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Our letter FROM Lulu

  • Category: Campaigns
  • Posted on September 16, 2010

Minister Lulu Xingwana
Department of Arts and Culture
Private Bag X899
Pretoria
0001

Dear Minister Xingwana

I write in my capacity as Director of the Archival Platform and after consulting with the organisations who made submissions as part of the “Letters to Lulu Campaign”. We have received your response, and thank you for taking time to address some of the issues raised in the correspondence forwarded to you.

It is encouraging to hear that the DAC is attempting to resolve some of the infrastructural and technological challenges facing the National Archives through the establishment of a Public - Private Partnership. The political and special role of archive and archiving in maintaining and deepening democracy should not be under-estimated. Access to the records of government is essential to promoting a culture of accountability and in the exercise of active citizenship. DAC’s initiative in working with the private sector to safeguard and facilitate public access to the records of government is commendable. The Archival Platform has established a communication network that includes a wide range of individuals, organisations and institutions active in the broader archival sector. We know that our colleagues would value more detailed information about this initiative and hope that we may play a role in disseminating this once the proposals are further developed.

It is heartening to hear that the DAC has initiated an investigation into training for librarians, archivists, records managers and related information specialists. We have posted the report on the Archival Platform website and look forward to hearing more of how the DAC intends implementing proposals outlined in the expert report to build capacity in the sector.

It is a relief to hear that the DAC and the National Archives are in the process of developing a national digitisation policy that may go some way to addressing the inconsistencies noted in our earlier submission. Digitisation has, and will play an increasing role in broadening access to the archive, and it is important that the process be managed in accordance with clear guidelines. The Archival Platform looks forward to having sight of the policy, once it is available for comment. We will rally our colleagues to apply their minds to it, as citizens, users and custodians of the archive.

We appreciate that, in terms of the Constitution archival responsibility for the records of the state other than national ones, is defined as a functional area of exclusive provincial legislative competence and, that national policy does not create legal obligations that bind provinces or local government. But, we know that the provinces look to the national department for direction and guidance and urge the DAC and the National Archives to take a stronger lead in developing the policies required to build and maintain a robust national archival system.

The Archival Platform and many of the institutions and organisations with which it engages – including the DAC and the National Archive, share a commitment to building social cohesion in a diverse and historically fractured society. We remain anxious that the Minister’s attention remains focussed on the National Archives, rather than on a broader national archival system that takes into account the myriad other institutions and organisations, including the museums administered by the DAC, that contribute to our understanding of the past. The matter of how national institutions can contribute to the building of social cohesion is a complex question that goes well beyond simply acknowledging cultural diversity. What is the thinking that guides DAC on this question? How might our consitutency participate in developing this thinking?

Public access to the archives remains an area of concern. We are pleased to hear that the National Archives are making a sterling effort to reach out to previously marginalised communities. We would like to publicise and promote them through the Archival Platform website. We would appreciate more information from DAC, or the National Archives, as appropriate, so that we can follow up on this matter.

We are dismayed that the National Archives Advisory Council (NAAC), which is, as the Minister notes, “the formal advisory body on archival matters” has been inactive since the term of office of the then members came to an end in 2007, and that no time-frames appear to have been established for the appointment of the NAAC. The National Archives and Records Services Act of 1996, as amended, spells out the mandate of the NAAC to advise the Minister, the Director General and the National Archivist, to advise and consult with the South African Heritage Resources Agency and to consult with the Public Protector. It is inexcusable that the proper functioning of the national archival system has been compromised by the prolonged absence of the NAAC.

It is also difficult to understand why, when the sector is clearly in dire straits, the Minister has not given this matter the attention it deserves. We are concerned that the Minister’s failure to address this issue timeously indicates a lack of appreciation for the power of the archive, its importance in advancing the administrative, legal and fiscal accountability of government and the central role it occupies in relation to important public policy debates around critical issues such as, the right to know, freedom of information, protection of privacy, copyright and intellectual property.

It is of concern to us that the Minister chose not to engage with two critical issues: the need to harmonise access, privacy and secrecy laws with the National Archives and Records Services Act, and the need for the establishment of an appeals body to oversee the implementation of intersecting information legislation.Given the centrality of the archives in the effective implementation of South Africa’s information laws, and the impact that these laws have, or will have, on the already under-resourced National Archives and Records Service, one would have hoped the issue would have been pursued vigorously rather than dismissed simply as being ‘a matter beyond the control of the DAC’.  There is some concern that the Minister’s silence on these issues is indicative either of an insufficient understanding of the role of the archive or of a lack of political will to advance the right to know enshrined in our Constitution. 

Notwithstanding all the above, we applaud the Minister’s openness to engagement with the sector. There are many among us who would grasp the opportunity to explore these issues further with the DAC and the National Archives and to share our collective expertise and energy in finding a resolution to the many challenges that face the sector.

Archives at the Crossroads, 2007, brought archival institutions across the board together to debate issues of mutual concern. It is perhaps time for a second gathering to re-assess the state of the archive: to look back on the successes and failures of the national archival system and to imagine a future in which we have collectively achieved the vision articulated in the conclusion to the Archives at the Crossroads report: when we can say that we have collectively cast off an out-of-date notion of archive and inaugurated a fully post-colonial one, informed by our unique and complex archival engagements in situations of repression, liberation, negotiation, reconciliation and development and in so doing to have rendered a service to our democracy and contributed our ideas of archive to the cause of social justice the world over. I think the second meeting should also address the matter of the role of the various museums in promoting social cohesion.

Sincerely

Jo-Anne Duggan
Director, Archival Platform

See: “Letters for Lulu delivered to DAC”, the letters collated by the Archival Platform for submission to Minister Xingwana.

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  • It would be interesting to read the Minister’ response but there is no working link to the text?

    By Werner Hillebrecht on 29/09/2010
  • I have read with interest your comment or response to the ministers reply and believe that the issues you raised are spot on. I also appreciate the fact that you noted that in terms of NARSA that provinces has the legislative competence to control archives, but that is the problem. Very few provinces have the necessary legislation and policies to give guidance to citizens, there is little or no support from National Archives or DAC, there is no oversight from anybody in provincial legislatures. Where I am the only question that you will get from legislature is who got the tender to built the repository and how much have you paid so far, as if archiving is only about the building. They forget or don’t know that the key to good Archives is good record keeping. How often do we here that nothing could be proven because no records were available. Finally I suggest that this letters to Lulu must also be directed to provinces for MEC’s to respond. National is made out of provinces and National Department alone can’t manage without provinces. I further suggest that schedule 5 of constitution be reviewed to reverse those legislative powers given to provinces so that Archives and Records problems can be addressed holistically.

    By Nkitseng Mahalefa on 29/09/2010