Staff Members

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Prof Thembisa Waetjen

Name: Thembisa Waetjen
Location: A RING 242 Auckland Park Kingsway Campus
Department of Historical Studies, Rated Researchers  Staff Members

Contact Details:
Tel: 0115592001


About Prof Thembisa Waetjen

Research Interests

Politics and ontologies of ‘drug’ substances in 20th century South Africa; medical histories and health humanities in colonial/post-colonial Africa; and urban politics shaping Indian Ocean migrant lives.


Recent Awards

2023: Vice Chancellor’s Distinguished Award for Teaching Excellence.

2021: Faculty of Humanities’ Teaching Innovation Prize.

2021:  NRF Further Funding for Rated Researchers Award, ‘Cannabis Histories and Apartheid’s War on Drugs’.

2021: Wellcome Trust, Collaboration Grant for ‘SA-UK/MH: Medical Humanities co-working between South Africa and the United Kingdom’

2020:  Visiting Researcher, Stellenbosch Instituted for Advanced Study (STIAS)

2020: Teaching Innovation Grant, ‘Building an Archive with First Year History Students using Omeka’

2018:  University Research Grant, ‘Muslim Lives across the Indian Ocean between Durban and Porbandar, 1860-1928’

2017:  Wellcome Trust Small Grant, ‘Drug Regimes in Southern Africa: Regulation and Consumption in Twentieth Century Contexts’

2017:   NRF – Knowledge Interchange and Collaboration Grant, Opioids and Harm Reduction in South Africa: Growing a Multidisciplinary Conversation.


Current Teaching

‘Global History to 1500’ (first-year level); ‘Epidemics in History’ (third year); and Research Methods (post graduate).

I currently supervise post-graduate student research on topics in the medical and health humanities.


Recent Peer-reviewed publications


A Blue Coat: The Addict and the Unspeakable Girl in South Africa’s Colonial Archive.  Thesis Eleven,

Settling ‘dagga’? Shifting Frontiers of Cannabis Knowledge and Governance in South Africa. Journal of Southern African Studies, forthcoming (with Perside Ndandu).

Building an archive for “future pasts”: Undergraduates document their local Covid-19 ‘moment’ in World History Yesterday & Today, 29, December.

Advocates of ‘an Unpopular Cause’: Frances Ames, Helen Suzman and Cannabis Decriminalisation in South Africa, Historia, 68.1: 144-176 (with Lebohang Seganoe).


Apartheid’s 1971 Drug Law: Between Control and Cannabis in South Africa.  Social History of Alcohol and Drugs, 36.2: 164-200.

Decolonizing Drug History? Notes on a Journey Southward (SI Introduction) Social History of Alcohol and Drugs, 36.2: 119-128 (with Maziyar Ghiabi).

South Africa’s Century of Cannabis Politics, 1922-2022 South African Historical Journal, 74.2: 359-363.


Dagga: How South Africa made a Dangerous Drug, 1902-1928. Chapter 5 in Lucas Richert and James H Mills (eds), Cannabis: Global Histories, Cambridge: MIT Press.


Cannabis Policing in Mid-20th Century South Africa Historia 65: 1: 61-86 (with Phumla Innocent Nkosi and Richard Devey)


The Politics of Narcotic Medicine in Early Twentieth Century South Africa  Social History of Medicine, 32.3: 586-608.

Global Opium Politics in Mozambique and South Africa, c 1880-1930 South African Historical Journal 71.4: 560-586.

[Edited Book] Opioids in South Africa: Towards a Policy of Harm Reduction Cape Town: HSRC Press.


Pharmaceuticals and Modern Statecraft in South Africa: The Cases of Opium, Thalidomide and Contraception Medical Humanities, 44.4: 253-262 (with Julie Parle and Rebecca Hodes)


The Rise and Fall of the Opium Trade in the Transvaal, 1904-1910  Journal of Southern African Studies. 43.4: 733-751.


Poppies and Gold: Opium and Law-Making on the Witwatersrand, 1904-1910  Journal of African History, 57.3: 391-403.

Drug-Dealing Doctors and Unstable Subjects: Opium, Medicine and Authority in the Cape Colony, 1907-1910  South African Historical Journal. 68.3: 342-365.

Sputnik from Below: Space Science and Public Culture in Cold War Southern Africa Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies. 18.5: 687-708.


International and national collaborations

Prof Jim Mills, Centre for the History of Health and Healthcare, University of Strathclyde, UK: “SA-UK/MH:  Wellcome Trust, 2021-2024.

Dr Maziyar Giabi, Wellcome Senior Lecturer in Medical Humanities and Director, Centre for Persian and Iranian Studies, University of Exeter, UK: “Drugs In and Beyond the Colony”.

Prof Oluwafemi Adeagbo, Community and Behavioural Health, University of Iowa, USA: Global Health teaching collaborations, 2024.

Prof Claire Clark, School of Behavioural Science, Dept of Medicine, University of Kentucky, Lexingon: “Points”

Dist Prof Paul Gootenberg, History, Stoneybrook University of New York, USA: “Cities of Drugs” (with Andrew MacDonald, Wits University), 2023.

Prof Goolam Vahed, History, University of KwaZulu-Natal: “Small Ocean” Project, at Stellenbosch Institute of Advanced Study, October 2020.

Prof Julie Parle (then History, University of KwaZulu-Natal) and Prof Rebecca Hodes, (then History, University of Cape Town), ‘Pharmaceutical Modernities’, 2018-2019.