From the Ashes: An African Preservation Imperative

07 July 2021, by Mariya Badeva-Bright and Greg Kempe

In April 2021, a devastating fire broke out in the Jagger Reading Room of the University of Cape Town library. As a result, priceless and unique archives, including a sizable collection of government law gazettes from South Africa and other African countries, were turned to ash. More than just old books, the fire was an unimaginable tragedy given the unique nature of the way countries across our continent struggle to manage government and legal documents for public use.

Due to a combination of factors, the gazette archives of many African nations are locked in paper format, stored in varied locations, often in foreign countries, and are inaccessible to researchers and citizens. Government Printers often lament the lack of national archives with this critical information. As a result, libraries such as the Jagger are an essential source of government information, legislative and regulatory information, and help preserve a country’s, and indeed a continent’s, history.

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The fire has been a wake-up call for the University of Cape Town in South Africa and all of our information partners and institutions across Africa. Thankfully, through global support and donations, www.Gazettes.Africa already carries over 35,000 official gazettes from 17 African countries and one regional economic community. We make all digitised gazettes available for free on Gazettes.Africa . In addition, we aim to supply a copy of the digitised collections to gazette printers and archival institutions in the respective countries. We are now also working on adding a complete set of the South African national gazette, beginning with its first edition dated 1910.

When we formed our non-profit, Laws.Africa, we initially focused on supporting librarians in select African countries to digitise their official gazettes and create legislation collections. Seeing the dearth of gazette archives, we quickly expanded our programs to pool resources and help support the broader community of librarians, archivists and government gazette authorities in Africa to secure the archival of these precious documents. But that has not been enough. Now more than ever, the countries of Africa – and the nations which support our development efforts – should not only focus on the sharing of information but also on efforts to help preserve the documents that underpin our legal systems and governance structures.

Please email info@laws.africa if you can support this essential preservation project in any way.

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