State of Archives & Challenges in South Africa: National Archivist briefing; Strategic Overview & Future plans

Arts and Culture

01 March 2016
Chairperson: Ms X Tom (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee was briefed on the National Archives and Records Service of South Africa. The National Archivist highlighted the important role which the organisation filled in records management, which included the arrangement, description and retrieval of records; the provision of training; cooperation with various stakeholders and the provision of technical support; the custody and preservation of records; and access and awareness of archives for public use.

The Chief Director of National Archives described the linkages to national outcomes and other developmental objectives which contributed to the government’s programme of action to ensure inclusive, open and accessible archives to all South Africans. These objectives could be effective only by taking into consideration issues of human rights, governance and accountability, anti-corruption, financial management, private sector investment, and land reform. The main functions of archives included preservation of history and social memory, and making it accessible to the public, the promotion of social cohesion, social justice and human rights, and the promotion of good governance. Archives also acted as a source of information and knowledge.

The Archives engaged with various legislative frameworks and institutions to ensure that they adhered to legislation, and better understood its work. They were responsible for a countless amount of historical data and also supplied guidance to over 4 000 officers in order to provide good records management. Contents of the archives varied, and included documents, cartographic images, photographs, videos, etc.

The Archives worked hand in hand with various off-site offices that also stored their own records, but were not directly the responsibility of the Archives -- departments such as Home Affairs and Statistics. They also worked closely with the South African Police Service to declassify information before making it accessible to the public.

There were challenges in respect of budget constraints, scarce resources, outdated archival legislation, obsolete systems and equipment, poor infrastructure, and insufficient academic institutions providing training. These challenges had been recognised and the Department of Arts and Culture was working closely with academic institutions to revise the curriculum so as to make the content of their material specific to employers’ needs. Future plans had been drawn up to avoid further challenges.

Members asked how archives and libraries were connected, whether records of the Mandela era had been archived, whether there was a relationship with the deeds office, how long the digitisation process would take, who managed archival documents in museums, and when proposed legislative amendments would be introduced.

Meeting report

Chairperson’s opening remarks

The Chairperson welcomed all in attendance and stated the importance of the decision taken by the previous Committee to prioritise ‘archives’ during their five-year term. In the final years of their term, she had relayed the importance of having a National Archivist to the forefront of the Committee, and commended the Department of Arts and Culture (DAC), because the Committee had been “on their knees” demanding that a National Archivist should be employed. She commended the DAC for heeding their counsel.

The Chairperson recalled the Committee’s strategic planning session and highlighted the importance of keeping good records, saying that this habit should start at home, inculcating this culture in children that records were not disposable. They might be needed for future reference. As public representatives, the Committee’s job was to inform the public and create awareness.

Apologies were noted from Dr P Mulder (FF+), who had other arrangements on the day, and Mr J Esterhuizen (IFP), who was in another Committee meeting at the time. Ms Monica Newton, Deputy Director-General, DAC, had also apologised on behalf of the acting Director-General, who could not be present at the Committee meeting due to a major national workshop on the Liberation Heritage group, which he was presiding over. She was present at this Committee meeting on his behalf, representing the DAC with her colleagues: Ms Nomaza Dingayo, Chief Director, DAC, National Archives and Libraries, and Ms Mandy Gilder, Director, DAC, National Archives. These apologies were collectively noted by the Committee members. The Chairperson expressed her concern with the Department’s planning and scheduling of workshops, because they were aware that this Portfolio Committee met on Tuesdays, and they did not have the luxury of rescheduling meetings like the Department did. Ms Newton’s presence was appreciated, and the apologies of all those absent were accepted. The meeting continued as scheduled.

National Archives presentation

Ms Newton gave a brief overview of the National Archives of South Africa and its components. She said the National Archives and Records Service of South Africa (NARSSA) was a component of the DAC and reporting to the Heritage Protection and Preservation branch.

Ms Dingayo provided an outline of the contents in the presentation and the use of various acronyms to refer to institutions and other bodies and phrases mentioned throughout the presentation. NARSSA had been established by the promulgation of the National Archives of South Africa Act of 1996. This Act had transformed the former State Archives Services into the NARSSA, which had the main function of reflecting on the post-apartheid political order. The Archives served an important part of the nation’s heritage and were a means of enhancing national identity, nation building and empowerment.

Role of National Archival and Records Management System

Key mandates of the NARSSA were outlined throughout the National Archives of South Africa Act of 1996. Section 5(1) dealt with the arrangement, description and retrieval of records. This enhanced the access of records. Section 5(2) was in line with the provision of training, cooperation with likeminded organisations, and the provision of professional and technical support.

