South Africa, Archives and the African National Congress

Apartheid Museum, Johannesburg

Apartheid Museum, Johannesburg

My visit to South Africa on assignment for Global Affairs/UNESCO and Archives & Special Collections began in the first week of June in Johannesburg during an unusually cold winter (for South Africa).  The purpose of the trip was to explore and convene on the archival landscape which had been mapped in 2000 through a partnership between the African National Congress (ANC) and the University of Connecticut.  The initial archives project was funded by the Mellon Foundation to organize, describe and make accessible the ANC archives documenting its activities while in exile under Apartheid.  These archives, located at the National Heritage and Cultural Studies Center (NAHECS) University of Fort Hare (UFH) in Alice, Eastern Cape, have been available in their reading room for public research since 2005.  Between 2000 and 2005, UConn sent faculty, archivists, librarians and oral historians to UFH to hold training sessions and benefit from this skill sharing partnership.  In conjunction, UFH sent archivists and librarians to receive training within the UConn libraries.

Luthuli House, ANC Headquarters, Johannesburg

A significant documentation project was organized by Bruce Stave of UConn’s Center for Oral History, which led to training a group of South Africans to record oral histories of ANC members about their experiences under Apartheid.  As part of the post-custodial model of archival collecting, a facsimile collection (ANC Oral History Transcript Collection) was housed at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center at UConn’s Archives & Special Collections, making our institution the official repository of the ANC outside of South Africa. The focus of my mission, fifteen years from the inception of the project, was to identify the viability of reengaging the partnership with the ANC and UFH.  I visited Luthuli House in Johannesburg where the headquarters of the ANC are located to discuss the future of the digital archives project.  In addition, I met with leading South African archivist Verne Harris of the Nelson Mandela Foundation who was involved in training during the initial phase of the project. The Apartheid Museum was also a very immersive experience into the representation of the nation’s history and transition toward democracy which is still ongoing.

UConn Archivist Graham Stinnett with Nelson Mandela Foundation Archivist Verne Harris

UConn Archivist Graham Stinnett with Nelson Mandela Foundation Archivist Verne Harris

Dr. Momar Ndiaye and Staff of the UFH International Affairs Office

From Johannesburg, I traveled to East London in the Eastern Cape to meet my gracious hosts at the University of Fort Hare. Over a course of two days, my visits to the satellite campus to meet with the Vice Chancellor and Deans of various faculties before heading to Alice where the main campus is located, were important context building meetings for understanding the capacities and role the University plays in the community there.  An historically black college which has produced many famous voices of liberation such as Nelson Mandela and Robert Mugabe, the University houses the major faculty components, archives and research of the region.  Seeing the archives, art gallery, library and research facilities broadened my perspective on how two academic environments could build and support each other through student exchange and faculty and staff training. Our schedule also included a visit to the Steve Biko Centre in King William’s Town which was a fantastic display of community engagement within the walls of a museum and archives space.


ANC Archives at NAHECS University of Fort Hare

Concluding the trip was a visit to Cape Town where I was immediately struck by the contrasts between Capes and Cities within South Africa.  The regionalism seemed as starkly contrasted as the elevation change from East to West.  Hearing the personal histories of struggle and identity of individuals throughout the journey was as rewarding as the completion of the trip.  I made many new friends and colleagues as well as broadened my understanding of the necessary solidarity between information workers from the Global North to South.  A personal thank you is extended to all of the individuals who made time for me and answered what were most likely simplistic or culturally unaware questions.  The door is open to you all at the Archives & Special Collections.

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About Graham Stinnett

Curator of Human Rights Collections and Alternative Press Collections, Archives & Special Collections at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut. Stinnett holds a Master’s degree in Archival Studies from the History Department at the University of Manitoba, where he also earned a Bachelor’s degree in Latin American History. Stinnett's graduate work focused on human rights non-governmental organizations and their importance to archives and the role of archivist as activist. He has published in the Progressive Librarian on the subject. Stinnett has worked in University Archives with human rights collections at UC Boulder, Manitoba and UConn. His involvement with the Manitoba Gay and Lesbian Archives collection project and the LGBTTQ Oral History Initiative, the El Salvador Human Rights Archive at Boulder and the extensive AltPress & Human Rights Archives at UConn have resulted in a multitude of engagement and outreach activities. He also briefly served as the Archivist for the Vancouver Whitecaps Football Club in British Columbia.

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