About the Author(s)

Isabel S. Schellnack-Kelly Email symbol
Department of Information Science, College of Human Sciences, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa


Schellnack-Kelly, I.S., 2022, ‘Research ethics to consider when collecting oral histories in wilderness areas such as the Kruger National Park’, HTS Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies 78(3), a7467. https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v78i3.7467

Note: Special Collection: Social Memory Studies, sub-edited by Christina Landman (University of South Africa) and Sekgothe Mokgoatšana (University of Limpopo).

Original Research

Research ethics to consider when collecting oral histories in wilderness areas such as the Kruger National Park

Isabel S. Schellnack-Kelly

Received: 23 Feb. 2022; Accepted: 11 Apr. 2022; Published: 23 June 2022

Copyright: © 2022. The Author Licensee: AOSIS.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


In the last half century, oral history has emerged as a historical approach that is being considered by archivists involved with the collection and accessibility of archival collections for researchers and interested members of the public. The approach to ethics by oral historians has emerged from two major fears: the fear of failing as researchers and the fear of failing the narrators and doing harm. Archivists also need to be cognisant of these fears when collecting oral history. Confronting these fears makes it possible to understand the complex questions behind oral historians’ and archivists’ preoccupations and sheds light on how oral history has evolved and expanded as a field. The research objectives of this article are to determine the three principles identified from the Belmont Report that relate and should be applied to the collection of oral histories by archivists and historians from communities and individuals residing and working in and alongside the Kruger National Park. The theoretical framework for this article is the critical race theory to address historical accounts from communities and individuals sidelined by the mainstream media in South Africa. For the purposes of this article, the study was conducted with the Makuleka and Tsonga communities to determine what ethical implications need to be respected when conducting oral history projects with communities.

Contribution: This article will contribute to ethics concerning social sciences and specifically the collection of oral history.

Keywords: decolonial ethics; research ethics; democratising history; oral history; indigenous knowledge; critical race theory.


Since the late 1940s oral history has been established as an academic discipline, its methodology is constantly being refined and its theoretical assumptions are questioned in South Africa and the rest of the world (Denis & Ntsimane 2008:64). Oral history remains eminently contextual as it raises issues during interviews and in interactions that occur during interviews and the manner in which communities make sense of the memories being collected (Denis & Ntsimane 2008:65). Oral history has emerged as a historical approach that is being considered by archivists involved with the collection and accessibility of archival materials for researchers and interested members of the public. The approach to ethics by oral historians has emerged from two major fears: the fear of failing as researchers and the fear of failing the narrators and doing harm. Archivists also need to be cognisant of these fears when collecting oral history. The main aim of research ethics is to protect the welfare of the research participants. Social science research institutions in South Africa are required to comply with ethical guidelines as determined by the Health Act, no. 61 of 2003 and Health Professions Council of South Africa of 2016, which stipulates that an accredited research ethics committee must approve all research involving human participants (Denis 2008:63). The University of South Africa (Unisa) requires all researchers to obtain ethical clearance, particularly when the study involves human participants.

Research ethics should involve the following criteria: researchers should ensure that projects adhere to values and principles determined by the research ethics committee. Any adverse circumstances arising in the undertaking of the research project relevant to the ethicality of the study should be communicated. Researchers should conduct the study according to methods and procedures determined to be just and that do not place participants in unnecessary harm. Researchers should ensure that the research project will adhere to any applicable national legislation, professional codes of conduct, institutional guidelines and scientific standards relevant to the specific field of study. In South Africa, researchers must consider the Protection of Personal Information Act, no. 4 of 2013, the Children’s Act, no. 38 of 2005 and the National Health Act, no. 61 of 2003 (Unisa 2016).

