Microsoft South Africa has announced plans to digitise the vast collections of struggle records currently being kept at Fort Hare University’s Mayibuye Centre and the University of Western Cape.
The planned digitization will open up access to the collections to students, researchers and ordinary citizens around the world, and stimulate research and scholarship beyond the country’s borders on this little-told part of South Africa’s history.
Advocate Sonwabile Mancotywa, CEO of the National Heritage Council, said the vast collections of manuscripts, maps, newspapers, communications (letters), sound and video clips, photographs and other physical artifacts remain a vital part of the country’s heritage that could be lost forever unless preserved digitally.
“Digitising archives is more than merely collecting and aggregating documents online,” says Advocate Mancotywa. “In the past, access to cultural and heritage institutions was denied to the majority of the population, to the extent that history, heritage and culture were deliberately underdeveloped. Heritage is a source of strength and confidence that puts the changes of society into perspective and helps us to build a better future.”
Dr Petrus Strijdom, acting Director of Research and Development at the Fort Hare University, says the digitized archive will be web-based to ensure maximum accessibility to South Africans, and will provide a “highly interactive” user experience with additional content, comment, links to related artifacts and other information.
“Much of the history of the struggle was suppressed under the previous regime, but the community itself is a store of rich additional information. A great deal of South African history is preserved via folklore, and is verbally related. The opportunity is to capture these experiences and preserve these experiences as “living artefacts” of history,” says Dr Strijdom.
“The solution should allow the archive to be enriched by the community, allowing the population to capture their artifacts related to the struggle and create a forum for South Africans to ensure that personal experiences are not lost to history.”
Microsoft SA’s MD Pfungwa Serima, said the project would contribute “enormously” towards making the university a premier centre of research and scholarship on the history of the country.
“To fully develop the information society we live in, South Africa has to be able to preserve, promote and disseminate its art, culture and heritage with the use of modern technology. This will allow future generations to “scroll through history” from a highly personalised perspective, while allowing others to gain insight from their experiences, and ensure that our past facilitates an awareness of what our future needs to hold,” says Serima.