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Prof Thembisa Waetjen

Prof Thembisa Waetjen
Department of Historical Studies
Associate Professor and Head of Department

Contact Details
A Ring 242
+27 (0) 11 559 2007


My research focus is twentieth century South African political and social history, with two current (and quite distinct) projects.

The first is on histories of narcotic medicines and drugs (specifically opioids) and their regulation and consumption in local and global contexts. I'm interested in the changing practices, relations and local meanings of drug use, drug control policies, and addiction treatment. This research is linked into a larger, collaborative project interrogating pharmaceutical modernities in southern Africa, with Julie Parle (UKZN), Rebecca Hodes (UCT) and others.

The second project is on Islam and citizenship, with a focus on Indian Muslims in colonial- and apartheid-era Natal. Since 2008, I have been working with Goolam Vahed (UKZN) to chronicle the experiences of several generations of Gujarati merchant families who migrated to the southern East African coast from the 1870s. Our book-in-progress is provisionally titled A Small Ocean: Family, Religion and Trade between Porbandar and Durban, 1860-1928.



I teach undergraduate and post-graduate historical research methods; a course on drugs and medicines; and first year global history.

I am looking to develop post-graduate oral-history research on gender, generation and changing practices of self-medication and drug use.


Recent Publications

"The Politics of Narcotic Medicine in Early Twentieth Century South Africa" (forthcoming) in Social History of Medicine.

"The Rise and Fall of the Opium Trade in the Transvaal, 1904-1910" Journal of Southern African Studies. 43/4 (2017)

"Poppies and Gold: Opium and Law-Making on the Witwatersrand, 1904-1910" Journal of African History, 57/3 (2016).

"Drug-Dealing Doctors and Unstable Subjects: Opium, Medicine and Authority in the Cape Colony, 1907-1910" South African Historical Journal. 68/3 (2016).

"Sputnik from Below: Space Science and Public Culture in Cold War Southern Africa" Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies. 18/5 (2016).

Schooling Muslims in Natal: Identity, State and the Orient Islamic Educational Institute. (Pietermaritzburg: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press, 2015). With Goolam Vahed.

"Gujarati Muslim Diaspora and the Politics of Home in Apartheid South Africa", Chapter 8 in Kumar, P (ed.) The Indian Diaspora: Socio-Cultural and Religious Worlds, (Leiden and Boston: Brill Publishers, 2015), 137-157.

"Passages of Ink: Decoding the Natal Indenture Records into the Digital Age" Kronos, Special Issue "Paper Regimes in Southern Africa": 45-73 (2014). With Goolam Vahed.