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LAUNCH of A People's Guide to the Archives 
2019-06-05

How can civil society navigate the many obstacles of obtaining access to archives in South Africa?

One way of addressing this challenge is a Guide for individuals and organisations, which can provide some introduction and a roadmap to the archival landscape of South Africa and to point out the main role players, processes and problems in gaining access to information stored in the National Archives, other government and independent archives. This Guide aims to provide an entry point, as well as practical advice about the various archives, and the application of legislation in a simple and accessible manner. 

To date the records of various pre- and post-1994 government departments are neither kept at, nor do they fall under the oversight of the National Archives. This applies particularly to the records of the former state security structures such as security police, intelligence, defence, and the former Bantustans. Therefore, identifying their various locations and content is essential.

Many of these records are classified and therefore have remained unknown and inaccessible to the public. Other factors contributing to the challenges of accessing the records of the state are mismanagement, general poor resourcing, skills shortage and lack of professional commitment in the national, provincial and municipal archives.  The Guide seeks to provide explanations and links to ways in which civil society, researchers and organisations can be empowered through various tools - such as the application of the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) - in order to gain access to government records as a matter of administrative justice, transparency and accountability.

Over and above, government archives there are a number of independent archives, who have over the years collected substantial records on behalf of civil society, thereby compensating and filling the gaps in many areas of public interest.

Finally this Guide also provides links to the various steps undertaken by the International Council for Archives (ICA) in addressing issues such as mapping and assessing national archives; promoting the status of archives for democracy; and seeking safe havens for endangered archives in areas of conflict.