Access to archives through decentralisation. The case of few selected southern African countries.

Sindiso Bhebhe


Access to information is a basic human right in almost every country in the world. It is enshrined in almost all national constitutions of the world. This importance of access to information has also cascaded to archives. Most of the national archives in the world tend to be centralised and bureaucratic. While this has the advantages of its own such as better preservation of archival documents if there are in one place than if there are scattered around the country there are also some limitations. One of the major weakness of the centralised system is that it puts enormous pressure on the national archival infrastructure since almost everything of national importance will be centralised in one place. The centralised approach also tends to affect the minority communities who are in most cases on the periphery of the centre as their heritage is side-lined when it comes to the national narrative. This also creates challenges when it comes to the issues of accessibility. Those who are far from these centres in terms of geographical location would find it difficult to access archives. It becomes so worse if those archival institutions have not yet adopted digital archiving systems. Therefore this article would try to understand these concepts of centralisation and decentralisation through the theoretical lens of bureaucracy theory in how they affect archival services in southern African countries. The concept of community approach to archiving would be discussed as a remedy to some of the problems created by centralised national mainstream archives. The research methodology of this article would be qualitative in nature and Zimbabwe, South Africa and Botswana will be cases of study. The data collected would be triangulated with reviewed literature which deals mainly with centralisation and decentralisation of archival services and community archiving including bureaucracy theory.

Keywords: access to archival information, decentralisation, centralisation, community archiving, bureaucracy theory

Bhebhe, S & Ngwenya, S. 2016. The Adoption and use of E-discovery tools by academic libraries in Zimbabwe in Dhamdhere, S & Egbert De Smet (eds) E-Discovery tools and applications in modern libraries. IGL Global: Hershey PA, Available at: DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0474-0.ch009
Bhebhe, S. 2015. Contemporary diplomatics of the civil and deceased estate files found at National Archives of Zimbabwe, Records management journal, Vol. 25, Iss 1 pp 107-120 [Permanent link to this document:]


Sindiso Bhebhe is a Principal Archivist at the National Archives of Zimbabwe. He is a part time tutor of records, archives and library courses at the Zimbabwe Open University. He holds a Master of Library and Information Science Degree from the National University of Science and Technology in Zimbabwe. He also holds a certificate on short course of modern library practices from the National Institute of Technical Teachers Training in Chennai, India. At the present moment he is doing Doctorate in Information Science with the University of South Africa. He has attended and presented academic articles on numerous local and international conferences which deal mainly with the library and archival issues. He is part of the Africa research team in the International Research on Permanent Authentic Records in Electronic Systems [InterPARES] Trust. He is a member of the Oral History Association of South Africa. He has published academic articles on the issues of oral history, archival infrastructure and archival diplomatics in international journals. The following are some of his publications: