National Archives Annual Report 2004/5

Arts and Culture

28 May 2008
Chairperson: Ms T J Tshivhase (ANC)
Share this page:

Meeting Summary

The National Archivist of the Department of Arts and Culture gave a presentation on the 2004/5 Annual Report, explaining that there had been delays in compiling the reports but that more recent reports were now available. He explained in depth that the National Archives formed part of the Department of Arts and Culture Programme 6, and that this represented some problems, in that the National Archives were dependent on the Department for secretarial and administrative support, and were affected by its problems although it could do nothing about them. There had been some further problems in the national and provincial department functions, and the shortage of skills was exacerbated in the provinces, and by poaching from other departments offering better salaries and conditions. The needs of disadvantaged provinces were not addressed, and there was lack of clarity over archiving at centralised or provincial level. Members raised questions about documentation from the former homelands, the problems with the National Archives Advisory Council, and centralisation of storage, particularly of judicial records. Theft from Robben Island and National Archives was raised as a concern, but it was explained that most items had been recovered. Further questions were posed around the non-accessibility of buildings for the disabled, promotion of the archives and publication of the types of information that was available, the training of new archivists, whether the profession was being adequately promoted to the youth, the problems with staff retention, outreach and awareness. Members also asked also for updates on the Rivonia Trial recording and the Timbuktu manuscripts.

Meeting report

National Archives Annual Report presentation
Dr Graham Dominy, National Archivist of South Africa, Department of Arts and Culture (DAC), noted that the Annual Report was submitted in terms of the National Archives and Records Service Act. He noted that the National Archives were an integral part of the Department of Arts and Culture (DAC) and that its compliance with the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) formed part of the DAC’s Annual Report. The National Archives Advisory Council (NAAC) was not a public entity and was budgeted for as part of the DAC’s Programme Six. Secretarial and administrative support for the NAAC came from the Department. One of the difficulties of being an institution within the Department was that Departmental problems affected the Archive although it had no autonomy to deal with them. This had long been a problem. 

Dr Dominy said that there was a further problem with function shift from the National Department to the provincial departments. He mentioned that the assignment of archives to provinces was logical from the heritage perspective, but posed serious practical problems. The “joined up” approach to government information was contradicted. Disputes over infrastructure, for example buildings, jeopardized the safety of collections and the shortage of skills was exacerbated as it was difficult to obtain and recruit archivists for provinces.

The needs of disadvantaged provinces were also not addressed. There was not a single provincial archive that had the capacity to provide a fully effective records management service to local authorities. The other challenge was the lack of clarity over archiving of records from regional offices of the central government, especially the judicial system.

With regard to the corporate overview, the challenges were identified as the building of South Africa’s new archive system and transformation of the national archive service. The organisational development plan was intended to support transparent and accountable government.

Dr Dominy noted that there was some international engagement, and National Archives had returned records to the Namibia government, pertaining to the old South West Africa, Caprivi Strip and Walvis Bay.

Dr Dominy reported that further details were contained in the printed Annual Report.

The Chairperson asked if the National Archives were able to get hold of documents of the homelands as it was very difficult to get access to them.

Dr Dominy responded that documentation before 1994 which concerned the previous “Bantustan” homelands was poor, and it was the sole responsibility of the archives. The history of whites was well documented but not that of blacks. Seemingly records of blacks were not respected and preserved. Because of the breakdown of the previous dispensation, documents of homelands were to be found in various places and National Archives was doing its best to get those records. Some were in former capitals such as Mthatha, where although they were kept physically safe, they were not well organised or looked after, or well utilised. In Limpopo there were important records in Leboakgomo and Thoyandou. There was also a new archive in Polokwane. An exception was Kwazulu Natal which did look after its records very well. This province had archives in Ulundi, Durban and Petermaritzburg. The North West’s archive was in Mafikeng.

Ms D Van Der Walt (DA) noted that the duties of the National Archives were clear. She asked why this Annual Report for 2004/5 was being presented.

Ms van der Walt then asked if the problem with the NAAC was resolved by the Department. She asked if the Department had explored the issue of documents to be kept in areas where they would be needed. She cited, as an example, the fact that court papers should not be centralised as this would only create problems in accessing them.

Dr Dominy said there were more recent reports than 2004/5, and admitted that the National Archives was behind with its reports, which was attributed to procurement problems within the Department that had led to an eighteen-months backlog. He, however, wished to assure the Committee that the Director General of the Department was paying stringent attention to the issue.

