Learning from the past

Totem Media has enjoyed developing exciting projects with various clients over the last 20 years. We invite you to take a look at our work.


Sediba sa Ngwao:
Moruleng Cultural Precinct

What we did

In 2013, Totem Media worked with the Bakgatla-ba-Kgafela, a Tswana community in the Pilanesberg, in developing the Moruleng Cultural Precinct, referred to by locals as Sediba sa Ngwao. The precinct encompasses the Mphebatho Museum, a restored Dutch Reformed Mission Church, a landscape of iron-age settlement patterns, an open-air theatre, a craft centre and a coffee shop. The restoration of heritage buildings, collection of oral histories, filming, and the use of local labour in building exhibits, creating merchandising for the museum shop and training of the guides were all done in close consultation with the community and its elders.


A promo starring world-renowned actress Terry Pheto, for the Moruleng Cultural Precinct which showcases the culture and history of the Bakgatla-ba-Kgafela people from North West, South Africa.

Behind the scenes

What Makes Me
a Mokgatla?

A seven screen video installation, about some elements that make up Mokgatla peoples' identity

Dutch Reformed

The intersection of tradition and religion, with respect to healing and marriage, is explored in Moruleng since the arrival of the Dutch Reformed Church missionaries in the area.


A rare look at Sonodaniel Molefe, a traditional Bakgatla healer consults with a patient.

In the last few years, Totem Media has developed a number of travelling and online exhibitions.



What we did

In the early 1960s, Liliesleaf was the underground headquarters of the ANC High Command and the leadership of the Congress Alliance. Today, it is a beautifully preserved site of memory with exhibitions focusing on the history of that era. Since 2009, Totem Media has been contracted to do all virtual and physical exhibition development, related programmatic and educational activities on site, as well as a number of travelling exhibitions, on topics ranging from the Freedom Charter to international solidarity to the armed struggle. 

The Berlin Wall

Jan Leidecker, the former director of the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung in South Africa discusses the post-WWII separation of Germany and the importance of the GDR’s solidarity with the anti-apartheid struggle.

Behind the scenes

Political Bullets

Ronnie Kasrils, former uMkhonto we Sizwe Commander, visits the secret military base at Teterow in the GDR where ANC cadres received training.

Fighting Fear

Mathews Phosa and Jean de la Harpe, two ANC agents describe their intelligence training in the GDR.

The Calling

As part of the GDR’s solidarity to the ANC, Karin and Manfred Geserick volunteered to teach maths.


A funding initiative by the European Union to lessen the effects of sanctions on the oppressed and vulnerable in apartheid South Africa.


The distinction between whether projects were developmental or political brought matters between the EU and their South African partners to a head.

a Liliesleaf
online exhibition

PAMOJA: Together Change is Possible

What we did

In partnership with Liliesleaf, the Embassy of Sweden and the Swedish Institute, Totem Media developed an interactive, web-based experience to stimulate insights into the potential of international solidarity in 2021. Based on extensive research through literature, interviews with stalwarts, and focus groups on international solidarity, the multi-media platform uses the history of Sweden’s role in supporting liberation movements struggling against colonialism and apartheid in Africa as its inspiration to strengthen engagement, activism, and agency among young people as they take on the challenges of today. 


Pamoja aims to inspire conversations about why solidarity is still necessary, what motivates people to show solidarity, and what forms of solidarity and engagement are most effective in the world today. 


Lindiwe Mabuza, the former ANC representative to Sweden describes Oliver Tambo.

Solomon Mahlangu
Freedom College

Mohammed ‘Mo’ Tikly, the former director of the Solomon Mahlangu Freedom College in Mazimbu, describes the school.


Ben Amathila describes his motivation behind becoming Namibia’s representative to Sweden in the 1970s.

Civil Society

Magnus Walan describes the Africa Groups organisation, which was active in working against colonialism in Africa.

Singing in

Part of Sweden’s international solidarity campaign included Swedish choirs learning and singing South African freedom songs.

a Liliesleaf
online exhibition

Women in the Struggle: 1950-1965

What we did

This virtual exhibition was developed in partnership with Liliesleaf and made possible by funding from the National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences in 2021. It is an effort to acknowledge the indelible role of South African women, their ancestors and their daughters in the struggle against apartheid and their quest for freedom and democracy, to help us understand where we find ourselves today and to plan for a better future for all.

