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Prof Thembisa Waetjen

Prof Thembisa Waetjen
Department of Historical Studies
Associate Professor

Contact Details
A Ring 237
+27 (0) 11 559 4043

I am interested in understanding struggles of citizenship, migration, gender, and health in twentieth century South Africa. In recent years, I’ve written collaboratively (with Goolam Vahed) about migrant experiences and the changing ‘worlds’ of Muslim South Africans in Durban. My current research is focused on political and social histories of drugs, medicines and addiction under imperial and nationalist state regimes.

I arrived at UJ in 2017. For twelve years, I was located in the history department at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (Howard College), lecturing in African history, comparative modern empires, print culture and digital citizenship, legal and political topics and research methods. My journey to the discipline of history was via formal degrees in sociology, with politics, gender and colonial medicine as special topics of study.


Ph.D. (1997) and M.A. (1994), University of Oregon, USA.

B.A. (1984) University of California, Berkeley, USA.


I teach research methods and am developing a third year course called ‘Drugs, medicine and addiction in historical perspective.’

Recent Publications

“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.