About tahirihmichot

I am a process designer with over twenty years of experience in human centred capacity building and team development. I specialise in: supporting change, team engagement and leadership development. I have extensive experience in programme design, process facilitation, project management and user-centred research. My approach is informed by action learning, coaching, design thinking and adult development. I create responsive processes resulting in tangible results for clients.

NAS Training – A Community Workshop!

IMG_2925Written by Heather Wares – Selection from project report

As part of the agreed upon project outcomes, a five day community workshop was held in the week of the 26- 30 May. This workshop was mandated to include both a discussion around the importance of protecting Maritime and Underwater Cultural Heritage (MUCH) sites and the teaching of basic archaeological survey skills through the Nautical Archaeological Society (NAS) courses. A team of seven people travelled to the Eastern Cape to present the workshop, including a SAHRA intern who participated in the NAS training.

The aim was to integrate the oral histories gathered over the course of the project within the structured topics of the workshop. In order to create an atmosphere of interaction and gauge the level of understanding, the participants were divided into three groups who would produce mini-projects representing a heritage site which they deemed important to the community and area. The resulting projects far exceeded the expectations of the project team and illustrated the outcome of the workshop as being one of mutual teaching and learning.


NAS courses were originally designed for the United Kingdom and within South Africa shipwrecks have been a central focus for previous NAS training. While shipwrecks continue to hold importance, there is a realisation that many South African cultures attach intangible meaning to various bodies of water such as lakes and rivers. Thus, the NAS training was adjusted accordingly.

The design of the workshop was informed by the field work done over two ten day periods, giving the team an idea of what to focus on to serve the needs of the community and the project. Presentations were done on topics such as Introduction to Maritime and Underwater Cultural Heritage (MUCH), Site Types, Site Survey, The Grosvenor Case Study, Heritage and Tourism, and Heritage and Legislation. Over the week these topics were introduced, explained and discussed.

IMG_2927The overall outline of the workshop was to present the basic idea of what an archaeological site type was, why they are important to preserve and how that preservation can be done through basic archaeological survey techniques. In the design of the workshop and the integration of the NAS curriculum, the team had to keep in mind that this was the first time that most of the participants had any interaction with the archaeology. In addition, all of the presentations and discussions were translated between English and Xhosa.

Thus it was necessary for the workshop to extend over 5 days. To best satisfy the objectives of the workshop the week was structured with theoretical and practical components. The mornings were dedicated to theoretical presentations and these were put into practice in the afternoons through group project preparation. This structure allowed the participants to use what they had learnt from the theoretical components to inform and mold their projects.

The numbers of participants varied throughout the week, due to other commitments, with between 13 and 19 attendees. However, with a core group in full attendance the combination of presentations and discussions provided the participants with a new understanding of Maritime and Underwater Cultural Heritage. The participants could then relate the concept of MUCH to their local heritage sites and implement practical ways of protecting these sites for the benefit of the community as a whole.


Press Release: “Whispers of the Sea” exhibition

IMG_20140608_091134Oral traditions bearing testimony to people’s relationship with water is explored in an art exhibition in Cape Town from June 5 to 10. The exhibition, ‘Whispers of the Sea’, opened on Thursday night at 6pm at the Pan African Market on Long Street in central Cape Town as part of First Thursdays.

It is the culmination of the Eastern Cape Maritime Oral History Project, a collaboration involving the South African Heritage and Resource Agency (SAHRA), the African Centre for Heritage Activities (ACHA) and Cape Town-based artist Janet Ranson.

‘Whispers of the Sea’ is an installation of research that focuses on maritime history and water, from the perspective of residents of a designated coastal area. It delves into mythology, historical accounts, archival records and research data to bring together local perspectives on the history of the sea.

ACHA director Jonathan Sharfman, a maritime archaeologist, says this project “explores some of the forgotten, marginalised and ignored histories of South Africa while investigating ways to implement economically sustainable, community driven heritage activities”.

Ranson created the exhibition based on the research project’s findings, working on the premise that a single bold display has more impact than an overload of information. The exhibition includes sound recordings of local voices commenting on issues of heritage, ownership, sustainability and local economics. The exhibition sound track was created by Eric Michot, a French music producer.

Project manager Tahirih Michot says: “Visitors will enter the space and hear excerpts from the research interviews and literally hearing a range of voices commenting on issues of heritage, ownership, sustainability and local economics.”

“Glowing glass jars will be suspended in the exhibition space in a circle, at eye height. This will add to the ritual mood of the space and engage the visitors’ eyes while they listen to the sound recording,” she adds.

“Each jar contains an image from the research: ceramic fragments washed up on shore, from a shipwreck, beads retrieved from the sand, photographs of the local residents, and an antique gold bell.”

Michot explains that the South African Heritage and Resource Agency (SAHRA) commissioned the research project at the end of last year. SAHRA is a statutory organisation established under the National Heritage Resources Act, No 25 of 1999. The primary objective of SAHRA is to coordinate the identification and management of the national estate which is defined as heritage resources.

According to Sophie Winton, Heritage Officer at SAHRA’s Maritime and Underwater Cultural Heritage Unit (MUCH), “This project centers around the collection of oral histories from communities living along the Pondoland coast in order to build a fuller picture of the heritage landscape in the Eastern Cape. This project forms part of the Maritime and Underwater Cultural Heritage Unit’s efforts to expand the focus of MUCH resources beyond the traditional shipwreck to non-traditional, locally applicable examples of South Africa’s relationship with water. Xhosa culture strongly emphasises the importance of oral tradition, so this research method was a natural choice.”

ACHA was appointed to conduct archival and field research as well as heritage education workshops in Pondoland’s coastal communities in the Eastern Cape. “ACHA undertook this project as the first phase of a far larger community based heritage programme. Its focus was to explore some of the forgotten, marginalised and ignored histories while investigating ways to implement economically sustainable, community driven heritage development activities,” says Michot.

“The project focused on the collection of maritime oral histories for the geographic area between Port St Johns and the Msikaba River in the Eastern Cape Province.” She adds: “It involved the review of secondary literature to create a historical context for the research and field work to gather oral histories from people currently living in the designated area. The objective of this project was to share the research findings in the form of both report as well as a public exhibition.”

ACHA, a non-profit international heritage centre based in South Africa, is inspired by innovation, people, water and identity. It intends for this exhibition and ongoing work to have a positive impact on the heritage sector by focusing on innovative, sustainable community owned heritage activities.

Its objective is to support shifts in attitudes, values and perceptions of communities in relationship to their heritage and the heritage of others. The focus is on improving people’s lives through increased awareness of their own context, sense of place resulting in a great degree of empathy and connectedness.

Whispers of the Sea runs at the Pan African Market on Long Street at these times:

Thursday, June 5, opening night 6pm to 9pm

Friday, June 6, 10am to 5pm

Saturday, June 7, 9am to 1pm

Monday, June 9, 10am to 5pm

Tuesday, June 10, 10am to 5pm


For more information, have a look at these online links:

ACHA blog about Under Water Heritage https://underwaterheritage.org/

ACHA Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/pages/African-Centre-for-Heritage-Activities-ACHA/149723961898756

ACHA website: http://acha.co.za/

SAHRA website: www.sahra.org.za

For more about the artist Janet Ranson http://janetranson.withtank.com/

NAS Training in the Eastern Cape!

ImageA team from ACHA are heading to the Eastern Cape tomorrow to run a Nautical Archaeology Society (NAS) Training Programme. The training forms part of the Eastern Cape Maritime Oral History Project for SAHRA. The programme will be run with people living the same communities that participated in the oral history field work process earlier this year. Some of the participants are in fact the interviewees themselves!

Members of the ACHA team include Lusanda Ngcaweni (lead researcher), Andisiwe Qubekile (assistant researcher), Jonathan Sharfman (facilitator & director of ACHA), Heather Wares (trainer-in-training and project historian). The team is also joined by a number of people from SAHRA, Sophie Winton (co-facilitator), Stephanie-Ann Barnardt, Shawn Berry, Dumisani Sibayi and Nkosazana Machete.

The training will last for a week, take place in a hut close to the ocean and involve a mixed group of participants from the area! This includes people from KwaNdengane village (Sao Bento wreck), KwaRhole village (Grosvenor wreck), Cuthwini (another coastal village in the same region), Mbotyi (coastal village) and Port St Johns. As part of the training process, participants will be developing something to contribute to the project Exhibition, “Whispers of the Sea” being held at the beginning of June in Cape Town. Stay tuned to find out more about the training programme from Lusanda’s blog!

Freedom Day Exhibition

Poster small JPEG

Our Eastern Cape Maritime Oral History Project was exhibited on Freedom Day as part of the SAHRA display! Janet Ranson, the professional artist working with the project team to create an exhibition, constructed a visual display of diverse artifacts encountered during the field work process by the research team. Bottles on a table filled with “treasure”! Visitors were encouraged to get involved and share their thoughts about the meaning of ‘heritage”. The exhibition is just a “taste” of what is to come in the main exhibition taking place in May!


Janet with the visual display created for the day!

The visual display consisted of various bottles containing artifacts countered in the field by the research team. Each bottle was accompanied by a label to invite audience participation and engagement with the concept of “Heritage”!


The bottles were as follows:

Plastic cool drink bottle of seawater – Label: Some people think sea water can cure all kinds of diseases. Others think the sea can cleanse their sorrow and pain. Some people say it belongs to all of us. What do you think of the ocean?

