Archiving apartheid: the process of preserving images for future use

Throughout my time at the African Studies Library I have been working on a source created and distributed by the International Defence and Aid Fund for Southern Africa (IDAF), published to detail aspects of life in Southern Africa during apartheid. In the specific publication which I worked on, there were many photographs detailing various aspects of African life from the 1960s onwards, looking into areas such as rural and urban life, mining, resettlement, the police, and the army.

One of the most striking images which I found within the collection, was one indexed within the images on resettlement. The image itself is a far-away picture depicting a pair of corrugated iron huts, created by families who were forcibly segregated by the South African government and dumped in a barren area, as their labour was considered to not be required by the apartheid government. For me, this image clearly represents the isolation created by the policy of segregation in the country, with the dark silhouettes of a family and their huts the only recognisable figures in an otherwise empty picture.

When working on this collection, I started out by labelling it with a name appropriate to its contents, in this case “Box IDAF/1”, with “IDAF” referring to the International Defence and Aid Fund who produced the material.  The next step of the archival process is to trawl through the items in the collection and remove any steel pins or paper clips and replace them with brass ones, to stop any form of corrosion from affecting the contents.  I then sorted the contents into different sections to make it more manageable for anyone who would like to use it. This collection was somewhat easier than others, as the images had already been indexed and included a contents page.  Therefore, all I had to do was separate these groups of images into individual acid-free pouches (so that they do not become spoilt).

Once this was finished, the physical process of archiving the images was complete, however, I still had to research and produce an information sheet on the content of the collection, as well as how they were sorted, and an introduction to this. The introduction was, besides being able to look at the images myself, the most interesting aspect of the process. To provide an appropriate introduction to the collection I spent time researching into IDAF, so as to provide any researchers who wish to consult the images a brief understanding of the contents, as well as its purpose.

Being able to see original images of life in South Africa during this period has undoubtedly been one of my highlights of doing work experience at the library, and I have greatly enjoyed the process of working through and archiving this collection. My time at the library has been an enjoyable experience and I look forward to working through further unsorted collections.

Todor, Y12, The Perse School – doing a research project into the Ethiopian Empire