The Archives are vast, comprising more than 100 000 photographs, 10 000 film and video recordings, 5 000 artefacts from the Island and elsewhere, 2 000 oral history tapes, 2 000 posters as well as 10 000 political cartoons.
The extensive art collection includes the UN-sponsored International Artists Against Apartheid Exhibition, and a number of other small collections. The historical papers collection consists of more than 300 collections. In many ways the Archives are an inside history of the struggle. People risked their lives and organisations faced banning orders to record the struggle against apartheid from within, at a time when repression and censorship were rampant, and Mandelaâ€™s name scratched on a coffee cup could get you four years in jail.
The story of how this Archives was built is an intriguing one. The initial core was collected during the years of exile by the London-based International Defence and Aid Fund (IDAF). After the unbannings in 1990 and IDAFâ€™s closure, the IDAF collection was relocated to South Africa to form the nucleus of the archives of the pioneering Mayibuye Centre for History and Culture in South Africa, based at the University of the Western Cape.
Then, in September 1996, when Cabinet decided on establishing the Robben Island Museum as the first official heritage institution of the new democracy, it also recommended that the IDAF/Mayibuye collections be incorporated into the museum. And after intensive negotiations, this recommendation was implemented on 1 April 2000, as part of a comprehensive co-operation agreement between RIM and UWC. Thus the new combined UWC-Robben Island Mayibuye Archives is part of RIM, but it is located on the UWC campus where the resources can be more safely preserved and more easily accessed by researchers, students and community groups.
The archives have the following sections / collections: