Society member Prof. Franco Frescura, who is an architect and a Director of Education at the Phansi Museum, commenced his address by advising members that the Phansi Museum is producing manuscripts and these are available through the Museum. The intention is, to,on a regular basis publish manuscripts on a variety of subjects in order for this information to be made available to the public.
The Museum has already published two manuscripts; ‘Rural Buildings of South Africa – A Vanishing Tradition’, and ‘Franco’s Greatest Hits’.
Franco Frescura’s paper summarizes what has been going on since 1900 in SA’s archives, which he describes as an “onslaught”.
Among the many problems, is that ,it takes a particular mindset to preserve, or spend money on books or documents, that may only be read once. The information may have been significant at the time but not considered so, now.
There are also persons who feel that problems of the past should not be brought forward to affect the future, implying that archives are not essential.
In some African cultures, they view old books as unhealthy and they are averse to protect old documents. It is Europeans that place a value on old buildings and documents. Archives establish conflicts that have not been resolved.
In view of this attitude there is an advocacy that material should be retained in private archives.
This attitude to archives is not new, and Frescura related a case in the 1970’s, whereby Museums in SA were offered a substantial collection of Congolese carvings, which were rejected. Despite objections, the entire collection was sold to to the Smithsonian museum, and lost to Africa.
Frescura, then related a story about Adriaan Jurgens, who managed to secure (by bribery), material, including stamp woodblocks, from the Castle Museum. The Museum was incinerating this material. Among the items were old Dutch, irregular triangular woodblocks. Jurgens then went on to collect many more pieces for his collection, from the old farms in the cape. These items were then placed in the Cape Cultural Museum. Jurgens followed this work with a stamp book in 1943, the foreword done by none other than Jan Smuts. Jurgens reputation had reached great heights.
In about 1953, it then was discovered that some of the stamps in Jurgen’s possession were in fact forgeries, and a raid by the police confirmed his possession of forgery equipment. This however was not the end of the story, in that, despite the evidence, Jurgen’s was never charged and the plates in his possession were destroyed in 1976. Papers filed with his death certificate were later found defaced in order to conceal his activities.
The repercussions of the destruction of archive material, also allows revisionists to rewrite the past with impunity, given the loss of historic records.
Prof. Frescura, concluded by warning that our archives are being neglected, due to lack of resources and the prevailing attitude towards archives. Material is being removed, defaced, or sold to unscrupulous collectors.