Conducting oral history in South Africa requires researchers, both historians and archivists, to consider the principles of ubuntu. By doing so, this will create a moral theory grounded on the concept of human dignity. In accordance with this moral theory, human beings have dignity by virtue of their capacity for community and the combination of identifying with others and exhibiting solidarity with them, particularly where human rights violations are egregious degradations (Metz 2010). Metz (2010) constructed an ethical principle that grows out of indigenous understandings of ubuntu, which accounts for the importance of individual liberty and which is applicable in present-day South Africa. According to Metz (2010:83–85), ‘a person is a person through other persons’, and this article will discuss what ethical considerations should be considered when undertaking oral history projects. This article will specifically focus on two projects undertaken in and near the Kruger National Park, involving individual persons and communities within these locations. The two locations selected are the geographical area between the Luvuvhu and Limpopo rivers and the Timbavati area on the mid-western border of the Kruger National Park.

Problem statement

According to Field (2012), oral history is regarded as a method of collecting narratives from individuals and communities whose histories have been neglected by previous dispensations. ‘History is always in transit, even if periods, places or professions sometimes achieve relative stabilisation’ (Field 2012:3–4). The concept of oral history is a method that creates its own documents that are explicit dialogues about memory (Field 2012). Oral history texts are created, unlike artefacts that are collected. Thus, oral history texts that have gone through archival processes should be referred to as ‘oral history collections’ (Field 2012:4). In South Africa, there is a dire need to collect oral histories from communities and individuals from various locations in South Africa whose narratives were sidelined by the apartheid dispensation. The focus of this research is the oral history narratives that relate to wilderness areas in South Africa, and the cultural significance these areas have for communities and individuals that have lived and worked there.

Ethics is a fundamental concern and should always be observed when collecting oral history, particularly when it involves individuals and communities that may feel their information and knowledge may be exploited. Ethics should be observed by historians and archivists when collecting oral history. Archivists and historians should observe the Belmont Report on Ethics, which states a principle of autonomy that requires decision-making capacities of research participants as autonomous persons that should be respected by researchers (Francis, Rakotsoane & Nicolaides 2019:17–20). This means that research participants must participate freely in any research without any controlling influences that would mitigate against a free and voluntary act (Francis et al. 2019). The second principle that should be observed is non-maleficence, which requires researchers to not intentionally create harm or injury to the research participants. This principle affirms the need for professional competence and articulates commitment from the researchers to protect their research participants (Beauchamp & Childress 2013). The third principle involving research participants is that of justice, which requires researchers to distribute benefits, risks and costs fairly among all parties involved. This principle ensures that people’s rights and their acceptable laws are respected, particularly in communities where poverty, illiteracy and non-availability of regulatory frames are the order of the day (Francis et al. 2019:22–25). These principles will be discussed in relation to the collection of oral histories pertaining to communities and individuals residing and working in the Kruger National Park.

Research methodology

A qualitative approach was used to collect and analyse oral histories related to two communities adjacent to the Kruger National Park. These areas are the Luvuvhu area in Northern Kruger and the Timbavati area in the central western area of Kruger. A qualitative research method was deemed appropriate as in the analyses of historical data and the application of ethics when conducting oral history (Leedy & Ormrod 2014:141).

Research objectives and questions

The research objectives of this article were to determine how the three principles identified from the Belmont Report (Visagie, Beyer & Wessels 2019) relate and should be applied to the collection of oral histories by archivists and historians from communities and individuals residing and working in and alongside the Kruger National Park, in Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces in South Africa. It will also share information relating to a few historical sites within the Kruger National Park and the oral history projects that have been undertaken to collect such information from individuals and communities.

Theoretical framework

The theoretical framework of this article is the critical race theory. The purpose of this theory is to address historical accounts from communities and individuals that have been sidelined by mainstream media in South Africa. The histories of individuals and communities contribute to the history of the Kruger National Park and by all accounts should be allowed to be heard and shared by interested individuals. According to American scholar Lintner (2004), critical race theory is a framework or set of basic perceptions, methods and pedagogy that seeks to identify, analyse and transform structural and cultural aspects of society that maintain the subordination and marginalisation of groups of people (Lintner 2004:27–32). Furthermore, critical race theory focuses on challenging the dominant discourses on race and racism with particular reference to legal systems (Lintner 2004). However, it is the view of the author of this article that critical race theory can also be applied to the collection of oral history on the African continent, in general, and South Africa, in particular, thereby contributing to the decolonisation of South African history.