Jar of mussel shells – Label: For centuries, people who live on the coast have picked shellfish to feed their families – sometimes more than their permit allows. How do you think natural resources should be preserved?

Jar with photo of beads – Label: The man who collects them carefully prices these carnelian beads. Do you think this is fair? What do you think heritage is worth?

Jar of pot shards – Label: These are pottery fragments found on a Cape Town beach. Even archaeologists can’t really tell where they came from or how old they are. Do you think people need licenses to collect them?

Jar with pic of purple house – Label: XX turned to digging for beads out of desperation, and earned money to build this house. How do you balance financial need with preserving heritage?

Feel free to join the discussion and share your thoughts with us here too. We look forward to hearing your thoughts!

Wrapping up the Field Work!

The Eastern Cape Maritime Oral History Project group with SAHRA CEO, Peter Mokwena

The Eastern Cape Maritime Oral History Project group with SAHRA CEO, Peter Mokwena

The phase of conducting field work for the Eastern Cape Maritime Oral History Project has come to a conclusion. Lusanda and Andisiwe returned from the second phase of field work on April 4th  which was even more successful than their first trip!

Lusanda writes in her field work report, “The ocean plays a significant role in the day-to-day lives of the people living in close proximity to it. We spoke to a number of people in the coastal villages of KwaNdengane, Cuthwini and Mbotyi in Lusikisiki and Noqhekwane in Port St Johns, who told us how the sea fits in with their daily lives. We have divided these into 10 subheadings, namely: Ownership, “Nature”, Food & Income, Tourism, Leisure, Health, Religious & Traditional Practices, and Mythologies.”


Lusanda right before her big presentation to SAHRA

The holistic nature of the field work yielded engaging and at times, challenging information which was subsequently presented at 2 different forums. The first presentation was to the research team reference group on April 12th and the second presentation was to SAHRA on April 16th. The collective process of reflecting on the material that was presented to the groups led to lively and vigorous debate. It ic clear from the response of those that came to listen to the findings that the creation of a sustainable approach to heritage management is supported through the process of conducting research of this nature!


The presentation to SAHRA took place in the boardroom at the Castle of Good Hope in Cape Town and was well attended!

The project now moves into the next stage of activity which will involve the creation of an exhibition and NAS training which will take place in the area that the field work was conducted!

Research team heads out into the field again!



Lusanda and Andisiwe have headed out to the Eastern Cape for the start of the second phase of field work for the Eastern Cape Maritime Oral History Research project! Stay tuned to read more informative blogs from Lusanda as she shares what they learn while they are there.

Notes from the field…

Written by Lusanda Ngcaweni (Lead Researcher, EC Maritime Oral History Project), photographs by Andisiwe Qubekile (Research Assistant)


We met up with one of my contacts, Mr Sihlali, in Lusikisiki, who introduced us to a Mr Makanya from a village called Lambasi. Lambasi spreads out over a large area, including the vicinity where both the Sao Bento and the Grosvenor got wrecked. He only mentioned the Grosvenor, and we were not aware that it includes the area where the Sao Bento wrecked until Wednesday. (But more about that later.) Mr Makanya said he’d speak to the chiefs in the area and get back to me. The two gentlemen mentioned that there are local people who have “white” surnames, and that they are probably descendants of the shipwrecks. Something else of interest that the two brought up is BBC China, which wrecked in 2004 not too far from the Grosvenor. My second contact, Chief Mjoji, wasn’t answering my calls but he eventually got back to me in the afternoon to say I must call him after 13:00 on Tuesday.

Port GrovenorTUESDAY

First thing Tuesday morning I phoned Jimmy, a tour guide who lives and works from Port St Johns. He said he would only be able to see us on Wednesday. I phoned Mr Makanya to make sure he hadn’t forgotten to speak to the chiefs in his area about us and the project. He said he was on it and I should call him again on Wednesday.

I managed to get hold of my third contact, Chief Faku Ndabankulu. (He is the one who said he was attending a meeting of the entire Faku chieftaincy clan.) The timing of the call was impeccable, because he was on his way from his village in Lusikisiki to Mthatha, so we were able to meet him in town in Lusikisiki 20 minutes later! But our hopes were dashed when he said he and his fellow chiefs were unable to help us. He brought up the project at the meeting and they all felt that because their clan resides more inland, none of them had any generational knowledge of shipwrecks.

Chief Faku did, however, make several phone calls to people he knows whose villages are closer to the coast. They all said they would get back to him. I was able to eaves drop on these conversations and I heard a mention of ship wrecks between Hluleka and Silimela, which is further down the coast (ie south of the Mzimvubu River). I asked him about this when he got off the phone and he said the person he was speaking to was going to get the details of the ward councilor in that area. When we parted ways Chief Faku promised to try and get us more contacts and to follow up with the people who said would get back to him.

We only managed to get hold of Chief Mjoji in the afternoon and we managed to meet up with him. He too said he didn’t have any information for us because his village, Malangeni, is inland. He did however say he would get us in contact with a certain Patrick van Rooyen, a local “coloured” man who is a descendant of the shipwrecks. He also said that he knew of the Caine and Ogle families, who are descendants of shipwrecks. “YAY”, I thought!

He also mentioned Nqguza Hill, the place where I told you there was a battle of historical significance in Lusikisiki. He said he was appalled at how that story was told by white people, when there are some local people who were involved in that battle that are still alive and tell a totally different story of what happened. He promised to take us there and introduce us to these people next week. He asked for a lift home and, low and behold, on the way there we came across Patrick van Rooyen.

He introduced us and the project, after which Mr van Rooyen immediately rattled off locals with “white” surnames who are descendants of shipwrecks – Caine, Ogle, Stoffel, Berry, Grimmit Canham and Roskruge – who are all apparently still in the rural villages of Lusikisiki. It turns out Mr van Rooyen is not a descendent of the shipwrecks, but of the Boer War. Chief Mjoji said he would take us around to these families this weekend, but I have not been able to reach him ever since. (Sigh!) Both Chief Mjoji and Mr van Rooyen mentioned the recent BBC China shipwreck.


We  made our way to Port St Johns on Wednesday morning to meet Jimmy. Although he didn’t have any new information about the wrecks and the people it affected, he did however show us a very detailed map that was soon to become my best friend. It’s shows the three wrecks we’re looking at and the villages close by. This is how I not only discovered that the Sao Bento wrecked close to Mr Makanya’s village, but also that the N.S. De Belem wrecked close to Noqhekwane, a village near Port St Johns where a woman I care for deeply lives! (YAY! Another contact!) Jimmy didn’t have any more of the maps so we made a photocopy. Then it started to rain. And rain. And rain. I didn’t think we’d be able to make it up to Noqhekwana after such a heavy downpour (the road up there is precarious on a clear sunny day). Jimmy also said there was no way we could make it up there, so after taking some photos from an airstrip looking down on Mzimbuvu River, we headed back to Lusikisiki.


Mzimvubu Rover on the way to Port St Johns

I phoned Mr Makanya again, but he wasn’t able to talk. By now we had had enough of not (yet) interviewing people so I decided it was time to head out to the villages and mission out on our own. With my new map as a guide, I found a camp site in Msikaba village and made bookings. The NSdeBelem wrecked in Msikaba Mouth and it’s apparently not too far from Lambasi village, where the Grosvenor wrecked. Mr Makanya also phoned back to say he had just come out of a meeting with some chiefs who didn’t have a problem with us going out into the their villages.

(There was a hitch with our booking though, the camp site does not offer linen! I called Chief Faku, who had mentioned when we saw him on Tuesday that he would be returning from Mthatha on Thursday, and asked him to please bring us linen from home. I arranged with him to meet up with my house mate at her place of work to pick it up on his way back to Lusikisiki the following day. He said he would leave Mthatha in the morning so that was perfect timing for us! Our encounters with Chief Faku were proving to be very serendipitous indeed!)


So much for Serendipity! Chief Faku ended up leaving Mthatha rather late, so we only left Lusikisiki in the early afternoon. He also said that he was still trying to get information from the people he had called on Tuesday. We found our camp site quite easily, though the last stretch of road was dreadful! Our van managed, although it got very hairy at times. Then we realised that there was no cellphone reception and had to walk quite a distance and up a hill to call you!


You’ll hear about this later. We’ll be going to find two families that the camp site manager told us about. They apparently go around the beach looking for and collecting beads from the Sao Bento!


Eastern Cape Maritime Oral History Project field work officially begins!


Eastern Cape Maritime Oral History Project field work officially begins!

ACHA has officially moved in the field work phase of a new project that is focusing on the collection of maritime oral histories for the geographic area between Port St Johns and the Msikaba River in the Eastern Cape Province. The project will involve the review of secondary literature to create a historical context for the research as well as field work to gather oral histories from people currently living in the designated area. The objective of this project is to share the research findings in the form of both report as well as a public exhibition! This is a picture of the team involved: Left to right – front row: Lusanda Ngcaweni (lead researcher), Zuleiga Adams (Historian), Heather Wares (literature survey), Janet Ranson (exhibition artist), Andisiwe Qubekile (research assistant), Sophie Winton (SAHRA). Left to right – back row: Jonathan Sharfman (Maritime archaeologist/NAS training), Luvuyo Ndzuzo (Robben Island Museum), and Tahirih Michot (project manager).