Documenting South Africa's Liberation Movements: Engaging the Archives at the University of Fort Hare
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As the machinery of apartheid was being dismantled, agreements were signed in 1992 designating the University of Fort Hare as the custodian of the “Liberation Archives.” The Liberation Archives was conceived as a symbolic union of the archival records from several of the political organizations that had helped bring about the overthrow of apartheid. Organizations agreeing to deposit records and artifacts at Fort Hare included the African National Congress (ANC), the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), the Azanian People’s Organization (AZAPO), the Black Consciousness Movement of Azania , and the New Unity Movement. The process of locating and gathering archival material from the liberation organizations had begun in the wake of the national government ’s historic announcement in 1990 to lift the ofacial bans on the ANC and PAC along with restrictions on nearly three dozen other organizations. The ANC and PAC archives are by far the largest record groups at the University of Fort Hare and are the main focus of this essay. The records of these organizations were also central to the archival initiatives undertaken jointly by the University of Michigan (U-M) and the University of Fort Hare between 1997 and 2000.1 In addition to discussing the speciac projects undertaken by the U-M, the authors address the context of the University of Fort Hare and the impact of apartheid policies on the documentary record in relation to the ANC and PAC, as well as the political, organizational, and archival issues inbuencing the archives and its relationship to social memory. The authors of this essay, both archivists at the U-M’s Bentley Historical Library, participated in the U-M/Fort Hare joint initiatives. Their roles included developing an archival processing plan for records housed at Fort Hare’s Centre for Cultural Studies,2 consulting on archival issues with the center’s administrators and staff, and overseeing the processing and preparation of paperbased and electronic anding aids for the Liberation Archives and other record groups at the center and at the University of Fort Hare Library, along with performing other administrative and archival tasks. Politics of Placement Without an appreciation of the University of Fort Hare’s history, the placement of the archives at this relatively remote location would seem unusual. A researcher seeking to locate the archives of the liberation organizations might at arst look to one of the larger urban areas such as Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Pretoria; in established research universities in South Africa; or in national 321 ⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮ Documenting South Africa’s Liberation Movements Engaging the Archives at the University of Fort Hare Brian Williams and William K. Wallach ⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯ The purpose of studying history is not to deride human action , nor to weep over it or to hate it, but to understand it— and then to learn from it as we contemplate our future. —Nelson Mandela research centers or museums, for example, the former Robben Island prison (now a national museum), an institution synonymous with Mandela and other imprisoned freedom aghters. Instead, the archival records reside in one of the oldest historically black universities in Southern and Eastern Africa, the University of Fort Hare, found within a remote, rural, and disadvantaged area of the Eastern Cape. The place where the records of liberation are located attests to the bitter legacy of apartheid— an Afrikaans term meaning “apartness”—and becomes, to a certain degree, part of the archival context. The agreements to place the archives of the liberation movements at the University of Fort Hare were recognition of the important role the university played as the primary institution of higher education for black South Africans and as the alma mater of many of the leading liberation agures. To a lesser extent, the decision was a repudiation of the South African State Archives Service for its complicity in legitimizing apartheid .3 Speaking at the opening of the ANC archives, then deputy president Thabo Mbeki argued that Fort Hare was “incontestably . . . the natural home” for the archives.4 In a message, Mandela spoke of the “immense importance” of the ANC archives. These archives are the single most complete record of the ANC, especially in the period after its banning in 1960. They are instrumental in documenting the untold history of South Africa. . . . The organization further recognises that the archival material contains the seeds of our new democratic order. A study of the [ANC] comprises an intrinsic part of our understanding of our society, the transition we have recently experienced and what the future may hold. The ANC...


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