducing a new category of ‘downscaled’ membership, viz. a reduced fee membership which will entitle such members to receive our annual volume in electronic form only. We will be interested to hear your opinion of this idea.

Perhaps this proposal will slow our loss of downscaling members, but it is clear that this is not sufficient. We must recruit new members too. We need both as we embark on our second century and begin Series III in our publication series.

The report was opened to debate.

Mr J Lawrence queried the symbolism of the calabash in the new logo. Mr R Proske stated that the calabash is a vessel containing and carrying valuable or essential contents, usually foodstuffs, and so the Society can be seen as a vessel storing and disseminating valuable historical documentation. Mr D de Villiers added that the calabash plant is of southern African origin.

With regard to the difficulties experienced in posting our publications, Ms M Burton proposed that members could hold publications at their homes to be collected by other members in that area. Dr S Craven noted that members in the Cape Town area could always collect their books from the Society’s office.


7. Any other business


Dr S Craven proposed thanks to Prof Phillips and the Committee members. This was endorsed by the meeting. Dr E van Heyningen added that it was fitting that our 100th volume was edited by Prof Phillips.

There being no other matters raised, the meeting closed at 18h20.