On Wednesday, February 13, 2019, an archivist and FOIP legal intern, had an opportunity to visit the South African Police Services Heritage Museum in Pretoria. The mission was to unearth any records and materials related to individuals who had died under uncertain circumstances during the apartheid era in South Africa. In preparation for this visit, the team put together a list of individuals who had been noted in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to have suspicious causes of death. We compiled background information regarding where they died and other parties that may have been present at the time of death. Making an appointment to gain access to the records proved to be a smooth process with assistance from the museum curator. We indicated the type of materials we were interested in, as well as the specifics as to the time period and the names of individuals of importance. With this data in hand, the curator was able to pull materials related to our request out of their archive for our perusal during our visit.
The Museum itself is a short walk from the Pretoria Gautrain Station, making it easily accessible for researchers. While the entrance is not obvious, there are signs indicating the general location of the building. Upon entrance we were greeted by security who guided us to our contact. Although we were early, she was ready for us. The curator had drawn all of the materials that were relevant to our search criteria and those she thought would be of interest to us, there were approximately 15 boxes filled with newspaper articles for us to search through. The articles were sorted according to topic, for example, there was an entire box with records related to the Boipathong Massacre.
The materials we found to be useful pertained to certain individuals we were interested in, such as Looksmart Ngudle. Approximately 90% of the materials were newspaper clippings. As a result, we were able to quickly scan articles and capture those that we found to be relevant or interesting. Some of the articles dated as far back as the 1960s, yet were still legible, indicating the care the curators have taken to preserve these historical documents. Interspersed between the articles were scholarly reports and articles. One that caught the attention of our archivist was regarding the discourses of the South African Police during apartheid. The report heavily details the policing practices and policies that were employed by the South African Police Services during that time.
Unfortunately, the number of articles that we found useful for the purposes of the Truth and Reconciliation project were limited in number. Nevertheless, the visit to the SAPS Heritage Museum was still valuable to us. Our archivist took an interest in the archiving system that they employed and as a result we were treated to a brief tour of the archives themselves. They house a variety of materials ranging from physical evidence used in widely publicized murder trials to photos taken over time, organized by topic, subject, date, and/or event. In addition, they have an extensive collection of posters that were used during the apartheid era. Moreover, there is another building that is part of the SAPS Heritage Museum, but currently not open to the public. It includes additional physical material, such as vehicles and weaponry. We hope that one day it will be restored and available to view by all. We understand that the SAPS Heritage Museum is currently understaffed and under resourced, we would like to see this change for the better in the future so that the public can view the historically valuable materials held within. Given their condition, we would like to thank that SAPS Heritage Museum for being accommodating to our research request and hope to further engage with them in the future.