Jess chronicles














During this time, it has been crucial to seek social support and connection with others, says Dr Jess Auerbach, senior lecturer in anthropology on the Potchefstroom Campus.


Observing an outpouring of support among ordinary South Africans, she and some of her students began to document these “micro-kindnesses” and created a website to record them.


The website, Archive of kindness, received significant international and local attention. Jess has now turned the material into a book, also titled Archive of Kindness and chronicling acts of kindness during the 2020 lockdown in South Africa.


“Even in our darkest days, stories of immeasurable kindness emerged,” says Jess.


There is a woman reading to her neighbour’s child through the fence; a gardener who checked up on an old lady living alone on a farm and tended her flowers; a nurse who fed Weet-Bix to a dying man until the day he passed away; a man who gave his Wi-Fi password to his whole neighbourhood.


What a life-changing experience


Several students who worked on the Archive of Kindness say this was a life-changing experience for them.


“It showed me that life is more than just going to university, getting a job, marrying and settling down,” says one student. “It is about how you treat other people and finding your purpose. Being kind makes me feel good – as if it is adding to my purpose and helping me to achieve it.”


Another student says she learnt that if she wanted to see certain things happen, she should take a leap of faith and initiate them herself.


“When I first heard about the Archive of Kindness, I thought to myself wow! I think that most of all this project has taught me to act and not react.”


All is not lost


Gathering stories of kindness has also helped this student to see the good in the country.


“South Africa is known to be a violent country by many of its residents and it is so easy to become saddened by news stories and the many challenges we face because bad news sells.


“There is also a lot of good though, and the book aims to amplify that and to reassure us as citizens that all is not lost.”

The Coronavirus pandemic is an epidemiological and psychological crisis. The enormity of living in isolation has changed our daily lives. It has caused job losses and financial hardship and grief over the deaths of loved ones.

Collecting stories of compassion

Dr Jess Auerbach’s book, Archive of Kindness, was launched on 15 September 2021 during an online event that entailed a discussion with the author, students involved in the project and international academics.


Jethro Longwe, artist and recent graduate of the Ruth Prowse School of Fine Art in Cape Town, illustrated the book.


A portion of the profits from the sale of books and prints of the artworks will be donated to the Materials Fund at the Ruth Prowse School of Fine Art, as well as to other worthy causes.



Dr Jess Auerbach, senior lecturer in anthropology, says she hopes that the book, Archive of Kindness, will be a lasting testament to the goodwill inherent in our young, fragile nation and a reminder to always be kind.

More about Jess

  • Dr Jess Auerbach worked with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in South  Africa and in Mozambique from in 2007 to 2008.


  • Jess holds degrees from Oxford and Stanford. She was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford where she completed an MSc in forced migration, and she holds a PhD from Stanford in anthropology.


  • She has published another book, From Water to Wine: Becoming Middle Class in Angola (University of Toronto Press: 2020). The book has now been translated into Portuguese and is available via open access.

Archive of Kindness chronicles acts of kindness during the 2020 lockdown in South Africa.