UCT linguistics professor Ana Deumert said the devastation of the fire emphasised the importance of the digitisation of the archives for all. Picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency(ANA)
UCT linguistics professor Ana Deumert said the devastation of the fire emphasised the importance of the digitisation of the archives for all. Picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency(ANA)

UCT fire ‘can bring rebirth’ of San and Khoi history

By Sisonke Mlamla Time of article published Apr 29, 2021

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* This story has been updated to reflect the correct attributions

Cape Town - The San and Khoi Inter-University Digital Archive Research Group at UCT’s African Studies department said the fire tragedy had highlighted the need to address “the alleged regrettable misconceptions on the value of institutionalised libraries and archives as colonial only”.

The research group said in light of the fires that burned down the African Studies Special Collections Library last week, they hoped that it came with “the promise of the fire lilies after the devastation of fire”.

UCT’s interim director for the San and Khoi Centre, June Bam, said the salvaging of the //Kabbo archive notwithstanding, the loss of composite documents and collections in its multifaceted diversity in the library, was devastating “as there has been a severe loss of oral histories in the de-Africanised Western Cape, for instance, on the ancient histories and languages”.

Bam said to counter ignorance on the importance of archived knowledge, institutions had the responsibility to ensure that young people knew their archives and their value for future generations.

Nelson Mandela University, Professor Nomalanga Mkhize, said there was the perception that black and indigenous histories were only “oral” and that those archives therefore didn’t matter.

Mkhize said indigenous people told their stories to missionaries and others.

“This – while embedded in the violence of colonialism – also means that these stories could survive beyond their lifetime as their response to the ever-increasing encroaching destruction of colonialism,“ said Mkhize.

Martin Gluckman, Digital Archive Computational Linguist, San and Khoi Centre at UCT, said the devastation of the fire emphasised the importance of the digitisation of the archives for all.

Nelson Mandela University, Professor Pamela Maseko, said the colonial archive was largely in written form and not easily accessible, especially to researchers from the global south.

“We do not know in totality of what was held in this archive and the extent of the loss, and its impact in the present and future. Yet, ironically and importantly, this fire is helping us think about the relationship we had with this archive and the related issues of access and control.”

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