Dr Anton Ehlers, a Senior Lecturer in the History Department at Stellenbosch University, recently received a Ministerial Award from the Western Cape Minister of Cultural Affairs and Sport, Ms Anroux Marais, at the 18th Annual Cultural Affairs Awards ceremony held at the Artscape Theatre Centre in Cape Town.
Ehlers received the prestigious Ministerial Award for his Outstanding Contribution to Research in Archival Heritage. The Cultural Affairs Awards have been held since 1999 and acknowledges those “individuals and organisations that have made a significant impact in the Western Cape".
“At the Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport, we strive to promote, advocate for and preserve cultural affairs. We cannot do so successfully and more importantly, sustainably, without honouring those who ardently drive this very vision, mindful of all who call the Western Cape home," said Minister Marais.
She thanked the nominees for “their proactive efforts to enhance the lives of others through cultural affairs".
“Our cultural heritage and expressions thereof motivate unity, understanding and tolerance while simultaneously inspiring hope in a time when it is most needed. I wholeheartedly thank each and every nominee for selflessly reigniting optimism and encouragement in our communities through cultural engagements. Their special ability to bridge diversity and nurture tolerance has indeed contributed to greater insight into our nuances and allows us to embrace our variety while fostering cultural inclusivity and integration."
Ehlers has done extensive research on South Africa's economic history focusing on business history in particular. In 2018 he published a book on the Cape Helpmekaar, a student loan bank that celebrated its centenary in 2016. He has also focused on research on the development of trust companies and board of executors and their evolution into general banks in South Africa, the history of clothing retailing in South Africa with a focus on Pep Stores, non-profit financial institutions such as the Cape Helpmekaar, and micro lending and banking institutions such as Capitec Bank. He is currently involved in a project that focuses on the early development of capitalism in the Cape Colony.
Ehlers teaches wealth and poverty as historical factors in European history, the methodology of history, and business and economic history.
Asked about whether he expected to be honoured in this manner by the Western Cape government, Ehlers said: “I was informed beforehand that I was the winner in that specific category. I was not aware of the existence of this award before, so it was completely out of the blue and my first thought was: what the hell did I do to deserve the award?"
Ehlers has however made a huge contribution to research in archival heritage. This entails his involvement in the Methodology of History component of the History Honours Programme over a number of years and collaborations with archivists of the Cape Archives Depot and librarians of the National Library in Cape Town to introduce students to the archives and facilitate archival-based research projects.
“Archives are the laboratories of historians. Archival preservation on the other hand is our life blood and crucial to the unlocking and preservation of our diverse heritage and history from a cultural, social and economic perspective. Our departmental postgraduate focus is therefore to deliver archival alert and heritage sensitive students. We cannot make the students sleep in the archival stack rooms – but we try to make them dream about them at least and appreciate the wealth of information contained in that space that is still relevant today. So for me the award is in recognition of our sustained efforts over many years to produce students that not only share these ideals but also practice them."
Photo: Dr Anton Ehlers (middle) from the History Department received a Ministerial Award for his Outstanding Contribution to Research in Archival Heritage at the Western Cape Minister of Cultural Affairs and Sport's 18thAnnual Cultural Affairs Awards ceremony. Here he is with Minister Anroux Marais (left) and the Head of the Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport, Mr Brent Walters. (Supplied by the Western Cape Government's Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport)