As part of SAHA's commitment to being a learning organisation, our regular staff meetings have been full of talk about what the SAHA team is choosing to read in order to inform and strengthen our current work.
This quarter, Kathryn, Debora and Nonhlanhla have been reading up on the Voëlvry tour (the Boere-Woodstock that rocked apartheid South Africa); important global principles on striking the balance between the right to information and the secrecy necessitated by national security; and some back-to-basic guidelines to digitisation in libraries and archives.
Kathryn Johnson, SAHA's Freedom of Information Programme Coordinator, is an Australian lawyer, currently volunteering at SAHA funded by AUSAID through Australian Volunteers International.
She has been reading The Global Principles on National Security and the Right to Information (Tshwane Principles) which were finalised in South Africa and launched on 12 June 2013, two days before she arrived in the country.
Why I chose this publication and what is the relevance to SAHA's work?
In my view, the Tshwane Principles address one of the important issues of our times by focusing attention on the potential tension between the public /people's right to know what government is doing and to participate in government decisions affecting their lives, and world-wide national government's increasing desire to keep information secret to protect national security, for example, against terrorism.
The balance looks complicated and I wanted to know what 500 experts in 70 countries had shared with 22 groups over 2 years that led to 50 principles on the issue. I wanted to make sure we align SAHA's challenges to the application of national security exemptions under the Promotion of Access to Information Act, 2000 (PAIA), to these international best practice principles.
What issues raised in this publication are relevant to SAHA's work?
In summary, the Tshwane Principles indicate that exemptions from releasing information due to national security should be narrow and have appropriate oversight, subject to the local realities of diverse legal systems. For example, in general terms, a claimed PAIA exemption should be targeted to a real identifiable risk of harm to a legitimate national security interest. The Principles provide that the burden of proof should be on a public body.
At a practical level the Principles indicate that the government should not use national security to: avoid embarrassment or exposure of wrongdoing, conceal human rights, avoid the weakening of a political party agenda or suppress lawful protests (pages 12 and 16/Principle 3).
The Principles encourage disclosure if it would promote: discussion of public affairs, government accountability, debate on serious issues, oversight of public expenditure, understanding of reasons for government decisions, environmental protection, public health and safety, accountability for violations of human rights, information about legal frameworks concerning surveillance, and decisions to use military force or acquire weapons of mass destruction (pages 15, 21 to 27/Principles 3 and 10)
However, the Principles indicate that a national security exemption could include: ongoing defence plans, weapons and communication systems, critical infrastructure (the effectiveness of which depends on secrecy), methods of national security intelligence services, and matters that are supplied with an express expectation of confidentiality between foreign powers (pages 9 to 10/Principle 9).
How might this apply or be used in my work at SAHA?
The Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) allows requests for information under PAIA to be refused if it would cause prejudice to the defence or security of South Africa, or international relations (section 41). Currently this exemption is being used to refuse apartheid era documents, seemingly without any reference to whether there is a public interest in disclosure (section 46 of PAIA). Under PAIA, documents must be disclosed in the public interest if they would reveal evidence of a substantial contravention of law. This accords with the Principles, which make clear that information regarding gross violations of human rights "may not be withheld on national security grounds in any circumstances". The question at a practical level arises how SAHA can judge what the undisclosed information requested would reveal about breaches of the law, and how close the nexus between that information and the breach of the law must be, when deciding whether to challenge a PAIA decision.
The national security exemption under PAIA is also used to refuse information that is more current, for example in relation to the PAIA request for information about Nkandla, which is currently before the Courts and where SAHA is serving as amicus curiae. The Principles make clear that information about critical infrastructure can be restricted if the effectiveness of those institutions depend upon secrecy. The Principles also make clear that to be critical infrastructure the assets need to be so vital to the state that destruction would have a debilitating impact on national security. The application of these better practice Principles would clearly form a principled basis for any proposed review of the National Key Points legislation, as proposed by the Police Minister in November 2013.
Who would I recommend read this?
The fact that these principles were agreed in South Africa does not limit them to this country. The principles have international application for all freedom of information decision-makers within public and private bodies, and academics and activists in that sector. These principles also impact on those requesting information, such as researchers and journalists, and non-government organisations. They are also relevant to record-keepers, including my archivist colleagues.
The SAHA Archival Coordinator, Debora Matthews, has been reading:
Voëlvry - the movement that rocked South Africa by Pat Hopkins. Published by Zebra Press, 1996
Why I chose this publication and what is the relevance to my work at SAHA?
SAHA has been involved in the Shifty Records Legacy Project for a number of years with the aim to preserve, partly through digitisation, the endangered music archives of Shifty Records. To complement the latter, SAHA has recently acquired the record label's collection of artists' correspondence, lyric sheets, press releases, newspaper clippings, and photographs. Included, amongst others, is a wealth of material relating to the musicians who constitute the Voëlvry movement, also known as the Alternative Afrikaner Music Movement (AAMM), which culminated in the legendary 1989 Voëlvry tour, hence the term ‘Boere-Woodstock'.
While Lloyd Ross and the Shifty label have been credited for documenting "true South African and angry voices of the 1980s" for posterity, Ross will primarily be remembered "for the revolution he facilitated in Afrikaans music". In preparation of the arrangement and description of the Shifty Records archival collection, this book is an invaluable part of my background reading on Shifty and the political/social commentary music which the record label produced during that time.
What does the publication say?
This is a story of the liberation of the Afrikaner, its language and its music by a group of Afrikaans rockers who believed in challenging the "system and all its holy cows" with their biting social and political commentary in the music they produced - certainly a first of its kind in Afrikaans. Author Pat Hopkins creates an understanding of the Afrikaner psyche in his easy-to-read narrative on the history of the Afrikaner. He explains their defeat at the hands of the English during the South African War (1899-1902), their struggle to regain dignity and identity, the subsequent emergence of the Broederbond, the rise of Afrikaner nationalism and subsequent key events which would pave the way to the turbulent politics of the eighties, and in turn set the stage for the emergence of the AAMM.
The development of Afrikaans music in the context of the South African music industry is weaved into this narrative and the establishment of Shifty Records against the repressive politics of the time is particularly significant. Shifty launches the music careers of Bernoldus Niemand (James Phillips) and André Letoit (later to become Koos Kombuis), and one could possibly argue to some extent that of Johannes Kerkorrel (Ralph Rabie) and the Gereformeerde Blues Band (GBB). As organiser and sponsor Shifty plays an integral part in the two month long controversial Voëlvry tour, also sponsored by Max du Preez's Vrye Weekblad. Where they were not banned, the group performed to packed audiences on university campuses and town halls. When, in May 1989 the concert was banned on the campus of the University of Stellenbosch, the town experienced one of the biggest demonstrations it had seen in years as 1500 students protested in anger. The bannings at a number of venues around the country and restricted airtime by the SABC would only boost the ‘Boere-Woodstock'.
It is important to note that the Afrikaans rockers were spearheading a struggle to free Afrikaner youth and the Afrikaans language from the chauvinistic edifice of Afrikaner society, as represented by the National Party and PW Botha" writes Hopkins. This they did without ever giving up in being Afrikaners.
Shifty deserves the recognition it receives for creating a platform to launch the AAMM and becomes instrumental in their success to make Afrikaans cool versus the ‘language of the oppressor'. Organiser and manager of the Voëlvry tour, Dagga-Dirk Uys points the National Party's Achilles heel when he describes the impact of the use of rock ‘n roll music: "... freeing the Afrikaner youth lay in rock ‘n roll, the only music genre the Nats [National Party] had no control over". Whilst not intentionally part of the liberation struggle, the AAMM did become a nail in the coffin of apartheid.
This book draws to some extent on the materials in the Shifty Records archive at SAHA, such as the correspondence from Andre Letoit to Lloyd Ross. This book comes with a DVD of the acclaimed TV documentary Voëlvry - The movie, produced by Lloyd Ross.
Who would I recommend read this?
This year is the 30th anniversary of Shifty Records and the 25th anniversary of the Voëlvry tour. Now is a good time for all to read, reflect and reminisce on that turbulent period in Afrikaner history, which Koos Kombuis in his afterword to the book entitled ‘Short drive to freedom' remembers as: "We believed, with all the fervour of youth, the words by Rodrigues: ‘The system's gonna fall soon, to an angry young tune' ". I also strongly recommend this book to all my colleagues, not only to get a glimpse of Afrikaner protest history, but also to recognise the significance of some of the non-traditional materials we archive at SAHA.
Nonhlanhla Ngwenya, SAHA's Archival Assistant, has been reading the article:
‘An Introduction to Digital Projects for Libraries, Museums and Archives' by Trevor Jones, Project Coordinator at the Illinois Digitisation Institute, University of Illinois, May 2001.
Why I chose this article and what is the relevance to SAHA's work?
Because the archival team at SAHA strives to make our collections more widely accessible, a large part of my work as an archival assistant involves the digitisation of archival documents. Reading this article confirmed what I already know on the subject from my on-the-job training, such as why it is important to digitise documents in terms of both access and preservation, it has also given me a greater understanding on issues I am not that familiar with, such as planning and setting goals for digitsation
What does the article say? What are the issues it raises that are relevant to my work at SAHA?
Archival digitisation is expensive! It is important to have the correct budget for digitisation to meet demands such as salaries, staff training, equipment and supplies, indirect costs as well as unexpected expenses.
Digitisation helps to preserve fragile materials. Making high quality images/documents electronically available reduces wear and tear on fragile items. But this does not mean that digital copies should be seen as a replacement of the original materials. Original physical documents and artifacts must still be cared for after digitisation.
There are downsides of digitisation. Although there is a lot that digitisation can accomplish, we must keep in mind that not all collections are automatically worth digitizing, especially when operating within resource constraints. As Jones explains:
"Successful digital projects are the result of careful evaluation of collections, and the digitisation of only those items that will provide the greatest benefit to the user."
Reading this article has articulated for me the importance of digitising; yes, it is a slow and laborious process but is vital for the future of the archive, to both protect and make accessible the rich materials here at SAHA.
Who would I recommend read this?
I would recommend this article to anyone who works in archives, libraries and museums, and also my colleagues, so they can have a better understanding of my work at SAHA.