Although critical race theory has been applied to historical studies in the United States, it also has relevance in South Africa and can be a theory that is the basis for the concepts of decolonisation of South African history. The relationship between critical race theory and the South African position of arguing for the decolonisation of South African history implies that historians and archivists need to become cognisant of not professing a set of social, economic and political privileges that may manifest into biases or stereotypes (Lawrence 1997). Examination of biases of one’s own action requires that archivists and historians attempt not to incorporate their personal prejudices (Gewinner, Krohn & White 2000:113).

Critical race theory has four major themes. Firstly, race and racism are timeless and endemic and permanently intertwined in the South African social fabric. Secondly, this theory seeks to challenge constructed ideologies objectivity and racial sensitivity and argues that such constructs are shelters for hegemonic practices by dominant groups in South Africa. Thirdly, critical race theory is committed to social justice and eradication of social subjugation. And, finally, critical race theory seeks to promote experiential knowledge of women and disenfranchised people as legitimate to the understanding of subjugated people (Solorzano 1997).

Both critical race theory and decolonisation are theories apt in a postmodernist setting. According to Derrida (1996) and Foucault (1972), the postmodernist theory stipulates that the archive is linked to storytelling and the archive is constructed in a creative form. Postmodernism implies that the archivists deliberately select information to formulate a particular narrative (Derrida 2001). In other words, both critical race theory and decolonisation are concepts that involve storytelling and the shaping of narratives collected by historians and archivists to determine metanarratives. Historians and archivists select information and accounts to specific events to reveal narratives that they deem worthy of being collected and disseminated. In present-day South Africa, the current metanarrative determined by archivists and historians tends to be about events that occurred and were sidelined by the apartheid dispensation. Although such narratives are collected by the public archivists and their counterparts in organisations, like the South African National Parks Board and the National Film, Video and Sound Archives, the dissemination of these collections to researchers and interested members of the public is poorly executed.

Formal ethical guidelines play an important role in regulating research practices and are implicit in regulating research practices and daily relations and engagements fundamental to the research process. This article proposes the need for a move towards an Africanist and decolonial ethical practice that acknowledges that the African continent has vast cultures, traditions and beliefs that have been marginalised by Euro-Western ways of viewing and engaging with the world (Molyneux & Geissler 2008:688; Molobela 2017; Visagie et al. 2019). Socially responsible ethics are decolonial ethics that speak about the importance of acknowledging spaces people occupy and the knowledge they carry. In order to decolonise ethics, it is necessary to acknowledge the multitudes of understanding the world and to see community members as persons with lived experiences who contributed to how they engage with each other and their environment (Molyneux & Geissler 2008). When conducting oral history interviews, it is important that researchers avoid further harm to the historically oppressed by providing them with space to revive and recuperate their culture, history, language and identity by allowing women, the elderly, disabled and children to define themselves and their reality and what can be spoken and written about them (Chilisa 2011; Visagie et al. 2019).

Literature review

Background and contextualisation of oral history in the Kruger National Park

The conservation of wildlife and the preservation of such sites and histories in Africa have largely been formed in relation to the pursuits of livestock management and mining. This is particularly relevant in the case of South African game reserves and their immediate surrounds, often referred to as conservancies or concession areas. Experiences of local communities in relation to the management of the livestock, mining pursuits and interaction with different fauna and flora have largely been neglected in the historical discourse, particularly relating to the Kruger National Park. Researchers such as Jane Carruthers (1995, 2001, 2017) and Jacob Dlamini (2020) have written on the socio-political and socio-economic matters associated with the Kruger National Park; however, there are still many areas that remain unexplored. This article’s main focus is on the areas of the Pafuri and Timbavti and on the cultural and historical sites that exist in these areas. These are located both in the borders of the Kruger National Park and in the concession areas occupied by communities, as well as hunting and other conservation entities. According to Tucker (2010), some of these sites and corresponding narratives found in the Timbavati area have correlations between the pyramids and the sphinx of ancient Egypt.