Dr Dominy noted that the Portfolio Committee had requested a report on NAAC which was submitted through Departmental channels, but National Archives were never called back to make the presentation.

In relation to the non centralization of records, he agreed that there was difficulty in the maintenance of the justice system records, as there were court records that were out of date. A decision was taken to keep only criminal and civil information, as the volume of records was enormous. The Department of Justice was reviewing a system in which regional courts would hold records of serious cases. The model on how to develop the new system was taken from international advice, based on the precedents of Ethiopia and Singapore, which had similarities with the South African situation. There would be a positive impact in keeping records on provinces, based on the need. Hence, the Department was looking at amending the Archives Act so as to avoid duality.

Ms P Tshwete (ANC) asked about the Robben Island robbery and if there was anything taken from the Archives. She also commented that most buildings were not user friendly for people with disabilities, and asked when this would be rectified.

Dr Dominy responded that all sensitive prison-related information had been moved to the National Archives in Pretoria. The Robben Island Heritage section archives were the responsibility of the Department of Correctional Services.

Dr Dominy said that the Department was addressing the challenge of user access and said that the new building would take into account the needs of disabled people.

Mr B Zulu (ANC) noted that there were few archives in the country, but that these were mostly in urban areas but non existent in the townships. He then asked if it was possible to print documents and put them in new archives. There were some records that went back to the 1600s and the public did not know about them.

Mr Zulu asked how “permanent value” would be assessed, and what criteria were used to establish that. He also asked how many archivists had been trained since 1994, and why there seemed to be problems in getting staff for the provinces. He noted, finally, that during the budget hearings several displays had been set up, but nothing was seemingly done by National Archives.

Dr Dominy responded that he would have to check the statistics on the exact number of recruits trained since 1994, but said that the National Archives did have school leavers and graduates in in-service training. However, other departments and provinces were attracting these staff, due to various factors, amongst of which was that the profession or archivist was generally not seen as attractive to the youth. Previous attempts at training had failed because immediately after training the trainees were attracted away by other departments and provinces which had better remuneration packages. There was a need to combine approaches. He would like to bring state-of-the-art technology to the Archives. He said that there had been exhibitions about the archives held in various provinces, which showed, amongst others, old movies to school children. There had been a massive response.

Ms D Ramodibe (ANC) wanted to know what was being done to promote awareness of the Archives through education and students visiting the archives.

Dr Dominy acknowledged that there was a need to bring outreach projects to the townships and rural areas and the outreach staff should work with the Department of Education in organising youth festivals and school visits.

Mr G Lekgetho (ANC) asked if the Rivonia Trial recording was still with the Archives and if this was accessible to the public.

Dr Dominy said that the issue of the Rivonia Trial records was complicated. There were audio and paper records of the trial, which were supposed to be public records. However, they were recorded as personal notes and the individual concerned tried to sell them in 1994. Mr Oppenheimer had assisted by buying those records and handing over the original copies to the National Archives. A project was embarked upon was to have the speech of Mr Mandela re-recorded from the old technology into a remastered format. National Archives had to create a machine to do this conversion. In respect of the Timbuktu manuscripts he was happy to report that the National Archives would soon arrange a special briefing for the Committee on the new opening of the library at the end of the year. The colonialists had regarded Timbuktu as the centre of African intellectual activity.  

Ms Van Der Walt suggested that there was a need to promote archivist careers at school level

The Chairperson asked about records stolen from the Archives, which were now outside the country.

Dr Dominy said the theft of documents had been a serious challenge for the National Archive, as this had happened over many years. Many thefts had been inside jobs, for an example, a Union stamp that was stolen was sold in England. The perpetrator was charged and then dismissed.
There had been fifteen stolen items, of which only three were not recovered. Two years ago the National Archive had recovered a book of the presidency, in which the first meeting between Mandela and P W Botha was recorded, which had been stolen from the warehouse which was storing archives removed from the Union buildings. With the assistance of the South African Police Service and an auction house in Pretoria, it was able to recover the book, which contained a number of signatures, and which was headed for the USA.

The Chairperson expressed that it was important that stolen property should be brought back home, and the Committee hoped that there would be a further briefing on the Timbuktu manuscript project.

The meeting was adjourned.


  • We don't have attendance info for this committee meeting

Download as PDF

You can download this page as a PDF using your browser's print functionality. Click on the "Print" button below and select the "PDF" option under destinations/printers.

See detailed instructions for your browser here.

Share this page: