Background: South African scholarship on intellectual disability has produced a sizeable body of research, yet there are numerous areas where there is a paucity of research. One area in which there is a conspicuous paucity of research is historical studies of people with intellectual disability (PWID). The existing works devoted to the history of PWID in South Africa are primarily focused on the legal provisions and institutions for the protection and care of PWID. Missing from these works are the life stories and experiences of PWID.
Objectives: The article offers a study devoted to the life stories and experiences of the children with intellectual disability (CWID) who were admitted to the Institute for Imbecile Children from 1895 to 1913. The institute opened in April 1895 in Makhanda (formerly known as Grahamstown), South Africa. The institute was the first of its kind in the Cape Colony for CWID.
Method: The study presents a qualitative investigation of the life stories and experiences of the children that were recorded in the institute’s casebook. The entire set of 101 cases contained in the casebook was analysed by adopting a Gadamerian approach to hermeneutics.
Results: The examination of the institute’s casebook identified several broad themes relating to the children’s admittance, daily life at the institute and their routes out of the institute. The study also extols the individuality of each child’s life story to provide an awareness and richer appreciation of the humanness and personhood of the children.
Conclusion: The article contributes a positive narrative to the identity and the history of South African children with intellectual disability living in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
African Journal of Disability, Vol 9, 2020