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A life in History – Shula Marks

Professor Marks has lectured and written extensively on South African history, including the settlement of Southern Africa as well as the early history of the ANC. She is in South Africa for the launch of The Cambridge History of South Africa Volume 2, 1885 — 1994, but has also been vocal in responding to on-going debates about land distribution and land use.

She is emeritus professor at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies. She published a widely cited article, “The Myth of the Empty Land”, in 1980. The Cambridge History of South Africa Volume 2, 1885 — 1994 was published by Cambridge University Press in 2011 and is edited by Robert Ross, Anne Kelk Mager, and Bill Nasson.

A couple of days ago, I met a decent young White Afrikaner who works 12 hours a day and half days on Saturday. He said to me: “I am so angry that the country is divided and I know nothing of our history. Is it true what Pieter Mulder said about Black people and land?” He also asked me: “Was Mandela also an activist and why did he go to jail?”. The absence of history and the triumph of mythical memory can only strengthen right-wing populism or its reactionary African nationalist counter-part disguised as leftism. A serious study of history is indispensable to freedom and a genuine second social-democratic revolution located in our Constitution.

Shula Marks is one of the greatest African historians of the 20th Century. She responded to Deputy-Minister Pieter Mulder in this week’s Mail and Guardian. Mulder’s profoundly ignorant remarks were deliberately made to tap into white racism, fear and anger. It was designed to win support away from the Democratic Alliance. Two articles by Shula Marks are reproduced below: “SA ignorant about its land struggle” her response to the new Muldergate and Before “the white man was master and all white men’s values prevailed”? Jan Smuts, race and the South African war, an excellent article on one of South Africa’s most enigmatic “great white men”.

Professor Shula Marks is an engaged historian who supported the liberation movements in Southern Africa, she was active in the anti-apartheid movement and remained active in supporting civil society in democratic South Africa. She co-founded Friends of the Treatment Action Campaign in Britain.

An intellectual of enormous stature, rigour and empathy, Shula Marks has written countless articles, taught and influenced thousands of students, academics and activists. Historians, sociologists and political scientists such as Helen Bradford, Tim Keegan, Charles van Onselen, Belinda Bozzoli, Tom Lodge, Martin Legassick, Jeffrey Peires and many others owe an enormous debt to Shula Marks.

She has been one of the most important intellectual influences on my life. The Wikipedia page for Shula Marks is a travesty that must be corrected. She has written the best response to Pieter Mulder and the reactionary racial nationalists Black and White.

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