Tuesday, June 13, 2006

African National Congress Releases Archive to the Public

The Apartheid Museum
Originally uploaded by cdmcharlene.

13 JUNE 2006

[The following statement was issued at a press conference attended by Dr Frene Ginwala, Head of ANC Archives Committee, Dr Amii Otunnu, from the University of Connecticut and UNESCO Chair in Comparative Human Rights, Dr Mvuyo Tom, Vice Chancellor, University of Fort Hare and Mr Smuts Ngonyama, Head of ANC Presidency and Communications. This was followed by the hand-over of tapes and transcripts of the first 100 interviews completed. Among those interviewed, include struggle veterans both living and who have since passed on, eg Albertina and Walter Sisulu, Eppainette and Govan Mbeki, etc. Mr Ngonyama described it as a historic moment in the history of the African National Congress.]

The full role of the majority of South Africans and their Liberation Movement, the ANC in the 20th century history of South Africa is unrecorded. The same is true of earlier periods. The ANC tried during the period of exile to preserve its records with a view to return them to the country. Since 1990, the ANC began to systematically retrieve and preserve our earlier records, and make them available to scholars and the general public. The ANC Research Department initiated and managed the archive project. Later an NEC Sub-Committee was set up with an operational Archives Unit at Headquarters under the Secretary-General's Office.


The University of Fort Hare has been designated as the official repository of the ANC Archives. The ANC retains ownership and copyright of all its materials, and places them on permanent loan at the University. A joint ANC-Fort Hare Archives Committee manages the cooperation between the two partners.


In 1999, the ANC entered into a partnership with the University of Connecticut (UCONN) in the USA. This partnership provides for the university to assist the ANC with technical training and other support, including locating and retrieving ANC materials that are in the USA. Within the partnership and a grant from the Mellon Foundation of approximately $1.6 million, we established an archive and oral history training programme, focusing initially on training our own cadres, and later extending this to others. Uconn has been designated the repository for ANC material in the USA.


The ANC has returned to South Africa, the records of 23 of the 40 ANC offices established during the period of exile (1960-1990). It is estimated that these records comprised of between 6-8 million documents with some duplication. The bulk of these have been sorted, catalogued and are now available to the public at Fort Hare University. They form the core of probably the largest archive of any political organization anywhere.

In addition we are bringing back into South Africa a large number of other documents, from the earlier period and since 1960 that form a vital source for research into the history of our country and its peoples.

The Archive Project and the partnership with Uconn has enabled the ANC to train archivists, and to sort and catalogue the material retrieved from the ANC external mission offices. To date approximately 8 million documents have been sorted, catalogued and deposited with the University of Fort Hare. This includes records from key ANC offices in London, Lusaka and Dar-es-Salaam. It also includes the archives of SOMAFCO, the Solomon Mahlangu Freedom College that the ANC set up in Tanzania.

An individual was appointed in the United States of America, located at the University of Connecticut to locate and retrieve our material from that country. This exercise has yielded exciting material such as the interviews undertaken by George Houser, former head of the American Committee on Africa (ACOA), one of the leading anti-apartheid activist groups in the United States, in the 1950's with Walter Sisulu, Albert Luthuli, ZK Mathews, Manilal Gandhi and Patrick Duncan. Archival materials located also included correspondence from the 1920's to 1940's between ANC members such as H. Selby Msimang, Dr. XB Xuma and DDT Jabavu and members of support groups in the USA.

Another collection that will be available will be speeches and statements made by ANC and other leaders at meetings of the US based Carnegie Institute for Peace, as well as interviews with prominent ANC leaders.

Personal Papers

The ANC Archives has in its custody the papers of some of the ANC leadership:

The Oliver Tambo Papers available at Fort Hare University comprise 95 boxes (10.5 linear metres), consisting of both his personal papers and in his capacity as ANC President.

Walter Sisulu's letters that he received whilst incarcerated in Robben Island, and the papers from when he served as ANC Deputy President.

Nelson Mandela's records from his office as President of the ANC are currently being processed and will be transferred to Fort Hare University once they are ready. We also have about 7000 photographs that were received during Mr. Mandela's tenure as ANC President. Most of these are of his many trips abroad meeting with Heads of States and foreign dignitaries undertaken after his release.

We are in the process of receiving the Mary Louis Hooper Collection. She is a long-time anti-apartheid campaigner in the United States, and worked as an assistant to Chief Albert Luthuli for 2 years.

Video & Audio Archives

The ANC Video Archives also forms part of the ANC Archives. These are approximately 10 000 unit of video and film material covering both events in exile, events in South Africa during the apartheid era, and some post-1990 footage. The ANC will be preserving these, and will make them accessible. The ANC is also in the process of retrieving Radio Freedom tapes.


As part of the partnership with Uconn, we have recorded personal histories and recollections and to help fill in the gaps, which exist in written records. We have recorded 200 interviews. Our priority has been to focus on veterans, many of whom are ill and aging. Amongst those interviewed are late ANC leaders such as Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Wilton Mkwayi as well as a number of MK veterans in the Eastern Cape and elsewhere and ordinary rank and file members of the organisation.


As there had been no proper training for black archivists the ANC undertook to train archivists as part of the partnership with Uconn. As part of our formal training programme, we have trained individuals identified by the National Archives, the Universities of Natal, Western Cape and Fort Hare and Parliament. Of these individuals two were sent to UCONN to study for their MA Degrees in History. One of them was appointed as our Oral History Coordinator on his return to South Africa.

We hope to complete processing and depositing the records of the exile period by December 2006, and will thereafter, start processing archival material generated since 1990.

Issued by the African National Congress
54 Sauer Street, Johannesburg 2001.
13 June 2006

For information contact Smuts Ngonyama on 082 569 2061.

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