School of Social Sciences

Marijke du Toit

Marijke du Toit

Marijke du Toit Position Senior Lecturer 
Discipline History
  • BA (University of Stellenbosch),
  • Honours in African Studies (University of Cape Town),
  • PhD in History, University of Cape Town (1996).



Contact information

  • Phone: 031 2602623
  • Email:
  • Office address: R208, Second Floor, Memorial Tower Building, Howard College

Research interests

I am currently engaged in extensive
archival research on the broad history of state social welfare and of
the child welfare movement in South Africa from the late 1930s and as
reconfigured and elaborated during apartheid. This archival research
project is complemented by my interest in visual and also multi-lingual
approaches to qualitative research.

My current work on
the history of child social welfare builds on my doctoral research
which examined how Afrikaans voluntary women’s welfare organisations
sought to build a blanke (white) Afrikaner volk. I am now
researching the growth of social assistance organisations concerned with
problems of poverty amongst black South Africans, for example how
African women from Durban’s amakholwa (christian) community)
combined such interests with nationalist endeavours.  I am interested in
how bureaucratic correspondence, minutes of meetings, social workers’
reports and individual case histories from children’s court records
enables a  ‘deep history’ of how state officials and civil society
organisations constructed problematics of poverty (for example, the
‘poor white problem’ and the supposed crisis of black urban juvenile
delinquency as articulated in the 1930s). An overriding interest is to
historicise how state bureaucrats, liberal child welfare societies,
white and black members of the newly established profession of social
work and ethnic nationalist women’s societies ‘saw’  gendered familial
networks of responsibility and care in the context of poverty.

My research interests
include aspects of the history of photography in South Africa, and for
the past several years, I have been exploring theoretical questions
prompted by attempts to use photographs as a primary document in
historical research. I am focused my research South Africa’s visual
economy of the early twentieth century. I have published articles that
explore how popular photographies contributed to the articulation of
racialised identities, particularly as regards Afrikaner nationalism. I
have also looked at how, in South Africa of the 1920s and 1930s,
sociologist E. G. Malherbe – as part of Carnegie funded research on
‘poor whites’ – and social anthropologist Ellen Hellman – as part of her
research on African communities living in Johannesburg of the 1930s –
used basic photographic skills as part of their research.

My interests in
public and local urban history led me to work with photographer Jenny
Gordon from 2002, work that resulted in a large photographic exhibition
‘Breathing Spaces: Environmental Portraits of Durban’s Industrial South’
(Durban Art Gallery, 2007). Our book on this project is currently under
review. This project, which focussed on the lives of residents from the
southern industrial basin (Wentworth, Merebank and Lamontville)
combined contemporary landscape, social documentary photography and
portraiture with digital reproduction of personal photographs from local
residents. A strong aspect of my own research for the project has been
to use interviews in order to explore how residents – often the subjects
of the photographs – understand and respond to the photographs. Our
exhibition also showed photographs taken by local residents in workshops
that taught photography. Work in progress are papers reflecting on the
photographies produced and collected as part of this project, and
further interviews that explore local understandings of the photographs.