Secton 11 focused on the custody and preservation of records, while section 12 dealt with access to archives and public awareness. Section 13 was in line with the management of public records.

Linkages to National Outcomes and other Developmental Objectives

The National Archives contributed to government’s Programme of Action (POA) in outcome 14 in relation to nation building and social cohesion by ensuring an inclusive archive that was open and accessible to the public, and through its regulatory role regarding records management in government, to ensure proper management and care for public records which was fundamental in ensuring a transparent and accountable government.

Supporting developmental objectives: Human Rights

If proper record management were kept, the government was able to protect the rights of citizens and also to improve the citizen-public interaction. The rights and entitlements of citizens were based on records, and the ability of government to respect these rights were based on the quality of the policies, standards, and practices employed for the care of those records.

Supporting developmental objectives: Governance and Accountability

Governance and accountability were very important, since government was expected to be transparent and engaged with citizens. Citizens were becoming more aware and concerned about their role in the governance of the country. Proper records management was instrumental in promoting citizen’s trust and demonstrated an overall commitment to good government. Accountability was critical to a responsible government, and good record keeping ensured the integrity and authenticity of public records.

Supporting developmental objectives: Anti-corruption

If financial records were kept properly, managed and controlled, then all the anti-corruption strategies that government tried to employ would be successful. If records were not properly managed, this created opportunities for fraud which then led to loss of revenue and impeded fiscal planning. Poor financial records also created difficulties in preserving an accurate audit trail of decisions, actions and transactions.

Supporting developmental objectives: Financial Management

Proper record management was essential to clear and accountable financial management. Without accurate records of actual expenditures, the process of budgeting would prove to be a challenge due to the poor comparison of monies spent versus what was needed. Good record keeping was crucial in the entire accounting function for reporting and auditing purposes. Debt management was also easier to monitor when one had an accurate account of records, even if these records were kept by different government departments.

Supporting developmental objectives: Management of Human Resources

Records of human resources were very important in any governmental institution or governmental body. Public sector reform programmes included a significant reduction in the size of the public service. Governments were unable to find the basic information needed to accomplish this task, such as accurate staff numbers, details of grades, and location or dates of appointment. A well-developed capacity to manage electronic as well as physical records as verifiable evidence of entitlements, contractual obligations, policies or transactions for the period required was essential to keeping accurate records of human resources.

Supporting developmental objectives: Private Sector Investment

Weaknesses in government record keeping could adversely affect private sector investments. Large-scale investments such as infrastructure development might be delayed or incur significant additional costs if government land registries could not provide complete definitive statements of titles to property. With proper records management, the government would always be in a position to know the sites that had been set for development.

Supporting developmental objectives: Land Reform

Land reform and land restitution were key issues currently being implemented by government. People took better care of land or were more productive when they knew they had title deeds to that land, and could buy, sell or lease that land with the full assurance that their rights would be respected. All such rights, title deeds, claims, etc, were managed through records. Good recording keeping was essential for good transparent management that in turn led to security, better land management and better economic development

Main functions of archives

Some of the most important functions of the archives included preservation of history and social memory, making it accessible to the public, and the promotion of social cohesion, social justice, human rights and good governance. The archives acted as a source of information and knowledge.

Legislative framework

The Archive engaged with different government institutions in terms of understanding the work and better sections of particular Acts that the Archives needed to adhere to in their day to day functions. Ms Dingayo did not mention all the legislative frameworks and institutions, but did however highlight the Revised White Paper on Arts, Culture and Heritage which the DAC was currently reviewing.

Objectives and functions of the National Archives in terms of Section 3 of the Act

  • Preservation of public and non-public records with enduring value for use by the public and the state;
  • Making records accessible and promoting their use by the public;
  • Ensuring the proper management and care of all public records;
  • Collecting all non-public records with enduring value for national significance which could not be appropriately preserved by any other institution of the state;
  • Maintaining a National Automated Archival Information Retrieval System (NAAIRS), to which all provincial archives had access;
  • Maintaining national registers of non-public records with significant value, and promoting cooperation and coordination between institutions having custody over important records of national significance.

Functions of the National Archives Repository

  • Collection of records with archival value;
  • Transfer of A20 (20 years or more) records from client offices;
  • Arranging and describing records to create inventories in the archival environment so as to make the information easily accessible for the general public;
  • Management of collections such as cartographic, photographic or sensitive records, including microfilms. There was a section on sensitive records in association with the South African Police Service (SAPS), because some of the records needed to be declassified before being made open to the public;
  • Supplying services to government departments;
  • Data coding of records;
  • Providing access to ‘records reading rooms,’ including sensitive records for use by the public;
  • Promoting the use of archives and collections through programmes;
  • Oral history programme, including the  training of learners, the collection of histories and hosting annual conferences;
  • Assisting with Archives-related projects -- Memory of the World (MoW), Eastern and Southern African Regional branch of the International Council on Archives (ESARBICA).

