Absent Presences

2 april 2024
Auteur: Team Zuid-Afrikahuis


On 2 April 2024, the third volume of the Zuid-Afrikahuis (SZAHN) series was launched under the title Absent Presences: Decolonizing our Views of the Zuid-Afrikahuis and its Collections. The project was part of the events that commemorated the centenary residence of the Zuid-Afrikahuis (South Africa House, ZAH) in the canal house on the Keizersgracht 141, in Amsterdam.

To mark the occasion, the editors decided to focus this volume on what specific books, documents, objects or images in the collections of the ZAH have to offer for the analysis of the historical, transnational South Africa-Netherlands entanglements.  

In a context where diversity and inclusion as concepts have been shaping the policies of cultural institutions in the Netherlands for some years now, the question is how do you prevent such concepts from becoming buzz-words to polish policy and grab a ‘piece of the pie’ without having significant consequences on everyday practices? In the context of the ZAH, this question boils down to how to approach the remains of a colonial and settler-society era from a new angle to uncover information and experiences, which have hitherto remained (largely) out of sight.

This volume contains an “Introduction” by the three editors, Barbara Henkes, André Paijmans and Margriet van der Waal, and eleven essays by authors invited to participate in this project.  The different contributions critically examine what the archives, the (arrangement of the) ZAH’s library, the objects, the spaces of the building of the ZAH, and its activities reveal about Dutch colonial history, and about the role of the ZAH in the relationship between South Africa and the Netherlands.  

Since the late nineteenth century, the precursor organisations of the ZAH were primarily focused on their perceived white ‘cousins’ in South Africa. The identification with white nationalist Afrikaners persisted — even during apartheid — in the collection, publications and activities of these organizations. It is precisely this stance that makes it necessary to approach the ZAH’s colonial and settler era legacy from a critical, decolonizing perspective.

The eleven contributions each document telling instances of absent presences in everyday practices and in the history of the ZAH that has so far remained outside of our view. The contributions also suggest meaningful strategies and ways for the ZAH to engage with such complex material and become a space of contact where old and new generations of (potential) users of the ZAH — ranging from teachers, students, and all those of who feel involved in the transnational histories that connect Europe and the Netherlands with South Africa and the African continent will feel welcome to step across the threshold of Keizersgracht 141 in Amsterdam.

The contributors to this volume are: Manon Braat, Marian Counihan, Pieter du Plessis, Ronelda S. Kamfer, Vincent Kuitenbrouwer, Bart Luirink, Tycho Maas, Nkule Mabaso, Nathan Trantraal, Christi van der Westhuizen and Farren van Wyk.


Title: Absent Presences: Decolonizing our Views of the South African House and its Collections
Edited by Barbara Henkes, André Paijmans and Margriet van der Waal
SZAHN Series number 3.
Published: April 2024 |
Digital | Free download | 172 pages | 
ISBN 978-90-830385-2-0

For the Free Acces link, click here.

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Keizersgracht 141-C
1015 CK Amsterdam


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