Tribute to Phil Bonner

17 Oct 2017 - 21:45
Photo: Nhlanhla Dlamini

The Archive and Public Culture Research Initiative (APC) at the University of Cape Town joins our colleagues across the country in mourning the death of Emeritus Professor Phil Bonner. Bonner, who joined the Wits History Department in 1971 and was a founding member of the Wits History Workshop, played a leading role in the development of African History at the university and nationally.

The APC has been privileged to have engaged with Bonner in recent years. Interviews from the Swaziland Oral History Project (SWOHP), housed at Wits Historical Papers, have been digitised for inclusion in Five Hundred Year Archive project. The bulk of these interviews, which relate to the history of the Swazi Kingdom, were collected by Bonner in the 1970s and by Professor Carolyn Hamilton in the 1980s, both working with a number of Swazi-speaking researchers and assistants.

Last year Bonner accompanied two members of the Five Hundred Year Archive (FHYA) project team, Hamilton and Dr Grant McNulty, on a trip to Swaziland at the invitation of the University of Swaziland and the Swaziland National Archives. Bonner's contribution to the history of Swaziland was widely celebrated in the course of the visit by the Director of the National Archives and the Vice President of Swaziland, amongst others.

Together with Hamilton and McNulty, he participated in a number of government, media, and seminar engagements, including a half-hour slot on Swazi morning TV. The visit was coordinated by the enthusiastic and indefatigable Dr Nhlanhla Dlamini of the University of Swaziland, who was one of Bonner's PhD students. In his tribute, Dlamini remembers Bonner as, “a warm human being, patient and understanding, rigorous and demanding, collegial and convivial, unrelenting and thorough, restless and ever probing, jovial and always navigating new horizons of knowledge, supportive, generous and intellectually stimulating, soft spoken but penetrative.”

Bonner’s legacy will live on in the significant body of research and writing that he undertook and in the memories of the students, colleagues and communities whose lives he touched. We offer our condolences to his family and friends and to the History Workshop team.

Phil Bonner with the Deputy Prime Minister of Swaziland to his left and Prince Tshekedi to his right together with other delegates at the Happy Valley Hotel in Swaziland during the launch of the digitised oral histories collected by Phil and Carolyn Hamilton (in white) next to the DPM (2015). Image supplied by Nhlanhla Dlamini. Photographer unknown.