Anti-Apartheid Activities in the 1950s and 1960s

Amina Cachalia, a founding member of the Federation of South African Women, describes key events that triggered the struggle against apartheid in the 1950s and 1960s.

The Congress of the People

Gertrude Shope, former president of the ANC Women’s League, describes the importance of the launch of The Freedom Charter at the Congress of the People in Kliptown, between 25 and 26 June 1955.

Women's March to Pretoria

Ruth Mompati and Sophia Williams-De Bruyn, two of the eight leaders of the Women’s March to Pretoria on 9 August 1956, describe the life-changing events of the day.

a Liliesleaf
online exhibition

Agents for Change

What we did

This online exhibition is an interactive, visual experience of the many stories told at Liliesleaf. It allows visitors to discover the fragments of a threshold moment in South Africa’s liberation history and challenges them to piece these fragments together to form a complete story. Navigating the site is a bit like searching through an archive, finding the clues to a series of events that led to a turning point in history.

Since 2016, Totem Media has developed a number of exhibitions focusing on international solidarity for Liliesleaf: Sweden, Norway, the German Democratic Republic (GDR) and the European Union, with Denmark in development.


International Solidarity

What we did

The support of the international community – governments that aided the liberation movements, and citizens who put pressure on their governments to impose sanctions on apartheid South Africa – was a significant factor in overthrowing the apartheid state, leading to the first democratic elections in 1994.

Strange Diplomacy

The Norwegian Consulate in Cape Town played an important and unconventional role in funding anti-apartheid activities in South Africa.


African Independence. Norwegian Solidarity.

What we did

This travelling exhibition was developed in support of Norway’s bid for a seat on the 2020 UN Security Council, and made appearances in Dar es Salaam, Harare, Addis Ababa (AU) and New York (UN), before COVID-19 put an end to further travel. Beautifully crafted panels, reflecting the aesthetic of the various African countries featured, contain the stories of Norway’s involvement in the decolonisation and liberation in Africa, with a particular focus on the frontline states. The exhibition demonstrates the universality of human rights, the power of international solidarity, the importance of democratic values, and how past experiences might help us address the challenges we face today. 

Norway / Southern African Solidarity

A short film describing Norway’s history of unwavering support towards various Southern African liberation movements in the late 20th century.


Path to Liberation

What we did

This exhibition was developed for Liliesleaf in partnership with the NIHSS as a tool for workshops at university campuses across South Africa. A stylised interpretation of the Thatched Cottage at Liliesleaf draws students in to discover a history they might know little about, and to reflect on how that history has impacted on their own lives today. A space for dialogue is included within the Thatched Cottage. Here, visitors may sit at the Freedom Charter table, listen to an audio track on the writing of the Freedom Charter, and are invited to share their thoughts on freedom.

“uMkhonto we Sizwe will be at the front line of the people`s defence.
It will be the fighting arm of the people against the government and its policies of race oppression.
It will be the striking force of the people for liberty, for rights and for their final liberation!”
MK Manifesto, 1961


uMkhonto we Sizwe

What we did

This travelling exhibition, presented by Liliesleaf and the NIHSS, features some of the landmark events in the history of uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK), the armed wing of the ANC. The aim of this exhibition is to keep the memory of our armed struggle alive in the minds of all South Africans, and in so doing contribute to a future that is informed by the lessons of our troubled past.

Interactive technology

Liliesleaf Interactive Table

What we did

In 2016, with funding from the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, Totem Media assisted Liliesleaf with an extensive upgrade of their interactive table – a device that allows for hands-on engagement with stories from history – in the dining room of the main house. This upgrade has not only created another opportunity to share untold stories, but has expanded the content available to visitors to the site. The interactive table explores the Evolution of Human Rights Charters, South Africa’s Road to Liberation, The Liliesleaf Story, and the Treason, Rivonia, and Bram Fischer Trials.

Education Outreach programmes

Top Secret and Quest for Freedom

What we did

In 2015, the Liliesleaf Trust was selected for the Humanities Hub Pilot Project with the objective of developing a programme that focused on the history of South Africa’s liberation struggle and, crucially, the preservation of memory and the struggle against forgetting. The initial programme comprised of a colloquium, an education outreach programme and a travelling exhibition, the Thatched Cottage, focusing on the Freedom Charter. In 2017 and 2018, the Liliesleaf Trust successfully implemented a further educational programme, a pilot essay competition, and produced a second travelling exhibition focusing on uMkhonto we Sizwe.

