Edendale Project

Echoes of Eden: Unveiling Edendale's Untold Stories

In the heart of South Africa, nestled amidst the rich tapestry of its history, lies the township of Edendale—a testament to the enduring spirit of its people. Established in 1851 with dreams of creating a new Eden in Africa, Edendale’s journey has been marked by resilience against the backdrop of systemic oppression. Yet, its story remains largely untold, overshadowed by a one-sided narrative of South Africa’s past.

Sinomlando, in collaboration with esteemed academic institutions and government bodies, embarks on a mission to reclaim Edendale’s history, weaving together threads of oral tradition, Afrocentric scholarship, and community engagement. This endeavor is not merely about preserving the past; it’s about recognizing the indomitable essence of African civilizations and ensuring that the contributions of Edendale’s inhabitants are etched into the annals of global history.

The Five Tenants of The Edendale History Project (EHP)

Edendale History Project Background

In 2017 a book launch “Welcome to Greater Edendale” by Professor Marc Epprecht (Queens University Canada) was held at UKZN in Scottsville. The consequence of attending such a launch was the establishment of a reading group that met on a monthly basis for the whole of 2018 which evolved into the consortium behind this research project.

The Edendale History Project (EHP)

Edendale History Project (EHP) is based on the mythical Akan bird sankomfa. Akan tribe is one of the largest tribes in Ghana (Quan-Baffour, 2012). This mythical bird flies forward with its head turned backwards and an egg in the mouth. The backward action indicates the wisdom of learning from the past in order to understand the current situation so as to inform and shape the future. Importantly, the egg in the mouth represent the significance of knowledge and wisdom of the past upon which knowledge and wisdom today should be based (Galloway, 2004).

Round table discussion held with the Edendale community

South Africa is losing much of its undocumented history and, as a result, our history is very one-sided. It is important to preserve and recognise local histories from an Afrocentric point of view. Afrocentrism does not violently confront any person or people, but is a resolute attempt to put the records right. It is about placing African people within their own historical framework. It is a demand that the contributions of Africans in all areas of civilization be reflected in world history. (Onyewuenyi, 1993, p.21)

Edendale Round Table Discussion

Book and Museum

Ultimately, the EHP will produce a book on the history of Edendale, establish a local museum and duplicate this model of documenting participatory community histories in other areas where history is in danger of being lost.

The 5 Tenants of The Edendale History Project

The First Principle of The EHP Is Ubuntu

The valuing of ecology, humanity and all knowledges. Informed by the view that people who forget their history will eventually perish.  Ubuntu (African humanism) states that a person is a person through others or ‘I am because we are’ expressed as Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu in Nguni languages, buthu in Pedi, muntu in Malawi or Harrambee in Kiswahili, ujaama in Tanzania. (Preece, 2009; Letsaka, 2000; Ntuli, 2002; & Ntseane, 2011). In the EHP this means that we treat people as human beings like ourselves. 

The Second Tenant Is Adherence to Afrocentrism

Afrocentric, Africentric, or African-centred are interchangeable terms representing the concept which categorizes a quality of thought and practice which is rooted in the cultural image and interest of African people and which represents and reflects the life experiences, history and traditions of African people as the centre of analyses” (Hill, 1995, 4). Asante assert that Afrocentricity is a “moral and intellectual location that posits Africans as subjects rather than objects of human history and that establishes a perfectly valid and scientific basis for the explanation of African historical experience.” (Asante 1998: xii). In the project this means we are over with borrowed lens we embrace the African lens. 

The Third Tenant Is About Learning, Knowledge and Education

The process of documentation of history is a means to the end which is the connection of the people with their past and their future. The process and products of the project as place of individual and collective participation is learning through remembering; reframing dominant narratives; confrontation of intergenerational trauma; facilitation of social cohesion and valuing of heritage. 

The Fourth Tenant Conscientization and Sensitization

For young people and youth in the significance of history and different perspectives to that history.  History as a subject in all of our education institution is constrained by the dominant ‘empty space thesis’ and ‘sanitized’ versions of history that seek down play the social, political, cultural, psychological, religious impact of colonialism on the African persons. Failure to intervene at this level has already showed its face in many instances, including the Helen Zille commentary about colonialism. 

The Fifth Tenent Is Community-Based Participatory Research and Development

Drawing from Western literature and theories, the EHP embraces the concept of knowledge hybridity, described as a ‘third space’ where diverse knowledge systems meet and are equally valued (Kanu, 2009). This principle integrates Human Capabilities (HC), Community-Based Participatory Action Research (CBPAR), and Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) into the research and development process. HC emphasizes people’s abilities, CBPAR promotes collaborative learning and elevates community members to co-researchers, and ABCD supports sustainable community-led development. By combining these elements, the project ensures mutual benefits for participants and researchers, transforming participants from passive objects to active co-researchers.

Using the medium of oral history, Sinomlando – in partnership with the School of Religion, Philosophy and Classics at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, the Department of Global Development Studies at Queens University in Canada, relevant South African government departments such as Art & Culture, local libraries and the municipality of Umgungundlovu – plans to preserve and document the history of the area from an Afrocentric point of view.

The Documentation, Preservation and Recognition of Local Histories

The purpose of the project is a community based documentation, preservation and recognition of local histories from an Afrocentric point of view.

  • A book on the history of Edendale
  • A book on the methodology
  • Academic papers published in accredited academic journals.
  • Articles targeting popular magazines and newspapers
  • Easy readers targeting both children and the newly literate adults on different aspect on the history of Edendale
  • The establishment of local museum in Edendale
  • Development of a model of documenting participatory community histories that could be duplicated in other different but similar situations.
  • Conference

What is Afrocentrism?

Afrocentrism, means African centered-ness, does not violently confront any person or people, but is a resolute attempt to put the records right. It is about placing African people within their own historical framework. It is a demand that the contributions of Africans in all areas of civilization be reflected in world history.
(Onyewuenyi, 1993, p.21)



▪ Undocumented Local Histories
▪ Inaccessibility of documented history
▪ Biased perspectives of existing histories
▪ The parasitic nature of the academic culture
▪ Artifacts are not being documented, preserved or kept ‘alive’ in local places

Research Questions:

What is known about Edendale during the pre-colonial, the colonial and post-colonial eras? What lessons can be drawn from the past to inform the present and future planning?
What do people remember about day-to-day life in Edendale in the past?
How has life, and the land itself, changed over time?

Paradigm: Afrocentrism: interconnectedness, interdependence, holism.

Community Based Participatory Research

Oral History: Interviews conducted with Edendale Residents
Photo Voice: Photographs taken by residents to explain their story
Collage: Residents make a collage using objects that illustrate aspects of their life story

Sampling: Purposive and snowballing sampling will be used to identify research participants. Participants from each ward/section in Edendale would be targeted for the 1st and 2nd cycle of data collection and analysis. Number of participants will be doubled in the 2nd cycle but remain in same section of Edendale for depth.

Skills & Knowledge

  • Afrocentrism
  • Interviewing & photo voice skills
  • Analytical & conceptual skills
  • Transcription
  • Data management
  • Project management
  • Curatorship
  • Interfacing between academic profiles, communities and policy-relevance
  • Research ethics
  • Multi-disciplinary work
  • Mentoring, supervision & cohort management
  • Popular book writing and academic writing skills.
  • (Onyewuenyi, 1993, p.21)

Edendale History Project

The documentation, preservation and recognition of local histories in relevance to South African development.  The project will contribute to the development of a model of documenting participatory community histories that could be duplicated in other different but similar conditions and the establishment of a local museum. South Africa is losing so much history resulting in a one-sided view of history dominating.