Functions of records management

This was the regulatory role of the NARSSA regarding records management in government. National Archives was responsible for roughly 4 000 trained officers and included all the national departments, all the ministries, deputy ministries and departmental or secretarial bodies. Their role was to provide guidance in terms of the pipelines for different client offices. Archives reviewed these pipelines and also approved them and conducted record audits of these various bodies.

Functions of preservation: Conservation laboratory

Due to the fact that Archives kept records that were 20 years or older, it was important that these records were preserved because they were not available elsewhere. These records included maps, books or photographs.

Functions of preservation: Strong room maintenance

In the ‘strong rooms’ where records were kept, controlled climate, fire detection systems, avoidance of pest infestation were required in order to keep records in good condition.

Functions of National Film Video and Sound Archives (NFVSA)

These functions included outreach, sound preservation, film and video, legal deposit and cataloguing, and special projects including oral historical recordings, digitisation projects, NAAIRS, and recordings of important meetings and celebrations to preserve for posterity.

Project definition – Security Services: Functions

This division was tasked with the implementation of appropriate security measures to protect archival records, implementation of the Minimum Information Security Standards (MISS), implementation of the Minimum Physical Security Standards (MPSS), implementation of the DAC security policy and directives, and monitoring compliance to security rules and regulations, investigating non-compliance and reporting back.

Project definition – Administration and coordination functions

This division was responsible for the management of immovable assets within the archives; document management or management workflow and conducting quality control on correspondence; preparation and coordination of reports submitted to different stakeholders, including monthly, quarterly, annual, and other ad hoc reports; risk status reports for updating/monitoring risk management; and also provided secretarial support to the National Archives Advisory Council and the provincial heads of Archives forums.


Budget allocation for the 2015/2016 budget year was R41 739 000. A significant amount of this budget went towards compensation of employees (R30 357 000), with the remainder (R10 382 000) being used for other archival expenses. The current budget for the 2016/2017 financial year was R40 343 000. R29 587 000 would be used for compensation of employees, with a remainder of R10 756 000. The budget was one of the challenges of the Archive, because it was very minimal and the Archive could not accomplish all it set out to accomplish within this budget. The R10 million that was left over from the budget went towards the day to day operations of the National Archives, as well as the special projects and programmes currently under way.

Organisational Structure

The National Archivist (Chief Directorate) headed the unit of Archives in South Africa. Directly below her was the National Archives Director and the ‘Records management and information systems’ Directorate. Sub-directorates fell beneath these two directors, and so the organogram continued. There were currently 98 posts, and 80 of these permanent posts included five contract workers and two interns. There were several vacancies in various sections.


The National Archives worked with various stakeholders, both locally and internationally. They had a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Auditor General of South Africa on the issue of records management and worked with a lot of role players that they met with on regular basis to discuss the issues of records management. These included National Treasury, the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA), the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA), the South African Local Government Association (SALGA) and the State Information and Technology Agency (SITA). Through these partnerships, the National Archives conducted seminars in terms of record management in various provinces. Some of the South African stakeholders were the SABC Archives, the Nelson Mandela Foundation, Videolab, the Recording Industry of South Africa (RISA), the Government Audiovisual Stakeholders Forum, and the African Film Drama Academy (AFDA). Some of the international stakeholders included the International Council of Archives (ICA), ESARBICA, and L’institut National de l’audiovisuel (INA), which was one of the key international partners in terms of the digitisation of the Rivonia trials. Another international partner was the International Standards Organisation (ISO), because Archives had various standards that they worked on in terms of record management.

Current Projects

National archives was currently involved with the Rivonia Trial Dictabelt Project, the Rivonia Trial Digitisation Project, Revamping of the NARSSA Website Project, the Capital Works Project and the Annual Oral History Conference. In terms of the Rivonia Trial Dictabelts, the process started in 2014 and currently the dictabelts were been digitised in France through the partnership with INA. On 15 March, the French delegation would be in South Africa to hand over the digitised material to the Minister. The next phase would be the signing of the agreement for the French to provide training to the National Archivist.  This would be conducted in France, and upon return the archivists would have to provide training to provincial archivists. While in France, the archivists would also be procuring equipment to be used in the process of digitisation for other dictabelts that may need to be converted. Once the project had been completed, it would be handed over to the Nelson Mandela Foundation and Brenthurst Library in March 2016.