"Not to know what happened before we were born is to remain perpetually a child. For what is the worth of human life unless it is woven into the life of our ancestors by the records of history?"

Archive projects


What we did

Totem Media, in its de facto role as manager of the Liliesleaf Legacy Programme, has overseen numerous archive-related projects at the site. These include the Ambassador’s Cultural Preservation Fund (ACPF), where Totem Media managed the conservation and preservation of rare and significant items of value and relevance to South Africa’s liberation history, owned by the Liliesleaf Archive. This project was done in collaboration with the South African Institute of Heritage Science and Conservation. A first on this project was the recognition by AFCP of the role and importance of digitisation in the conservation and preservation process, and in turn making rare material available to researchers. Funding from the German Embassy of Pretoria has allowed for the Archive to continue its activities, with a special focus on digitisation of the SACP Collection that was donated to the Liliesleaf Archive by the Party.


Archive workshops

Becoming Worthy Ancestors

What we did

Totem Media developed a workshop programme, funded by the US Consulate in Johannesburg, using copies of material from the Liliesleaf Archive’s legendary collections. The programme was aligned with the CAPS curriculum for History and Life Orientation and allowed for an intense but meaningful project-based learning experience for both learners and teachers alike. 

Contemporary museums are about inspiring conversations on culture, identity, knowledge systems, history, science, the environment and the future.


Mahikeng Museum

What we did

In June 2020, Totem Media was appointed to develop an exhibition narrative to inform the development of the Mahikeng Museum over the years, and to curate a small photograph- based exhibition using images from the museum’s archive collection. This will allow for visitors to the museum to get an overall appreciation of Mahikeng’s rich social and political history. A third component was assisting with fundraising for the further development of the museum.

a comic

The Story of Melusi and Khethiwe

What we did

In March 2019 Liliesleaf and the University of Pretoria, assisted by Totem Media, hosted a conference on the early years of uMkhonto we Sizwe, ‘The Rivonia Generation and the Turn to Armed Struggle in South Africa’. One of the many ideas arising from this conference was to produce a comic for young people to spark their interest in MK. Funded by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, and largely based on the experiences of several people we interviewed for the GDR exhibition at Liliesleaf, The Story of Melusi and Khethiwe tells a story of two young people who went into exile to join MK after the Soweto Uprisings. It contains information on the history of MK and provides a fictionalised glimpse into the lives of ordinary MK cadres.

a travelling EXHIBITION

Unthreading Mandela

What we did

In 2018, to commemorate the centenary of Nelson Mandela’s birth, Totem Media produced an exhibition, Unthreading Mandela, for the NMF which was displayed at their premises in Houghton for the duration of that year. The exhibition was conceptualised and designed not only to celebrate Mandela’s life, but, more importantly, to generate discussions about the state of our world today: about globalisation and inequality, about politics and power, and about what it means to be a citizen of the twenty-first century.

We want to encourage our exhibition visitors to tell and share their own stories and to engage in conversations that help us all reflect honestly on our values, identity, knowledge, and power.

A travelling EXHIBITION

My Constitution

What we did

In 2016, the Nelson Mandela Foundation contracted Totem Media to develop and install a temporary exhibition to mark the 20th anniversary of the signing of the South African Constitution. In line with the vision of NMF and its key focus of improving dialogue and active citizenry, the exhibition focused on young people who were born in 1996, (with the Constitution!) and what the Constitution means to them. The exhibition was installed at the Constitutional Court in 2016, and again at NMF in 2021.

My Constitution

The Constitution of South Africa is widely regarded as the most progressive constitution in the world, with a Bill of Rights that other countries now look to for guidance.


isiKhumbuzo – a Reminder

What we did

In 2015, Totem Media developed an exhibition for a new Interpretation Centre in Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal: isiKhumbuzo – a Reminder. The Centre is a collaboration between the Mpumalanga Peace and Development Trust, the eThekwini Municipality Department of Economic Development, and Durban Local History Museums. It serves as a site of memory; a reminder of an extraordinary time in the area, and tells the story of the political violence that engulfed Mpumalanga from 1983 to 1992, and how this community resolved to end the conflict and make everlasting peace with one another.

