This paper explores the contemporary preservation and production of the past in Umbumbulu, near Durban in KwaZulu-Natal. It examines the Ulwazi Programme, a web initiative run through the eThekwini Municipality that uses the existing library infrastructure, new digital technologies and municipal residents to create what its advocates term a collaborative, indigenous knowledge resource, in the form of a Wiki. The paper then investigates various other locations in Umbumbulu where the past is being dealt with and custody of the past is actively managed by, for example, local, non-professional historians and traditional leaders. In some instances, the work being done straddles the custodial and the productive, inviting a re-examination of notions of custodianship and the production of versions of history. While these practices are frequently thought of as separate, the ethnographic material reveals that in daily practice, the distinction between the two is unclear. The paper considers the resources that are mobilised as evidence in the present by different actors in Umbumbulu to substantiate claims about the past and reveals both archival aspirations and anxieties. There are those who aspire to a fixed record as a mechanism of preservation and acknowledgement, and others who have anxieties about such a configuration.
This paper, which is published in the Archive Special issue of the South African Historical Journal, Volume 65, Issue 1, 2013, is available online from the McNulty Consulting website or Taylor and Francis Online.