Dialogue on archiving South Africa’s water-related historical records
The Water Research Commission (WRC), in collaboration with North West University (NWU) Vaal Campus, is answering the call for the establishment of information storage facilities in the form of a water archival repository system for South Africa. Water sector managers, engineers, scientists, researchers and administrators, have all expressed a need for keeping water-related historical records for appropriate use.
The challenges around the archiving of South Africa’s water records were also at the centre of a dialogue hosted by the WRC in Vanderbijlpark on Friday, 22 February 2013. The Dialogue, which was attended by over 100 people, aimed to share with stakeholders how the WRC-funded archival project will be executed and implemented from 2013 onwards.
Since mid-2012 a group of historians, archivists and WRC staff members have been working on a project entitled ‘The South African Water History Archival Repository (SAWHAR)’. Since then there has been keen interest from various institutions in setting up a useful and functional water knowledge repository. This project will allow for the sharing of archival expertise among NWU, University of South Africa (UNISA) and InterPARES Consortium (International Research on Permanent Authentic Records in Electronic Systems, based at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver).
Creating a water research repository involves identifying all of the entities that have collections of documentation which should be incorporated into these archives. The Department of Water Affairs (DWA) for example, will benefit from this project since it has a lot of historical records stored as hard copies, dating back from the early 1920s up to 2005. A number of retired DWA engineers have already volunteered their archives towards the SAWHAR project. Amongst others, entities such as Umgeni Water have been identified as the first to provide information in South African archival journals on this project. However, the viability and status of record collections in entities like Lepelle Northern Water Authority, in Limpopo Province, may still need to be assessed. The WRC database archive databases for future data mining research will also form part of this remarkable archive.
Through intensive investigations the project teams will need to ascertain where the records are, under what conditions they are stored, the physical condition of the documentation, and whether the records are in fact adequately arranged and described. Apart from developing archival collections in hard copy, it is also necessary to give attention to the development of an electronic archival repository that would make research material more accessible for researchers.
Addressing the delegates at the dialogue, keynote speaker Mr Adam Jansen from the InterPARES project commented, ”Archiving in the electronic age involves a series of managed activities necessary to protect digital records of enduring legal, historical or fiscal value from loss, alteration, deterioration and technological obsolescence, while maintaining them in a trustworthy state in order to ensure an accurate rendering of those records in perpetuity in an environment independent from that which produced the record.”
Professor Thanyani Mariba, Campus Rector of the School of Basic Sciences at NWU, stated that the university has been working on the country’s water history since the late 1990s and that this project represents the culmination of not only years of academic enquiry, but also an unparalleled passion and commitment towards the preservation of institutional memory in the water sector. The project will allow stakeholders to share and celebrate legendary projects such as the Tugela Transfer Scheme, the Gariep Dam’s construction and impressive irrigation works developed throughout the country in the 20th Century.
Like the Mandela Portal, the establishment of a Water Archive will require observations and interactions with similar ventures around the globe, to ensure the project is well-planned, coordinated and maintained. Involvement and assistance from InterPARES may provide such a platform, to ensure the process is sustainable and remains relevant, not only from a heritage aspect but also as information for further planning, development and responsible utilisation of water resources.
Contact: Dr Inga Jacobs, WRC Executive Manager: Business Development, Marketing and Communications,
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; Tel: +27 12 330 9014