The earliest archival records that exist are those of James Stevenson-Hamilton related to the origins of the Kruger National Park and resulted in the removal of many communities who were residing within the borders of the game reserve (Stevenson-Hamilton 1993). These removals prevented many communities, like those in the Phabeni area, from accessing burial sites of their elders and family members. With the advent of a democratic dispensation in South Africa in the 1990s, the fence between the Kruger National Park and Mozambique was dropped. This development allowed more opportunities for wildlife species such as elephants and other species, to roam more freely so that the Kruger National Park could avoid using controversial methods of culling to control the numbers of elephants and other animals. Although the creation of the Peace Parks was viewed as a milestone in the conservation of this region, the removal of the fence also saw an escalation in the incidents of poaching (Schellnack-Kelly 2017). From the 1990s, endeavours to include local communities in the conservation efforts of the Kruger National Park have been undertaken and efforts have been made by individuals to ensure local, neighbouring communities are included in the conservation projects, with many family members employed by South African National Parks as rangers and guides (Schellnack-Kelly 2017). More could be done to incorporate family members and allow them the opportunity to share their histories and cultural significances that they attach to particular areas and specific animals and plants.

It was stated in a News24 media report in May 2017 that the Kruger National Park has 627 cultural heritage and historical sites within the park. Many of these are unknown to members of the public (News24 2017). The preservation of sites, legends and historical narratives of communities that lived within the boundaries and immediate surrounds of the Kruger National Park have been sidelined by the narratives favoured by the colonial and apartheid governments. Thus, the author is determined to uncover these histories and significance of these sites as part of the history of the Kruger National Park. Besides accessing archival collections, the author also believes that oral history collections will provide more substance and incorporate narratives from persons previously excluded from sharing their narratives relating to the Kruger National Park.

The approach to ethics by oral historians and archivists has emerged from two major fears: the fear of failing as researchers and the fear of failing the narrators and doing harm. Archivists also need to be cognisant of these fears when collecting oral history. Confronting these fears makes it possible to understand the complex questions behind oral historians’ preoccupations and sheds light on how oral history has evolved and expanded as a field (Jessee 2011:287–307). Since 2011, oral history has been celebrated by its practitioners for its humanising potential and its ability to democratise history by bringing the narratives of people and communities typically absent in the archives into conversation with that of the political and intellectual elites who generally write history (Jessee 2011:289). The value of oral history is unquestionable when dealing with the narratives of ordinary people. However, in recent years, oral historians have increasingly expanded their gaze to consider intimate accounts of extreme human experiences, such as narratives of survival. This shift in academic and practical interests begs the question whether there are limits to oral historical methods and theory.

Oral history collections and ethical considerations

The concept of participant autonomy is central to the ideology and practice of information consent. The root meaning of the concept of autonomy refers to a state of being independent from any external regulations or constraints. Autonomy necessitates a deep respect for people’s abilities to decide themselves which laws they wish to comply. An autonomous person has the right to make rational choices, free from external influence and taking personal interest and consequences into consideration (Dworkin 1988:15; Visagie et al. 2019). Furthermore, autonomy is a human right that implies that persons have the right to self-determination, free from undue influences from others, by virtue of their inherent dignity as human beings. The tensions and paradoxes inherent to the view of persons as independent and self-determining find expression in the notion of collective autonomy (Dworkin 1988:12; Visagie et al. 2019). Individual and collective autonomy applied to informed consent in research are complex phenomena and are applicable to the two ethics paradigms of principlism and Afro-communitarianism. These two ethics paradigms imply that it is crucial for researchers when conducting ethical research in rural communities in Africa to question their moral obligations relating to the notion of participant autonomy (Visagie et al. 2019).

A person is a dignified being who is able to make independent choices based on a rational assessment of a situation. Principlism has been designed as a standard analytical framework and represents a principle-based, common morality theory that provides a normative structure for ethical analysis and policy design. In addition, Beauchamp and Childress contend that principlism advocates for the consideration of four sets of moral principles that act as norms of obligation (Beauchamp & Childress 2009:14; Visagie et al. 2019). These four interdependent sets of principles are respect for autonomy, beneficence, non-maleficence and justice (Beauchamp & Childress 2009). These moral principles serve to justify moral decisions and should be applied as a framework to inform the formulation of procedural rules as essential to guide archivists and historians when conducting oral history-related activities.

Informed consent and its application to oral history collections in South Africa

Researchers conducting research in rural communities are faced with challenges in negotiating the balance between individual and collective autonomy. This creates the need for obtaining consent from both individuals and the community. In the absence of published guidelines on the interpretation and application of ‘principlist doctrines’ on obtaining informed consent, archivists and historians are often unprepared to integrate the customs and values of participants in the informed consent process (Visagie et al. 2019:166–168). Ryen (2016:35) contended that there are three main problem areas with the application of Western guidelines for research in Africa. These are consent, trust and confidentiality, which Ryen (2016) regarded as being interlinked areas of consent, securing trust and confidentiality. This scholar further contends that researchers should not include other parties while conducting the research process as this can taint the trust relationship with the research participants and the community (Ryen 2016:40; Visagie et al. 2019).

Metz and Gaie (2010) contended that respect for persons is not founded on a narrow view of individual autonomy grounded in Western traditions. We should all strive to live in harmony with others. Collective autonomy veers away from preferences on rational personal choice, liberty and independence. Metz and Gaie (2010) and Visagie et al. (2019) contended that researchers have a moral obligation to consider the common good and act in solidarity with others. These are principles that archivists and historians should consider when collecting oral history narratives from individuals and communities. In essence, the principles of ubuntu are applicable to researchers collecting data and information from both individuals and communities.

Discussion and findings relating to the Kruger National Park and surrounding communities
Makuleka community – North of Luvuvhu River in the Kruger National Park

The Makuleka Contractual Park constitutes the northern most section of the Kruger National Park in South Africa. It comprises approximately 240 km² of land (Wilderness Safaris 2007). The triangle is a wedge of land created by the confluence of the Limpopo and Luvuvhu rivers at the tripoint of Crook’s Corner, which forms a border with Zimbabwe along the Limpopo River (Wikipedia 2021). It is a natural wildlife crossing point from North to South and back and is regarded as a distinct ecological region. The region is referred to as the Pafuri, which is a Tsonga word derived from the Mphaphuli, which is the dynastic name of Venda chieftains who ruled over this area (Wikipedia 2021). The Luvuvhu River is named after a tree growing on the banks of this river (Du Plessis 1973:265). From about 1200 AD a large cultural civilisation and trade network began to emerge to the North, with evidence being found as sites such as Mapungubwe, in the northern province of Limpopo. In these areas, sacred leaders were elite members of the community and were believed to have supernatural powers and the ability to predict the future (Wikipedia 2021). The wealth and sophistication of these people is evident by the beautifully crafted jewellery, Arab glass beads and Chinese porcelain found in these sites and accompanying burials of sacred leaders (South African National Parks 2022). The end of Mapungubwe occurred at the same time as the rise of an even greater trading and architectural civilisation, being Great Zimbabwe, which flourished for over a century. In the 1550s, groups of people crossed the Limpopo River and founded numerous settlements in the Pafuri region, including that of Thulamela on the southern bank of the Luvuvhu River (Berger 2005). These walled cities existed in the Pafuri triangle at about the same time that Portuguese trade began on the east coast of South Africa (Mapungubwe 2007; Punt 1976). This Thulamela culture ended around 1650 (Owen 2017).

