Heritage, National Archives and Libraries: Department briefing

Meeting Summary

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Meeting report


22 June 2005

Mr B Tolo (ANC)

Documents handed out:
Archives; Heraldry and Libraries: Department PowerPoint presentation
Heritage, National Archives And Libraries PowerPoint presentation

The Department briefed the Committee on libraries, archives, place names, graves of victims of conflict, coats of arms and other symbols, freedom parks and other memorials the preservation of indigenous culture and knowledge.

Members’ questions included national and provincial funding and responsibilities, the use of libraries, databases of place names, the selling off of museums, the status of inappropriate and duplicated names and the composition of place names committees.


Department briefing
Mr V Ndima, Department Chief Director of Heritage, and Mr G Dominy, National Archivist, briefed the Committee. Mr Ndima reported that the Heritage Chief Directorate was responsible for heritage institutions such as museums, legacy projects like Freedom Park, Living Heritage (mostly tangible cultural heritage) and geographical names. Four-fifths of the heritage budget had been allocated to heritage institutions. The Department would review heritage legislation as there were overlaps of mandates.

The SA Heritage Resource Association (SAHRA) would conduct an audit of assets, develop a security policy and work with the local police and Interpol to address security challenges. A plan of action to transfer assets, rights, liabilities and obligations of national heritage institutions had been developed, and would be transferred to provinces by March 2006.

The graves of South African victims of conflict inside and outside South Africa’s borders would be identified, and the Department would develop policies to restore these graves. They were also working towards meeting the aims of renewal, job creation and social cohesion.

Of the nine legacy projects approved by Cabinet since 1988, all except one (the Khoisan project) were complete. The Department had been developing a new portfolio of legacy projects.

The Department had been working with the universities of Zululand, Fort Hare and Venda to collect, preserve and promote cultural heritage. This included research on indigenous knowledge, food, dance and music, and the revitalisation of cultural traditions. A panel to develop policies and legislation to preserve and promote living heritage would be appointed.

There was a need for a legislative amendments to clearly define powers and duties of Provincial Geographical Names Committees (PGNCs). These committees lacked finances and human resources.

Archives and libraries were exclusive provincial legislative competencies in terms of schedule 5 of the Constitutional Framework. There were problems in that archives repositories were in the more ‘white’ urbanised provinces and, apart from KwaZulu-Natal and the former Transkei, the former homelands lacked capacity.

Libraries and archives lacked funds, staff, skills and political direction for the sector. The Department would soon however, be building a library in Mdantsane, the second largest township in South Africa.

Mr Dominy said that the quality of the coats of arms was poor. The Department had few designers but would nevertheless conduct research into African symbols and totems.

Swiss funding for a provincial records management capacity-building project had been secured and the project would be piloted in Limpopo. An electronic archives public-private partnership was underway, as was a national indigenous music and oral history project, and a national film, video and sound archives project.

The Department was also active in the international field. Notable activities included the Mali project concerning the Timbuktu manuscripts, and hosting the International Federation of Library in Durban Associations during 2007.

Mr M Sulliman (ANC) asked how PGNCs were constituted and whether there was a national database of place names. Some names like Boesmangat were inappropriate in the new South Africa.

Ms F Mazibuko (ANC) asked if there was a list of heritage institutions. Museums had previously been the responsibility of local government and some had been sold to the private sector because local government claimed they did not have sufficient funding to run them. How would traditional culture be promoted, as urban youth especially rejected such practices? Would African names, for example Pholokwane, be promoted?

Mr Ndima said that there would be no officials on PGNCs. These would instead be comprised of experts, such as historians, cartographers, anthropologists, as well as representatives from transport and local government. The Department would carry out the secretarial functions for the committees.

There was a database of place names and the public could apply online to have a name changed. Some PGNCs had been slow and the Department aimed to standardise performance across provinces. Mr Ndima believed the Secretariat, which collected names, researched, canvassed and set up meetings, would help in reaching this end. The Department had conducted an awareness campaign on traditional practices in 2004 and would continue with such campaigns.

The databases of heritage institutions had not been consolidated. Museums for instance, fell under the South African Museums Association. National and provincial governments were both responsible for funding museums. As ‘history was rediscovered’, more museums would be needed but funding would not increase, so museums would need to generate their own funds. Assets, liabilities and funding were still being discussed. An asset register had been compiled but provincial responsibility was a burning issue. The Department would call on its political principals if discussions became deadlocked.

Reverend E Adolph (ANC) asked whether research had been conducted into claims that the "Jesus plant" cured AIDS; how the private sector would be persuaded to invest in heritage; why the budget for Freedom Park had been underspent, and what plans were in place to increase staff skills at provincial level.

Mr M Thetjeng (DA) asked whether the repetition of names would be addressed, whether university research would be local or national, and whether urban, advantaged universities would have a role.

Mr Tolo said that in Cuba for example, there were images of Castro in many places - it was "as if South African did not have heroes". Would the bodies of all victims of conflict be repatriated? What role did the Department play in arts festivals?

Mr Ndima said that the Department worked with the Department of Science and Technology on indigenous food and medicine, but the Department’s role was to deal with the cultural and not scientific or medicinal aspects.

Repatriation of victims of conflict was a sensitive issue as many families and communities could make claims. A panel would advise the Minister on the definition of ‘victims of armed conflict’, and would conduct a scoping exercise. Identification of graves of these victims would then follow, and policy would be formulated.

The budget for Freedom Park had not been spent because bids had been called for twice. The Department was being careful as the Park would have to last for more than a century. The private sector had already been invested in heritage, such as the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and the Kellogg Foundation. Skills shortages were being discussed with MinMEC and elsewhere. In future, names would not be duplicated.

Mr Tolo’s point about pictures of heroes had been taken. The Department contributed to arts festivals. University research would be extended nationally.

Ms Mazibuko said that indigenous dance and music groups would battle to sustain themselves. In general, "artists became paupers unless they performed kwaito".

Mr Ndima said that the Zindala Zombili competition was about identifying talent among all races. The main aim of the Department was to preserve and expose traditional cultures, although many such groups did travel abroad.

Ms Mazibuko said that the Committee needed a further briefing on libraries to give Members a broader picture. Money was a problem. Many youngsters used libraries as quiet places to study and do homework – how should libraries be better utilised? Library books often had no relevance to communities. Mr Thetjeng concurred.

Ms A Qikani (UDM) welcomed the establishment of a library in Mdantsane but said that rural areas lacked such resources even more.

The Department spokespersons were unable to answer Mr Sulliman’s question about Parliament’s new "Black Rod". Regarding the quality of coats of arms and other symbols, Mr Dominy said that the Department had been working with municipalities but only had six artists who worked in this rare field. A learnership programme had been developed and the Department hoped to employ learners soon.

Mr Dominy could not give Ms Mazibuko a staffing and programme breakdown of the budget offhand, but said that the ratio was "good". The question of how to utilise libraries and the kinds of books to stock was problem. Mpumalanga had ‘book boxes’ that were sent around community centres, which was one example of a type of rural library.

Reverend Adolph asked about electronic archives. Mr Dominy said becase new technology was developed all the time and old programmes became redundant, this made old data sometimes difficult to retrieve. The Rivonia trial had been recorded on a dictabelt and the British Museum had had to assist in retrieving that record.

Mr Dominy agreed with Ms Mazibuko that a further briefing on intellectual property rights was needed.

The meeting was adjourned.


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