Historical Papers, Wits University
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The Historical Papers archives, situated in the William Cullen Library, is a friendly, vastly used, valued and popular service as well as a unique and accessible hub serving the local and global public.  Our core business is engaging with ordinary members of the community on a daily basis and empowering civil society through access to information.  Historical Papers is a communal space where the exchange of information provides an incentive for the discussion of political, social, ideological, and cultural issues. We act in the service of the public and we are shaped by public developmental policies, well being, and the defence of society’s cultural heritage, in the interest of insuring the public sphere of influence and diversity.

We actively work to benefit and document communities and the shaping of identities by building partnerships, relationships and collaboration so as to improve delivery to the communities we serve. And the archivists in Historical Papers are facilitators of social change and promoters of the democratisation of information and knowledge. Our work is therefore of fundamental importance to society as we contribute to the formation of cultural and civic identities sustained by socially responsible values.

We are a centre where South African memory, particularly that which was/is under threat or may be lost, is preserved and made available. Working in partnership with civil society we have concentrated on documenting and providing enduring evidence of resistance struggles against oppression and exploitation. Archives are communal cultural goods and resources based on and promoted by democratic values, such as: freedom, equality, and social justice, as well as tolerance, respect, equity, solidarity, communities, society, and the dignity of individuals. Archives provide the bedrock for societies understanding of the past. They underpin citizen’s rights, assert identities and are crucial to truth recovery. They are also irreplaceable evidential testaments of human experience on which social equality is built. Archives, particularly in countries in the process of transition to democracy, are of fundamental importance as evidence supporting victims’ rights for reparation, an essential element of collective memory, a means of determining responsibilities for rights violations, and a basis for reconciliation and universal justice. 

During 2005 and 2006 Historical papers has assisted a broad range of users with various interests and needs.  We have been able to provide useful information to students, academics, and professional researchers, journalists, filmmakers, NGOs and members of the community.  Our users come from all over South Africa and abroad. During this period we have been the source of information for numerous publications, and TV documentaries – too many to mention here. We have also engaged with numerous NGOs and as a result their stories and histories have been preserved and made accessible. Some of these include: Legal Resources Centre (Cape Town), Gun Free South Africa, women’s Health Project, National Progressive Primary Health Care Network, Earthlife Africa, Aids law Project, Institute for Security Studies  and the Alexandra Local Peace Committee.  We have also contributed to a number of national exhibitions such as those in the Apartheid Museum, Constitutional Hill, Freedom Park, Luthuli Museum, Kliptown Museum, The Fort and the Market Theatre.

We were used by many organisations and entities, including: African National Congress, Aids Law Project, Alexandra Heritage & Tourism Project, Associated Press, Centre for the Study of Violence & Reconciliation, Church of the Province of SA, Commission on Restitution of Land Rights, Congress of South African Trade Unions, Development Action Group, Gauteng Tourism Authority, Johannesburg City Council, Johannesburg Development Agency, Johannesburg Housing Company, Jubilee South Africa, June 16, 1976 Foundation, Legal Resource Centre, Liliesleaf Trust, Mpumalanga government, National Anti-Corruption Forum, National Arts Council, National Union of Metalworkers of SA, Nelson Mandela Foundation, Pan Africanist Congress, President’s Office, South African Heritage Resource Agency, South African History Online, South African National Heritage Council, South African Press Association and the Sunday Times.

We are continually building up our web-based delivery of resources. One such example is our Traces of Truth website (http://truth.wwl.wits.ac.za). This initiative, sponsored by the Atlantic Philanthropies Foundation, saw the development of a non-commercial digital and electronic archive of material from assorted sources relating to the work of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Our aim is to make available to users worldwide, TRC material, which would otherwise be difficult to locate and access.

In the future Historical Papers hopes to continue to build an even stronger working relationship with communities and to build a sustainable support network through volunteers and friends. This will create opportunities for advocacy and community involvement as well as ensure the ongoing sustainability of archives - in the end the building of communities culminates in the building of archives.


  Updated 3 April 2007 cms triangle   Wits University Library | Design: UWL Web Admin