Other current projects included the Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) project which involved the redesign of the entrance to the Archive. This had now been completed, with security systems throughout the building, the replacement of fire detection and suppression systems, the replacement of the entire air-conditioning and ventilation systems to ensure the safe keeping of all records at the correct temperature and humidity, and the replacement of shelves in strong rooms with mobile shelves in order to create more space for additional records.

The NAAIRS and NARSSA website projects also required revamping. Both projects were almost completed. Staff were currently loading content to the new NARSSA website. Because these projects were interdependent, they would be implemented concurrently. Phase two of this project would be looking at the interface between the new website and the Access to Memory (AtoM). This website was expected to go live by the end of March 2016

As a department, National Archives had received approval to use the Old Library building which was left vacant when a new National Library building was built. This old building had been in need of renovations. Phase one of the project had entailed the renovation of floors 6 and 7 of the repository building (Block C) and it had cost the department R266 890. Phase two of the project entailed the refurbishment of the rest if the complex and had commenced on 17 October 2014. The expected time of completion was at the end of October 2016. The project cost for phase two had been set at R84 413 904.

The 12th Annual Oral History Conference was held in KwaZulu Natal from 13-16 October 2015, in close association with the Department, and the 13th conference will be held in the Limpopo Province in October 2016. This programme was aimed to fill up the gaps in the records that the National Archives were currently keeping.

The National Archives faced the following challenges:

  • Archival legislation was currently outdated and needed to be reviewed and costed.
  • Severe staff shortages. The organisation was facing a skills gap or lacking skilled individuals who would be key in the archival processes. These skills were scarce and could be attained only by higher education, but not many institutions were offering such qualifications. The DAC was currently in talks with academic institutions to review the curriculum so that it was specific to employers needs. Another challenge was that of the ‘mature colleagues’ still working in the archival environment. Ms Dingayo clarified her point on mature colleagues, saying she was referring to individuals approaching retirement, and therefore expressed the need for young people in the archival environment.
  • The budget for archives was inadequate and this had severe implications on completing mandates, because in most cases new infrastructure was needed, as well as renovations, maintenance, equipment for archives and records services and compensation of employees. There often was not enough revenue left over to fund most of the projects. Ms Dingayo also stressed the cost of digitising material, adding that the information and communication technology (ICT) services were very expensive. Professional training was also required to surpass the skills gap and provide training to staff in records management. All of this required funds that the department often did not have.
  • At different client offices, infrastructure was insufficient to store all the records in one site. This stressed the importance of digitising as much of the records as possible so that everything was stored in ICT infrastructure. Current equipment was obsolete and therefore there was a need for new equipment.

Future plans to address the challenges

  • In the 2016/2017 financial year, the department will be reviewing, amending, and costing the NARSSA Act. This might require the use of service providers to carry out this task, but it was important that this should be done so that in future, implications related to poor costing of the Act could be avoided.
  • A costed feasibility report on a possible conditional grant would be submitted to national and provincial treasuries so that they can conduct a study to address the challenges mentioned in the previous section which were facing the Archives.
  • Submission of a business case to the DAC for the prioritisation of funds for some of the immediate issues that need to be dealt with within the Archives.
  • Strengthening partnerships with key stakeholders for the provision of archival and records management services.
  • Discussions regarding decentralisation of archive services. There had been issues that Archives were too centralised. These concerns were being pursued further and involved taking archives directly to the people by making them accessible. Some provinces did have big repositories, such as in the Eastern Cape in King William’s Town, Port Elizabeth and Umtata, and also in Limpopo, where they have a repository in Polokwane.
  • Investigate the possibility of introducing an integrated file plan. This involved the support functions of human resources, financial management, budgeting, supply management, etc, and would be discussed with the various stakeholders so that they could align proper management of records
  • Provision of bursaries to address scarce skills. The department had bursaries on offer for the heritage sector, which included Archives. The department would discuss with various stakeholders the strategy to absorb the people provided with this skill through the opportunity of the bursary, as well as retention strategies. Some of the proposals included contract obligations to the government upon receiving bursaries. The department was in talks over salary levels suitable to attract many to the field, especially young people.
  • Provision of training on archival functions, including in-house training of upcoming archivists on their archival functions.
  • There was a big need to enhance the efforts on digitisation of archival heritage. This was a relatively new project, but the need was great, and the department was working very closely with the various stakeholders to speed up the process.
  • Revamping of the NAAIRS project (phase two) included the implementation of ‘Archivematica’ which was an automated file tracking system that would enhance access to members of the public and “make life easier”. This system would include E-commerce, interaction with the provincial archival services systems, a thesaurus to improve the search functionality in the NAAIRS, links to different databases on other relevant websites, collaboration with participating institutions, and interoperability with other systems including  Quadriga, which was currently been used by the National Film Video and Sound Archives (NFVSA).


