Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Incorrect captions on national archives photos

Upon entering the building housing the Botswana National Archives and Records Services, in the Government enclave, one immediately stands next to the reception desk manned by a smartly dressed and welcoming voice on the left hand side.
To the left, past the desk, the corridor leads through a wall mounted picturesque of photo gallery, to the research library, but please don’t go that far. Immediately as you turn right after the reception, moving on, count one, two and three, then allow the fourth picture frame, the focus it deserves, because that is where you will pick the trail that leads to the origin of the indifference to information on culture and history, which reigns even at the highest echelons of power and, worst of all, the casualness with which those entrusted with profiling our archival history are taking to their function, as a result.

Exhibited here is a framed set of pictures purporting to represent monumental history of the Bakgatla. One picture of the regiment shows the late Kgosi Linchwe leading a Bakgatla regiment. At the top of the first picture, which is on the right side corner of the frame, its written, “Linchwe leading the Machama regiment”, whereas below the underneath picture, which shows a different group, it reads, “Addressing the Machama in 1928”. From the writings its clear that the same regiment is being referred to in both pictures.

However, the most striking statistic is the appearance in the top picture, of Sidney Pilane, senior adviser to President Festus Mogae, who would most probably have long retired his job on account of age, if perchance, he were to have been in the age reflected by the picture. Nonetheless, on investigation, Sunday Standard was able to secure the help of the country’s key man, thanks to his devout sense of connectedness to the Bakgatla royalty, and obvious interest to have it properly recorded; he gladly obliged, to verify the “likeness” between him and the man in the picture.

After looking very closely at the pictures, Pilane said, “This caption is incorrect; it was supposed to be, “Linchwe 11 leading the Madingwana, not the Machama”. Additionally, Pilane said, pointing to one of the figures in the photo, “This one is Kgosi Phulane Pilane who was the head of our regiment, and this was in 1985”.

Furthermore, according to Montwedi Moatshe, a Mokgatla elder, and renowned authority on matters of Bakgatla history and culture, who also had an opportunity to view the pictures at issue, “The recently died monarch was born in 1935, Kgosi Molefi, Linchwe’s father was the virtual head of the Machama in 1928. Even if we were to assume, the picture probably referred to the elderly Linchwe 1, who was Linchwe 11’s great grand father, such an assumption would not hold, because in 1928 he was already old to be able to perform the ritual”.
With charged, yet restrained emotion, Pilane without much ado phoned Kelebogile Kgabi, the BNARS Director, addressing her by her unofficial name, “Hey… the captions in the pictures that we just told we have come to see here is incorrect.”

Somewhat shaken by the tone and expression in the unusually used name, especially coming from the man from the top, the Director immediately obliged perhaps by saying, “Let me come down right away.” Before the blink of an eye, she surfaced through the stairs. Pilane then repeated his identification of himself and other important figures in the Bakgatla tribal lore. To cap Pilane’s truisms, even before he concluded, Kgabi quickly identified someone she named as Rankowa, who also belonged to the Madingwana regiment.

On Pilane’ s advice, to correct the caption, to which she conceded without explanation, she immediately called one of her officers and instructed him in the presence of the senior official, to note the correct names and dates as observed. The young officer heeded his bosses order.

Masegonyana Keakopa, an Archives and Electronic Records Management systems Lecturer at the University of Botswana, said, this scenario seems to suggest a breach of the basic principles of Archives practice, namely: Provenance and Original Order. Keakopa said, according to these principles would be presupposed that the photo bore the appropriate dating and some explanatory information. In that case, there should have been a follow up and further research to establish the origin of the pictures, failing which they should have been kept aside, than engage in such gross misinformation, by speculation.

Alternatively, she said the Archivist is empowered to “impose a record or file system” only where the information is available but the order is in doubt. In this case, however, it’s not a question of order its absolute distortion, said one of the researchers at BNARS library.


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