Selected Publications

  • Breathing Spaces: Environmental Portraits of Durban’s Industrial
    South (co-written with Jenny Gordon, Rhodes University). Currently
    under review for publication.
  • New Strategies for Teaching
    History Multilingually, in Russel Kaschula (ed), Teaching Second or
    Additional Languages in Multilingual Contexts (currently under review)
  ‘Photographic portraiture, neighbourhood activism and apartheid’s industrial legacy: Reflections on the Breathing Spaces exhibition’, Kronos, Volume  35 (1), 2009, pp.175-193. Co-authored with Jenny Gordon, Rhodes University.
  ‘The Means to Turn the Social Key: The South Durban Photography
Project’s Workshops for First-time Photographers’ in De Lange et al
(eds) Putting People in the Picture: Visual Methodologies for social Change (Sense Publishers, 2007). Co-authored with Jenny Gordon, Rhodes University.
  Binnelandse Reise (Journeys to the Interior): Photographs from the Carnegie Commission of Investigation into the Poor White Problem, 1929/1932’, Kronos, 2006, pp. 49-76. 
  ‘The General View and Beyond: From Slum-yard to Township in Ellen
Hellman’s Photographs of Women and the African Familial in the 1930s’, Gender and History, Volume 7 (3) 2005, pp. 593-626.
  ‘The Domesticity of Afrikaner Nationalism: Volksmoeders and the ACVV, 1904-c.1929’, Journal of Southern African Studies 28 (1), March 2003, pp. 155-176.
  ‘Framing Volksmoeders: the Politics of Female Afrikaner Nationalists’ in Right-Wing Women : From Conservatives to Extremists Around the World (New York: Routledge 2002 ).
  ‘”Moeder-meesteres”: Dutch-Afrikaans women’s entry into the public
sphere in the Cape Colony, 1860-1896′ in Woodward, Hayes and Minkley
eds, Deep Histories: Gender and Colonialism in Southern Africa (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2002), pp.165-176.
  ‘Blank Verbeeld, or the incredible whiteness of being: Amateur photography and Afrikaner nationalist historical narrative’, Kronos, Volume 27, 2001 (Special Issue on Visual History), pp. 77-113.
  ‘Telling Tales: The Politics of Language in Oral Historiography’, South African Historical Journal , Volume 42, 2000), pp. 89-120.
‘Dangerous Motherhood’: Maternity care and the Gendered construction of Afrikaner Identity, 1904-1939’, in Women and Children First, International Maternal and Infant Welfare, 1870-1945, eds. V. Fieldes and L. Marks (Routledge 1992), pp. 203 – 229.
  ‘”Die Bewustheid van Armoed”’: The work of the ACVV, 1904-1939’, Social Dynamics, 18 (2) 1992.


Public Exhibitions

I curated two very extensive research-based exhibitions in prestigious
galleries in Cape Town together with photographer Jenny Gordon. The
‘Breathing Spaces’ exhibition was the culmination of a series of
exhibitions that integrated community-participative  research production
and  public presentation.
From 2002 to 2005, exhibitions comprised work produced in photographic
workshops (by first- time photographers). The exhibitions included the
results of research into the history of popular visual photographic
culture. The workshops were offered to residents of Durban’s southern
Industrial basin. The final ‘Breathing Spaces’ exhibition included
Gordon’s portrait and landscape photographs, photographs by residents
and reproductions of personal and family photographs from ca
1950s-1980s. Extracts from interviews also accompanied the photographs. 


I currently teach a third year undergraduate course on history of
twentieth century South Africa (Hist302).  These courses reflect my
strong interest to incorporate a range of approaches that teach the
‘languages’ of qualitative research and primary document analysis. I am
developing a multi-lingual approach to teaching South African history in
which I make extensive use of texts from indigenous language newspapers
(isiZulu and isiXhosa) from the first decades of the 20th
century. I also draw on my interest in visuality and photography and
have integrated aspects of how visual texts may be read into this
module. My graduate teaching reflect my interest in the range of
approaches to qualitative research in historical studies.  I have
previously also taught undergraduate modules in Internet Studies, in
which I taught theories of visual analysis and advanced qualitative
research and analysis in an on-line context.


  • Topics in Twentieth Century History (HIST302H2)
  • Critical Approaches to Oral and Public History (HIST707H1)
  • Theory and Method in Historical Research (HIST700H2)

Student Supervision Record (Masters, Current)

  • Liezl Gevers: ‘Black Sash and Red Tape’: the plight of the African aged in KwaZulu and Natal 1979-1990″. Honours diss., University of KwaZulu Natal, 2011.
  • Hannah  Keal: “Harriet Bolton: Trade Unionist and Activist – A Bbiography” (MA, 2009)
  • Abigail Donaldson: ‘Through the Widow’s Window: Mildred Burwood Lavoipierre, a Memoir from 1942-1952 (2009)
  • Kyla O’Neil: Seeking in Silence: The Challenges of Writing the Recent History of Intersexuality in South African from 1950 – present (2009)
  • Suryakanthie  Chetty: ‘Our Victory was Our Defeat’: Race, Gender and Liberalism in the Union Defence Force, 1939 – 1945’ (PhD, 2005)
  • Vashna Jagarnath: ‘Remembering the impact of Apartheid Race legislation: An oral history of Sydenham 1950-1990’, (MA, 2006)