Marcia C. Schenck





PhD research:                         In Progress

Dissertation working title: 

“From Africa to Berlin: Uncovering the Life Experiences of Transnational Mozambican and Angolan Contract Workers During and After the Cold War

My dissertation traces the lives of Angolan and Mozambican transcontinental labor migrants who went to work in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) in the latter half of the twentieth century. It examines questions about labor relations, intercultural experiences, and the challenges of return migration. I adopt a life history approach supported by archival work in Europe and Africa.

Additional research project:

“My colleagues say I am still walking the walk of Angela Merkel” – Angolan students in East Germany: legacies and memories

This research project discusses the memories of Angolan students who spent part of their higher education studying towards a degree in East Germany. Based on interviews with returned students a quarter century after their return to Angola, I examine how they remember their time in the German Democratic Republic, what legacies remain of their socialist education, what skills they were able to apply after their return, in how far German networks were influential in their career-building, and what ties continue to bind them to Germany.

MSc research:


“Land struggles and identity – comparative case studies of San self-representation in southern Africa”


This thesis focuses on the historical interplay between land, representation and identity formation in two disparate and heterogeneous San communities which reinvented themselves to mobilize around land and resource access. Informed by studies of the late colonial period, the thesis focuses on post-independence approaches to land politics amongst the Hai||om of Namibia and the ‡Khomani of South Africa up to the present. Tracing historical processes concerning land access, it argues that land helped shape the differential formulation of identity in these communities. The politics of land have functioned as a crucible through which many San and those of San descent have refashioned and mobilised their ethnic identities and self-representation. By vocalizing ethnic membership, grounded in a claim to historicity and First Peoples status, San communities commodified their identity to serve as a legitimate moral claim to resource access and to kindle pride in their identity.

The diverging land access strategies employed by the Hai||om and the ‡Khomani today reflect the possibilities availed to them in their independent nations: the Hai||om’s emphasis on the political route to land access is as much a reflection of Namibia’s political structures as the ‡Khomani’s reliance on lawfare reveals the South African approach to land reform through restitution.  Most Hai||om portray their ongoing land claims as justified with regard to their present socio-economic disenfranchisement and the unequal land distribution resulting from the colonial homeland policies. The Khomani based their land rights claim (1995-2002) on the principle of restitution and First Peoples status in the new South Africa. While the struggle for land and resource access continues to be the most salient ethnic marker for the Hai||om, the ‡Khomani define themselves primarily via common landownership. However, both groups continue to battle with the formulation of an inclusive identity, membership issues, a leadership impasse and hindered development.


The research takes an interdisciplinary approach with a strong focus on historical methods, including archival and oral history sources, participant observation and collaborative photographic work with the San, to illuminate why and how these two San groups received land. Understanding the intersections of land, representation and identity among San communities also provides insights into other indigenous communities which, like the San, experience leadership struggles, intense poverty and marginalization.

Dissertation, MSc in African Studies

Oxford University, May 2010

This research was supported by the African Studies Department, Oxford and St. Anne's College, Oxford.

Honors research:


Land, Water, Truth and Love

Visions of Identity and Land Access:

From Bain's Bushmen to ‡Khomani San



This thesis situates the current ‡Khomani claims to land in their historical context. Examining the nexus between land, economic choices, power, and identity, I analyze the construction of the "Bushman myth "in South Africa as it relates to the ‡Khomani San of the Northern Cape. The myth refers to stereotypical depictions of “Bushmen” based on invented traditions. These traditions are depicted as atavistic manifestations of a historically immutable Bushman ethnicity. Stressing their timelessness and isolation, the Bushman myth thus disregards the San’s internal dialectics and fluid social worlds as well as their historical and local relationships to non-San; nevertheless it has come to define the life of the so-called Bain’s Bushmen and their descendants during the last 80 years. By tracing the development, application, and appropriation of the Bushman myth and its power to define traditions, I hope to contribute towards a much-needed discussion in the present about multiple identities and ‡Khomani ethnicity.


Motivated by a desire to understand the difficulties the ‡Khomani community is facing today, I set out to trace the development of San identity and its relationship to land and the political economy through the past 150 years. My thesis is based on ethnographic fieldwork carried out in the Northern Cape in South Africa from Cape Town to Upington and on the ‡Khomani land in January and summer 2008. I conducted 42 unstructured and semi-structured interviews with community members and others ranging from lawyers, government officials, to NGO consultants, and engaged in participant observation. The archival work is based on government records, newspaper articles, correspondence, and ethnographic studies collected in six South African archives.

BA thesis, summa cum laude in history

Mount Holyoke College, December 2008

This research was generously supported by:

Almara Grants, History Department, Mount Holyoke College (MHC)

Global Studies Summer Fellowship, McCulloch Center for Global Initiatives, Weissman Center Leadership Grant, Weissman Center for the Leadership and the Liberal Arts, MHC

For a list of researchers working on Khoekhoe and San see here.