National and provincial archives are tasked with two key responsibilities: “the proper management and care of the records of governmental bodies” and “the preservation and use of a national archival heritage”. While there is obviously a degree of overlap, these tasks involve engagement with distinctly different clients and stakeholders and require different skill sets. The degree to which one is prioritised over the other, when resources are scare and capacity limited, reflects to some extent the authorities attitude to the relevance of the records entrusted to their care: some choose to focus on ensuring that the current records of government are well managed, others to preserve the records of the past. While it’s unfair that many have been placed in this invidious position, it’s critical to strike a balance.
When the City of Cape Town announced in August 2012 that the Council had adopted a recommendation by the City’s Naming Committee to change street names after a process described by Executive Mayor Alderman Patricia de Lille as “the most inclusive in the country”, the Archival Platform decided to put the Council to the test and access the records required to back this statement up. For more on this see the Archival Platform editorial, Archives and Records Management: striking a balance.
While it is obviously not possible to comment on the way in which the information was gathered, it is possible to conclude that the City’s records provide convincing evidence to support the decision to change or retain street names. Hopefully the process adopted in Pretoria has been equally well documented!
While this was an interesting exercise on many levels, it provided an opportunity to reflect on the work that records are employed to do at various stages of their existence and for different ends and affirmed our position that, what’s at stake if the balance is not achieved is the loss of the records that are required to understand the past in the present, now or in the future.
With best wishes
Harriet Deacon ponders on the stories told in South African galleries, museum exhibitions, archives and national heritage sites and wonders if there are imbalances and how they have been dealt with, and what new heritage forms have been acknowledged, and why.
Lucy Campbell reflects on the potential of archives to play a role in restorative justice, with particular reference to the history of slavery in Cape Town.
Vusumuzi Khumalo uses the story of her sister’s teenage pregnancy to raise questions about archives. She concludes that insufficient attention has been paid - in the archives - to social problems.