Original Research - Special Collection: Social Memory Studies

Neither prelegal nor nonlegal: Oral memory in troubled times

Mpho Ngoepe
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 78, No 3 | a7533 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v78i3.7533 | © 2022 Mpho Ngoepe | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 11 March 2022 | Published: 08 June 2022

About the author(s)

Mpho Ngoepe, Department of Information Science, School of Arts, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa


Oral testimony, oral tradition and documents, as represented by written accounts of the facts and the material instruments of the acts and the records, are all ways of indirectly accessing the past. In both cases of oral and written records, what is considered ‘true’ is entirely dependent on the trustworthiness of its source. African societies have been communicating and storing valuable information through memory, murals and rock art paintings since time immemorial. The dominant Western canons have previously classified this memory as prelegal and nonlegal. This study, using a literature review, mainly through previous work of this author, explores oral memory as a trusted record in troubled times. It is concluded that, like digital records, oral memory requires proactive efforts to be preserved, as in both instances the content migrates from one carrier to another. Therefore, oral memory is trustworthy when transmitted in its context. Oral memory, it is argued, perfectly fits the description of a record and thus cannot be classified as either prelegal or nonlegal. The transmitter of information through oral history is no different from other media of records.

Contribution: The study contributes to the ongoing academic discourse of decolonising and Africanising archives. The study is linked to the scope of the journal for advocating the inclusion of silenced voices into the national archival system.


oral memory; oral history; archives; records; documents; preservation


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