Play Video

Impi Nokuthula
War and Peace

Bitter violence between the UDF/AZAPO and Inkatha during the mid 1980s in KwaZulu-Natal was particularly fierce in Mpumalanga township. However, local people forged a lasting peace.


Story of the Oil Rivers

What we did

In April 2014, a museum developed and designed by Totem Media was opened in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, Nigeria. The museum takes the visitor on a historical journey through the Niger River Delta, from the time when it was known as the Oil Rivers – because of the abundance of oil palms – to the slave trade, palm oil production in the time of the Industrial Revolution, the colonisation of the Niger Delta, the discovery of crude oil and how oil has impacted on this area ever since.

Most of our work is about making history accessible to young and old – a crucial investment in a future based on collaboration rather than polarisation, hope rather than fear.


World of Beer

What we did

In 2013, Totem Media collaborated with Digital Fabric to upgrade and enhance two exhibition spaces at South African Breweries’ World of Beer in Newtown, Johannesburg. Elements was upgraded with the installation of a quirky and innovative lighting effects wall, using approximately 1500-quart beer bottles. The second upgrade was in ‘Hathor’s Hall’, where the story of the origins of beer in Egypt was reinterpreted through an animation played out as a holographic effect- at the time, the only permanently installed holographic effect in South Africa.

How Beer Saved
the World

An animation for SA Breweries about how in Ancient Egypt beer was used to save the world.



What we did

In 2012, Totem Media was commissioned by the South African Gold Coin Exchange to develop an exhibition in Sandton Square to celebrate the four South African Nobel Peace Prize Laureates: Albert Luthuli, Desmond Tutu, FW de Klerk and Nelson Mandela. The exhibition of Nobel Laureates focused on peacemakers – men and women from all corners of the globe – who demonstrated that ordinary individuals can do extraordinary things, and that the decisions we make and the actions we take in our lives can change the world.


Woza eNanda Heritage Route:
The Seeds of

What we did

In 2011, Totem Media developed six exhibitions for the eThekwini Municipality along the Woza eNanda Heritage Route: two exhibitions at MK Gandhi’s Ashram at Phoenix; two exhibitions at John Dube’s Ohlange Institute; one exhibition at the Inanda Seminary and one exhibition at eKuphakameni, one of the main centres of the Shembe faith. The exhibitions were collectively titled Seeds of Democracy to acknowledge the influence of Gandhi, Dube and Shembe on the political and social discourses of early 20th century South Africa.

Nhlangakazi 2001

Shembe Nazarites undertake a five-day pilgrimage to their sacred mountain, Nhlangakazi every year.


Peaceful protests across the world are inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s principle of Satyagraha or ‘holding firmly to truth’.

Reuben Caluza

Reuben Caluza, a musical prodigy, wrote and performed some of the first non-traditional, secular Zulu songs. The township of Caluza in Pietermaritzburg was named in his honour. 

We believe that learning from the past is key to understanding our world today.


The Origins Centre

What we did

Totem Media fundraised for, developed, and designed the Origins Centre at the University of the Witwatersrand that opened in 2008. Origins is a world-class museum that celebrates the origins of human life in Africa, with an extraordinary collection of early material culture and modern-day interactive technology. The exhibitions use art as a narrative story-telling device throughout the centre. Totem Media also produced all the beautifully crafted films that are an integral part of the exhibition narrative.

Trance Dance

As the dancing progresses, we follow a healer as he enters a trance and ascends into the spirit world where he fights off evil threats to his people. The film illustrates the connection between hallucinations in trance and rock art imagery.

The Khoe Debate

A stylised video of the ongoing academic debate around the origins of Southern Africa’s Khoe people.


A short film discussing archaeological attempts to understand more about the legendary San rock paintings found in Southern Africa. 

Eland Potency

A short film that illustrates the link between the potency believed to exist in eland antelope and San rock paintings. Warning- this film shows the hunting of an eland by San hunters.


Playing the Game and Mining the Future

What we did

In 2009, the Royal Bafokeng Nation commissioned Totem Media to conduct research into all aspects of Bafokeng history and cultural development in preparation for hosting the 2010 World Cup in Phokeng. This process delivered a film, Playing the Game the Bafokeng Way, and a book, Mining the Future, that provided the content for the Bafokeng’s strategic media partnerships during the FIFA World Cup. The book and film have also been used to engage community groups and learners in conversations around Bafokeng identity.