Archives without archives: a window of opportunity to develop archival holdings for provincial archives repositories in South Africa

Mpho Ngoepe


The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa provides a framework for developing archival system in the country. The Constitution requires the devolution of the state’s responsibility for archives from central government to the country’s nine provinces. In terms of Schedule 5 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa ‘‘archives other than national archives are a functional area of exclusive provincial competence’’. By virtue of this provision, each province is required to promulgate its own Act on archives and records service, as well as establish and maintain its own archival infrastructure. Although almost all nine provinces have enacted their own archival legislation and established archival infrastructure, these repositories are without archival holdings. This study investigates how provincial archives repositories in South Africa can turn the situation of ‘empty archives’ as a window of opportunity to build archival holdings that reflects the diversity of South Africa as a rainbow nation. This will in turn help to bridge the gap that exists in the national archives repository in South Africa as the holdings mostly reflect the records of apartheid government. The study suggests that as some of these repositories are situated in previously marginalised communities, the archival holdings should embrace the voices of such community in order to promote the usage of archives. One way is to consider following the model of Truth and Reconciliation Commission on archives. Furthermore, the South African government should consider developing a policy on internal repatriation of archives to their respective provinces. It is concluded that failure to address the situation of ‘archives without archives’ will render these repositories to be white elephants.

Key words: archives repository, provincial archives, South Africa, archival legislation


Mpho Ngoepe is an associate professor in the Department of Information Science at the University of South Africa (Unisa). Prior to his current position at Unisa, Prof Ngoepe has worked for the United Nations Children’s Fund, Auditor-General South Africa and the National Archives of South Africa. Prof Ngoepe is serving in the national committee of the South African Society of Archivists (2009-2017) and the board of Eastern and Southern Regional Branch of the International Council on Archives (2009-2017) as the editor of the journals. He also serves on the advisory council of the National Archives of South Africa and Gauteng Provincial Archives. He is the co-director of the African Team for the multi-national, interdisciplinary research project exploring issues concerning digital records called the International Research on Permanent Authentic Records in Electronic Systems (InterPARES Trust) (2013-2018).