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What does the Department of Arts and Culture Annual Report 2014/2015 have to say about archives?

One would expect a close reading of the Annual Report of the Department of Arts and Culture (DAC) to offer some insight into the extent to which the National Archives and Records Service of South Africa (NARSSA) is delivering on its mandate, its achievements and the challenges it has encountered in the year under review. This is not the case.

Firstly, there is no coherent or comprehensive account of the performance of the NARSSA. What little information there is, is subsumed into the reports on the Heritage Promotion and Preservation and other programmes and scattered throughout the document.

Secondly, in the rare cases where detailed information is supplied it tends to be broadly descriptive and quantitative rather than qualitative in nature. This means that it is not possible to determine how well or badly an activity has been performed. In the absence of a substantive narrative, it is not always possible to determine why targets have been exceeded or not achieved.

Thirdly, performance is assessed against indicators that, while offering a useful measure of activity, do not offer insight into the impact of the successful performance or the consequences of under-performance.

Fourthly, indicators and targets for activity bear little relation to the legislated mandate. This can be quite misleading. On the one hand it may mean that good work is not reported. On the other, it may obscure the fact that no effort has been made to deliver on a particular aspect of the mandate.

So what do we learn about the work of the NARSSA and the way it is perceived or presented in the Annual Report?

Archives are understood to play a key role in enabling access to information.

The Annual Report lists the DAC’s six ‘Strategic Outcome-Oriented Goals’. These include: ‘Job creation’; ‘Access to information’; ‘Entrenched language diversity’; ‘Development, protection and promotion of arts, culture and heritage’; and ‘Governance and accountability’. Archives are mentioned under the sub-heading ‘Access to information’ where the strategic goal is elaborated, “Enhance access by citizens and public institutions to accurate, reliable and timely information in their language of choice through the provision of archives, libraries and language services”. 

Archives are also mentioned in the ‘Overview Of Departmental Performance’, under the sub-heading ‘Access to Information’ where it is stated that, “Libraries, resource centres and archives are some of the critical infrastructure that the Department is establishing to enable access to information.”

Annexure 6 of the Annual Report includes detailed information on each of the DAC’s four programmes: ‘Administration’; ‘Institutional Governance’; ‘Arts and Culture Promotion and Development’; and ‘Heritage Promotion and Preservation’. Specific mention is made of the activities of the NARSSA in relation to the Strategic Goals,  ‘Access to information’ and the ‘Development, protection and preservation of arts, culture and heritage’.

NARSSA’s oral history work is highly regarded

While the Minister of Arts and Culture makes no mention of archives in his Foreword, the Statement by the Deputy Minister affirms the value of oral history as a means to “intervene in rewriting history so that new generations know the truths of our realities” noting that, “Through the National Archives we continue to support the development of the oral history project by supporting the annual Oral History Conference together with academics, writers and other community stakeholders.”

The Annual National Oral History Conference is accorded its own sub-heading in the ‘Overview Of Departmental Performance’ where it is noted that, the Conference “resolved to pay urgent attention to the gaps and deliberate omissions in the African history caused by colonialism and apartheid”.

The work done by the National Film Video and Sound Archives (NFVSA) is accorded high recognition

Confusingly the work of the NARSSA and the NFVSA is dealt with separately under the heading ‘Services Rendered by the Department’ and together under the sub-heading ‘National Archives Programme’ in the ‘Overview of Departmental Performance’. Only two activities are mentioned in this section of the document: the renaming of the NFVSA buildings and the Memorandum of Agreement entered into with the French Audio-Visual Institute (INA) to digitise the Rivonia Trial dictabelts.

The Annual Report is silent on much of the significant work done by NARSSA to preserve, conserve and make archives accessible

In the year ending 31 March 2015 the National Archives was allocated R 47, 370, 000.00 out of the DAC budget of over R3,524,748, 000.00.  The Report does not include a detailed expenditure breakdown for NARSSA so it is not clear how the allocated funds were expended.

Indicators, targets and actual achievements listed in the table setting out the ‘Detailed Branch Performance’ offer just a small glimpse into the work of the NARSSA.  In this section of the report it is noted that:

•  6 Exhibitions were implemented by Libraries, Archives and Heraldry, exceeding the planned target of 5
•  The Annual Records Management Seminar arranged by the office of the Auditor General was held on 7 April 2014
•  High school learners in Nkangala attended an oral history training programme between 6 September and 14 October 2014
•  The Annual Oral History Conference took place from 14-17 October 2014
•  56 file plans were evaluated, meeting the planned target
•  17 disposal authorities were issued, exceeding the planned target of 12
•  8 outreach projects were implemented, exceeding the planned target of 6

Other than the activities listed above, the Report is almost completely silent on the significant work that the NARSSA does to preserve, conserve and make archives accessible.

Why good reporting matters!

As we noted in The State of the Archives, and analysis of South Africa’s natonal archival system published earlier this year, the paucity of information on the NARSSA in the annual reports of the DAC stands in marked contrast to the rich insights into the operations of and challenges facing the institution offered in reports up to and including the 2000/2001 financial years and in 2004/2005. This is because between 2001 and 2004 and from 2006 onwards information about the activities of the NARSSA has been condensed into a few paragraphs and subsumed into the DAC Annual Reports.

While this is regrettable, it points to a more worrying issue.  The 1996 Archives Act requires the National Archivist and the National Archives Advisory Council to submit annual reports to the Minister to table in Parliament. The report of the National Archivist is required to include: details of income and expenditure; a complete list of disposal authorities issued; an account of all cases of unauthorised disposal of public records investigated by the NARSSA and an account of all government bodies which have failed to comply with this Act. It is alarming that, in the last decade, the institution tasked with ensuring the proper care and management of the records of government has not made this information available as required by its own governing legislation and in the face of the growing concern about government record-keeping.

We understand that steps are being taken to remedy this situation. While NARSSA has not published information about disposal authorities, as required by the Act, the NARSSA PAIA Manual lists disposal authority case files as ‘records that are automatically available’ on request. The NARSSA has recently set in motion a process to compile annual reports to cover the period from 2006 to date. These will be available for consultation in the NARSSA library. We understand that the NAAC was committed to submitting an annual report to the Minister, in compliance with the 1996 Archives Act before its term of office ended in June 2015 but we are not certain how or when this may be made available to the public.

In the absence of thorough, reliable reporting we are left in the dark about the work that the NARSSA does, its achievements and the challenges that is striving to overcome. That is a great pity.

To download a copy of the Department of Arts and Culture: Annual Report 2014/2015, visit the South African Government website


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