The Makuleka area was forcibly taken from the Makuleka people by the apartheid government in 1969 and approximately 1500 people were relocated to land outside of the Kruger National Park. Their original tribal areas were integrated into the greater Kruger National Park. In 1996, the Makuleka community submitted a land claim for 198.42 km² in the northern part of the Kruger National Park. The land was returned to the Makuleka people who chose not to resettle on the land but to engage and invest in tourism (Commission on the Restitution of Land Rights – media statement. South African Commission on Restitution of Land Rights. August 1996).

The following information was provided by a spokesperson for the Makuleka people:

We, the Makuleka people were one of the first communities to win back our land using South Africa’s land restitution laws. We feel that after a series of extraordinary negotiations we have placed ourselves, our supporters and private sector partners at the cutting edge of socially concerned approaches to conservation. The Makuleka Region of the Kruger National Park (KNP) is an attempt to harmonise the protection of biological diversity with our interests as rural people. Up to now we generally despised the notion of conservation, ever since the Kruger Park’s first game warden earned the nickname Skukuza (which derives from Shangaan to mean The Sweeper) for the way he forced the indigenous inhabitants out of the park in the early 1900s. We were victims of the same racist approach when we were forced off of our land in 1969. In 1996, we reversed this by creating a Community Property Association, which gained ownership of 22,000 hectares of the northernmost part of the KNP between the Limpopo and Luvhuvu Rivers. The land was returned to us after we reached a mediated settlement with many government departments but most importantly with South African National Parks Board (SANParks) and the new democratic government. (M.L. Maluleka, [Norther Kruger Park] Pers. Comm., 28 March 2021)

The spokesperson further added that:

Instead of poaching on that land for subsistence, our young people are now protecting the wildlife with their own lives. To prove our intent to use conservation and tourism to regenerate the economies of our villages, we added to Kruger another 5,000 hectares of communal land that was never previously incorporated into the park. This land that we hold very dear after having lost it once is now a central piece of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park and serves as its only link between Zimbabwe and South Africa. (M.L. Maluleka, [Norther Kruger Park] Pers. Comm., 28 March 2021)

White lions of Timbavati – Linda Tucker

An intriguing narrative surrounds the white lions of the Timbavati. The Tsonga narrative explains how on a particular night, a big star appeared in the heavens as bright as the sun and descended to earth. The star landed in the area of the ‘Timbi-le-Vaa-ti’ which was ruled by Queen Numbi (Schellnack-Kelly 2017; Tucker 2010). For several years after this event, many of the animals in the Timbavati area gave birth to young animals that were born white with blue eyes. This phenomenon of white lions with blue eyes is a significant feature of these animals. The phenomenon of blue eyes is not only confined to lions but also occurs in leopards. The most well-known was a leopard with blue eyes called Marula, who was frequently sighted by rangers and visitors to the Tanda Tula and Kambuka Safari Lodges, situated in the Timbavati region (Schellnack-Kelly 2017; L. Woodward, pers. Comm., 28 March 2014). The Timbavati is regarded as a sacred region where no hunting is allowed. The San referred to the lions of this area by the name tsau, which means star beasts. The San also regard the white lions to be the children of the Creator, with sangomas believing that the white lions are evidence of snow animals whose thick mane and paw formation are adapted for glacial conditions (McBride 1941; Schellnack-Kelly 2017). The area where the white lions are frequently located are in the 31° longitudinal meridian, which lines up with the Sphinx in Egypt and Great Zimbabwe. In Africa, several cultural sites are located along this meridian, which also lines up with the Leo constellation (Herschel & Lederer 2003). The Timbavati region is an area that is steeped in cultural significance to the communities that live in that area and it must be conserved in order to preserve the cultural significance of these areas to local communities.


This article aimed to report on a study conducted on both the Makuleka community and Tsonga community to determine what ethical implications need to be respected when conducting oral history projects with communities. Information was gathered from a spokesperson for the Makuleka community, while the information from the Tsonga community was shared by a game ranger working at one of the Timbavati concession areas. The findings of this study focussed on the rights and responsibilities that historians and archivists should observe the following ethical considerations when collecting oral history and disseminating information related to oral history endeavours:

  1. Researchers have fundamental rights to academic freedom and freedom of scientific research.

  2. Researchers should be competent and accountable. They should act in a responsible manner and strive to achieve the highest possible level of excellence, integrity and scientific quality in their research.

  3. Researchers have a right and obligation to refrain from undertaking any research that violates the integrity and validity or compromises their autonomy in research.

  4. Researchers have a right and duty to undertake all efforts to bring their research and the findings to the public domain in an appropriate manner. The publishing of research findings should be carried out in a manner that will not harm research participants or their communities.

  5. Researchers should be honest with respect to their actions in research and their responses to the actions of other researchers (Unisa 2016).

Oral history is essential in fostering an appreciation of incorporating indigenous knowledge, the myths, legends and experiences of all communities as evidence of the necessity to preserve wilderness areas for the benefit of all communities and ensuring their accessibility to all communities. Tucker (2010), Player (1998) and Mutwa (1998) have written extensively on the local communities and indigenous knowledge and the association of these with the environment and sacred places in South Africa. Although the writings of Mutwa probably belong more to the field of anthropology, the information which he provides relating to indigenous culture and the associations of different fauna and flora definitely has an impact on post-apartheid perceptions concerning the environment and local cultures. The influence of Mutwa is also evident at the Nhlapo exhibition hall in Freedom Park in relating the story of creation as revealed in the African culture. This perspective has only begun to receive credence in the past few years and his 1964 narrative Indaba My Children deserves to be part of the South African literary landscape as have Shakespearean, Greek, Roman and biblical narratives been utilised in understanding and moulding Western civilisation perceptions and understanding.

The importance of oral histories and indigenous knowledge are crucial to the sustainability of wilderness areas in South Africa. Effective initiatives to capture, preserve and disseminate the history of all South Africans are fundamental to the sustainability of archives and related heritage entities (Schellnack-Kelly & Jiyane 2017:127). In spite of the importance of capturing oral history, it is important that historians and archivists observe ethical principles that do not place any participants or their communities in harm’s way. The principles of autonomy and respect for dignity are the essence of three ethical principles: (1) Indigenous people should be recognised as the primary guardians and interpreters of their cultures, arts and science. (2) Indigenous people should be recognised as collective legal owners of their knowledge. (3) The right to learn and use indigenous knowledge can be acquired only in accordance with the laws or customary procedures of the indigenous persons concerned and with their free and informed consent (Denis 2008:68–69).

Working with oral history is fundamentally interdisciplinary, bringing together social researchers, anthropologists, historians and archivists. As observed by Thompson and Bornat (2017:390–391), oral history gives history back to the people and also gives people a past. It also assists individuals and communities in forming a future of their own making. Oral history practitioners should see ethical guidelines as a way of doing oral history in a professional manner (Denis 2008:81).


This article was originally presented at an Oral History Conference in October 2021.

Competing interests

The author declares that she has no financial or personal relationships that may have inappropriately influenced her in writing this article.

Author’s contributions

I.S.S-K. is the sole author of this article.

Ethical considerations

Ethical approval to conduct the study was obtained from the Research Ethics Review Committee of College of Human Sciences, University of South Africa (Reference No.: 90072952_CREC_CHS_2021).

Funding information

This research received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

Data availability

Data were collected through interviews conducted by the author. These records can be made available upon reasonable request.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of any affiliated agency of the author.


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