In a few months, if you click your computer keyboard and log onto the internet, the information superhighway could take you to Botswana’s historical sites where you may find yourself face to face with historical figures like the famous three chiefs: Kgama, Sebele and Bathoen.
Members of the public will in the near future be able to access Botswana’s archived historical and cultural material at the Department of National Archives and Record Services simply by clicking at their computer keyboards and logging on to the internet.
Plans to launch an inventory or user guide on the archived material at the Department of National Archives and Record Services, and make it accessible to the general public through the internet, are at an advanced stage, thanks to a University of Botswana-funded research project.
Presently, for a person to get information on any subject at the BNARS, they have to be directed by the specific issues they have in mind rather than a broad-based database of existing records pertaining to the subject matter.
Professor Nathan Mnjama, of the Faculty of Library and Information Studies at the University of Botswana, said, “It should be noted however, that the inventory will only contain information on those records which are considered accessible to the general public by law.”
According to the National Archives Act of 1978, records may be accessible to the public at the expiry of 20 years. Mnjama said that other factors that may impact on access to records include instances where the Director of BNARS may decide as empowered by the Act, to extend the period beyond the stipulated 20 years, or records may be poorly organized and, therefore, unprocessed.
There are times when the records may be damaged or, for some reason, distorted that they cannot by any means be helpful. The UB academic posited that this may also impede access.
“We have almost completed the documentation of all recorded and archived materials, and the inventory is currently in draft form, he said. Once the due processes involved in this project are exhausted, the data would then be stored electronically and ultimately put onto the internet and a website accordingly launched. Students, researchers and any interested parties from across the country would be able to access the inventory from anywhere.”
The existing inventory was last prepared in 1984, according to the UB academic. But since a lot of records have since been filed with the institute, it had to be updated, although it was not electronically stored because of the level of technology in the country.
Approached to comment on the project, Kelebogile Kgabi, Director of the BNARS had this to say, “Indeed, we are partners with the University of Botswana.”
Kgabi further expressed happiness saying that the project will enhance her department’s mandate of informing the public.
Commenting on the same issue, Professor Neil Parsons, a historian at the University of Botswana, said that it was a giant leap forward, and that this would further enable our neighbours in the SADC region to identify any records that they need.
However, Parsons decried what he referred to as constraining the advancement of knowledge by the present restrictive policy of demanding research permits even for local academics, despite the fact that in some foreign lands one doesn’t need a permit to research even if they may be foreigners.
“To add salt to injury, the fact that the authority that issues permits is a separate one from BNARS means that the process is unnecessarily prolonged.”
One of the major reasons why the national archives falls under the Ministry of the Office of the President is the national and cultural value attached to the department.
“That is why the Ministry of Home Affairs was identified as the suitable custodian of the cultural heritage as it was the highest office during the colonial era.”