Having indicated the importance of the role of Archives, and also the current challenges that they were facing as well as the proposed future plans, Ms Dingayo said National Archives was appealing to the Committee. It would appreciate the help and recognition that the Committee had identified Archives as a focal point, because the provision of archives and records management services in the country depended on the will of government to understand the function of archives and elevated the functions to the level they deserved – being the auditors of the records management of the country -- and provide the necessary resources which would eradicate the challenges that had been indicated. Support by the stakeholders was crucial, which was why the National Archives was enhancing and strengthening the partnerships, believing this would be key in terms of the turnaround strategy.

Ms Dingayo stressed that the National Archives had noted the Chairperson’s comments about the National Archival report, and they had taken it upon themselves to work very hard to provide the annual reports to the Committee as per legislation, and undertook to submit their annual reports.

The Chairperson thanked Ms Dingayo for such an elaborate presentation, which had in fact been an eye opener due to certain areas of the presentation that the Committee Members might not have been aware of. 


The Chairperson asked how libraries and archives were connected. The Committee could not measure the performance of archives without a time frame. The Committee had been told of commitments on several occasions, but no time frame had been given.

Mr J Mahlangu (ANC) proceeded to ask a series of questions on what the financial plan for 2016/2017 stipulated, and whether the legislation would be processed in this period or not. The Mandela era set a precedent for the country -- did the Archives have a record of this in its possession? What was the relationship between provincial and national archives? Where there were no archives, what was the National Archive doing about their absence? Was there any relationship with the deeds office? Was there any level of compliance with the DAC? Was the chief directorate in the National Archives respected?

Mr G Grootboom (DA) said that there was no indication of vacancies of archivists in the provinces, and asked if they also fell under the National Archives.

The Chairperson asked how long the digitisation process would take, because this had been a topic of discussion for quite some time now.

National Archives response

The 2016 budget was quiet for now, but once the White Paper was finalised it would come to the Portfolio Committee and require the 2017 programme to be substantive and productive.

With regard to the Mandela era collection, what was currently in the archives were all the speeches that he had made when he was still President, as well as well as the condolence registers that were signed at the national level when Mr Mandela passed away (all 247 of them), as well as those with the provincial archives and those with South African embassies abroad.

On the issue of the relationship with the deeds offices, off-site offices kept these records, such as Home Affairs dealing with birth and deaths. Offices such as Statistics SA dealt with census records or documents that did not necessarily have to be transferred to the National Archives, but the Archives did work very closely with these off-site offices to make sure those records were kept in good condition and could be easily accessed, should there be a need.

With regard to the relationship between the national and provincial archives, post-1994 nine provinces had been created, leading to nine provincial archives. All of these archives received direction in terms of standards of archiving, but were not necessarily reporting to National Archives. This was to ensure coherence, with all provinces developing in the same manner.

Regarding the process of legislation, the proposed amendments discussed with provinces, together with amendments proposed by the National Advisory Council, would be used to start the process. The process had been allocated to the 2016/2017 financial year for the amendment and costing.

In response to the question on vacancies, the current posts available were related to challenges of scarce skills, and these posts could be filled only once they had individuals with these skills.

There were budget issues concerning infrastructure, and with current budget cuts, some figures had to be reviewed and time frames for projects needed to be extended because of budget constraints

Academic institutions currently offering archival qualifications included the University of South Africa (UNISA), Fort Hare University, and the University of the Western Cape – this was a master’s level programme, and included a module on records. The DAC was currently engaging with the National School of Governance to offer training to government bodies. The key institution driving the process in archival studies was UNISA.

Follow-up questions

The Chairperson asked if the Department was achieving anything with combination of libraries and archives.

Ms Guilder responded that there were definitely benefits to it, and information was accessed faster and more easily. Libraries were interrelated, but similar.

The Chairperson agreed that the DAC and archives needed to look at the business sense and saving costs where they could, but their primary concern should be the public’s interests before anything else.

Mr J Mahlangu also commented that the archiving community was not impressed with the government’s archives at the national level.

The Chairperson requested an analysis of how departments were, or had not been compliant.

Mr Grootboom asked for clarity on archival documents in museums, and who managed these.

Ms Dingayo responded that those records were ‘non-public records.’ This meant that if a museum felt it could not protect those records, then it approached the National Archive and they stored these records in the ‘non-public records’ section.

The Chairperson thanked the representatives of the National Archives and the DAC, and the meeting was closed.

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