Tag Archives: South Africa

Visit to the South African History Archives

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Hello,

About DSC02962a week and a half ago, I had the privilege of visiting the South African History Archives (SAHA) located in Johannesburg, South Africa. Although this visit was a small part of a larger trip, it was a memorable experience and one that allowed me to place our work in the Bay Area into a much larger international context. There are many similarities between SAHA and the Freedom Archives. Also founded by activists, SAHA describes itself as a “independent human rights archive dedicated to documenting, supporting and promoting greater awareness of past and contemporary struggles for justice through archival practices and outreach, and the utilisation of access to information laws.”

During the visit, I sat down with their lead archivist and talked about their practices, successes and challenges, many of which resonated mightily. Some of the common challenges included how to generate non-governmental funding and how to preserve the wealth of materials with limited resources. In practice, both archives are committed to forging collaborations, hosting interns and mostly work on a project driven basis. Besides their impressive and large amount of content, the aspect of the visit with really excited me was their commitment to outreach and using archival resources to inform not just researchers and scholars but also everyday people across South Africa. Every-time SAHA finishes archiving a major collection, archivists and educators collaboratively create a curriculum (available in a physical book with cd and online) that accompanies the collection, build an exhibit to support the collection and hold teacher workshops to get educators interested in the content and prepared to take it back to local schools. Often times, the exhibit and the teacher workshops travel around the country, truly representing an effort to connect the archives with local realities and struggles.

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You can still see the former prison shower facilities outside the entrance to the archives.

A final note about the South African History Archives. They are located in a former women’s prison in the heart of Johannesburg which since the end of Apartheid in 1994 has been re-purposed to house a museum about the prison and political imprisonment, as well as numerous progressive organizations. This makes for an extremely thought provoking space, one that holds the heaviness of oppression, torture and isolation but also the energy of working to create a better society. In all, it was great visiting such an interesting space and to have the opportunity to learn from SAHA’s work. You can learn about SAHA by visiting http://www.saha.org.za/index.htm.

-Nathaniel

The Value of Unlearning

imageHi, I’m Kathryne, a student at Johns Hopkins who interned at the Freedom Archives this summer. For the past couple of months, I’ve watched documentaries, read papers, and listened to audio recordings pertaining to a number of different topics. These topics were not necessarily closely intertwined geographically or chronologically, but ideologically and in the greater scheme of historical developments- absolutely. I discussed with Nathaniel the not-totally-unsurprising parallels between the development of the states of South Africa, Israel, and the United States, at the expense of their indigenous populations. So the historical parallels were laid down, objectively, and objectively, there is little moral difference between the ways in which Western imperialists colonized their respective stolen lands.

But objectivity is a non-factor: of course there is a moral difference – at least from the perspective of an American teenager who grew up in the United States consuming its media, its history education, its news, its values.

As hours and days and weeks passed at the Freedom Archives it became very clear that it was my responsibility, in order to become an informed citizen, to unlearn the destructive thought processes that made the Boers’ Great Trek and American Manifest Destiny somehow wildly different; the latter was justified and at the very least, pure history, with no bearing on the United States in the 21st century. I found that unlearning is much more difficult than learning. For the first few weeks at the Freedom Archives, I read a number of feminist papers, perspectives which I found easy to accept. I had no issue with bell hooks’ explanation of patriarchy because she was simply articulating what I already knew to be true. But regarding other topics outside my own realm of experience there is a kind of mental block formed of everything the public school system and mainstream media have ever taught me.

I think I fully understood the concept of doublethink when I consciously recognized it in myself – and therefore in the vast majority of other young Americans who were inculcated in the same culture. So many of us can clearly condemn the murder of Palestinian children, but are unwilling to specifically condemn Israel for its actions, unwilling to specifically assign the title of “aggressor” to any party (except, often, Hamas), unwilling to note the United States’ support for bloodshed. So many of us could explain why Boston Tea Partiers were heroic for fighting for self-determination against a tyrannical power, and at the same time absorb the depiction by the media of rioters in Watts in 1965, in L.A. in 1992, of protesters in Ferguson today, as completely out of line and irrational, as not indicative of any real problems. I have learned a lot as an intern this summer at the Freedom Archives, but I’ve also learned the value of unlearning.

-Kathryne

Freedom Archives Excited to Launch New African Liberation Movements Collection

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africa general resourcesThe Freedom Archives is excited to announce the availability of our newest collection, African Liberation Movements. This collection includes hundreds of original publications, solidarity materials, pamphlets, periodicals and images that chart the evolution of various African Liberation Movements throughout the modern era. This collection is an incredible opportunity to experience African Liberation through narrative, theory and reportage.

Some highlights include materials focusing on the liberation struggle in Zimbabwe (Chimurenga), a wealth of anti-Apartheid materials from various organizations and materials dealing with the role of women, both during independence struggles as well as during periods of national reconstruction.  Our collection also contains writings and publications from the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELPF), the Pan-Africanist Congress of Azania (PAC), the Congolese National Liberation Front (FLNC), the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) and hundreds more documents spanning a dozen African countries. This is an expansive collection that offers a unique view into the history, philosophy and discourse of African Liberation, Pan-Africanism, anti-imperialism and Black Consciousness.

Many of these documents have been digitized and the entire catalogue can be viewed online at:

http://search.freedomarchives.org/search.php?view_collection=209

We hope you benefit from this newest addition to the story of resistance, justice, struggle and liberation at Freedom Archives.

If you think that you have materials that would complement or strengthen this collection and would like to donate these items or have any comments or questions about the work we do, please email us at info@freedomarchives.org

-Nathaniel

Cointelpro at the Tenth Annual Tri-Continental Film Festival

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The Freedom Archives was recently invited to show Cointelpro 101 at the 10th Annual Tri-Continental Film Festival in September. The Tri-Continental Film Festival is an annual, national festival that focuses on documentary and narrative films from or about Africa, Asia, Central and South America and the Middle-East. The overall objective of the Festival is to showcase outstanding Cinema that deals with socio/political and human rights themes pertinent to these regions. This year there will be screenings in Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Soweto. This film festival is a great opportunity for the archives to continue to expand its global presence and network with committed community leaders and activists, as we recently returned from a week traveling with the film throughout England. South Africa will serve as a vibrant and relevant space for viewing and discussing the Cointelpro film. South Africa obviously has a complex historical appreciation of the role of imperialism and its internal and external effects on the ability of communities, organizations and individuals to effectively organize. We are particularly excited about the opportunity to show the film in Soweto (Southwest Township), which throughout its history has served as a hotbed of collective actions and community organizing in South Africa. This festival also offers the potential to connect and gain perspective on contemporary struggles in South Africa. We look forward to showing our film to South African audiences and being a part of the Tri-Continental film festival.

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