Stellenbosch University
Welcome to Stellenbosch University
PhD candidate wins prestigious SA Historical Society prize
Author: Lynne Rippenaar-Moses
Published: 19/07/2019

​Bryan Umaru Kauma, a PhD candidate in the History Department at Stellenbosch University, has won the prestigious Southern African Historical Society (SAHS) Postgraduate Essay Prize at the society's biennial conference held at Rhodes University recently. 

Kauma received the regional award for his paper entitled “Small grains, small gains: African peasant small grains production and marketing in Zimbabwe during the colonial period, c.1890-1980". The paper focused on the 'rise' and 'fall' of the African peasantry, exploring the complex and shifting history of these peasants as small grain, sorghum, rapoko and millet producers.

He is currently completing his PhD through the Graduate School of Arts and Social Sciences, which is situated in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. Kauma is also a recipient of the Lisa Maskell Fellowship sponsored by the Gerda Henkel Foundation and administered by the Graduate School. 

According to Kauma, prior to 1890, African producers dominated grain production and trade. However, with the advent of colonialism, spurred on through legislation such as the Diet Ordinance and Maize Control Act in 1908 and 1930 respectively, peripheral African peasant small grain production was elbowed out and replaced with cash crops like maize.

“Over time, these initiatives became critical instruments in the underdevelopment of the African peasantry," explained Kauma. 

“However, my paper shows that African peasants were not passive victims, but resisted colonial attempts at creating a white commercial monopoly over grain markets. It demonstrates how African peasants during varying economic, environmental and political periods allowed for the continued survival of peasant communities by sustaining the underbelly of agrarian development."

Kauma's supervisor, Prof Sandra Swart from the History Department, said that the 27thSouthern Africa Historical Society conference offered “an exciting range of discussions by both budding and seasoned historians from across the world".

“His paper advances the conversation around resilience and the agency of small farmers in the face of the vicissitudes of Africa's changing climate – both environmental and political. He was competing with some wonderful fellow postgraduate students from southern Africa and faced pretty stiff competition," said Swart.

“Moreover, Bryan has just been invited to present the same paper at the annual African Economic History Network conference in Barcelona, Spain in October. This fully funded visit will connect Bryan to seasoned scholars from across the world focused on the economic and social history of Africa."

Kauma said that he was excited to have won this prestigious prize. 

“This is not a 'small gain' from these small grains. It is really reassuring and inspiring when one's work receives such great recognition from a top society as SAHS. I am encouraged to continue working harder until these grains are big! It would be however remiss of me in my happiness not to express heartfelt appreciation to our research group History Friday Morning dragons and my supervisor Prof Swart, without whose support and dedication none of this would be possible – and for my scholarship from the Graduate School. We brought it home guys," said an excited Kauma.  

Photo: A very proud Prof Sandra Swart with Bryan Umaru Kauma, a PhD candidate in the History Department at Stellenbosch University, who won the prestigious Southern African Historical Society Postgraduate Essay Prize recently. (Supplied)