03 July 2014

What SAHA is reading this quarter – July 2014

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, Nala, Amanda and Nozipiwo have been reading about the 1983 Constitution, commemorating youth in the struggle and some of the legal and political issues around applying the Promotion of Access to Information Act, 2000 (PAIA).

Nala Ramohlokoane - Administration and Information Officer

What did you read?

SAHA in the classroom (with focus on the first booklet: The 1983 Constitution)

What does the publication say?

SAHA in the Classroom is a series of materials that can be used in schools by Grade 12 learners studying history.  The series gives the learners sources and notes to help the learners understand South African history from the 1980s until 1994 and each section ends with learners having to answer exam-type questions.

The materials focus on apartheid-era history (from 1976 to 1994) and in the series there are 9 booklets:

1.      The 1983 Constitution

2.      The United Democratic Front (UDF) and the National Forum

3.      Formal repression in the 1980s

4.      Covert repression in the 1980s

5.      Resistance in the 1980s – civil society

6.      Resistance in the 1980s – militancy

7.      Resistance in the 1980s – international pressure

8.      The move to democracy – negotiations

9.      The move to democracy – the role of violence

The 1983 Constitution

This booklet introduced me to the PW Botha era (he was also the leader of the ruling National Party (NP) and taught me a new phrase, tricameral parliament - parliament with 3 chambers, one for coloureds, one for Indians and one for whites.  All these chambers dealt with their own matters separately and if the coloured and Indian chambers couldn’t reach an agreement in their respective chambers, the matter would be referred to the (white, NP dominated) President’s Council. During the PW Botha era, more of the so-called homelands were given “independence” and called “independent states”. Another new phrase was the Koornhof Bills which divided families and communities even further by recognising those who had been in townships for 10 years or more as permanent residents.

What questions/ issues did the publication raise?

I used quotation marks for “independent states” because even I know that these “states” didn’t own economy and that these “states” were not recognised anywhere else in the world.

Reading this series, I couldn’t help but think of the ancient phrase “divide and conquer”. Bantustans /homelands divided families and communities, they kept ethnic groups apart which in turn played out in townships and hostels when areas were named and marked according to ethnicity. I cannot help but wonder, if Africans were not divided and kept “in their places”, would we now have the “walk to freedom” instead of the “long walk to freedom”?

Who would I recommend read this?

I have sent the link to my younger siblings, not only because I want them to know where I work, but because they seem so ignorant about our history. They are “born-frees” and I believe they should know our history and strive to keep the memory alive.

Apart from teachers, learners and students, I would recommend people from the Department of Education to study it, not just the information but the way the lessons were put together.

And finally, anyone who feels disillusioned about the current SA political landscape and also our political leaders because they need a refresher course on our not so distant past. They seem to have forgotten.

Why I chose this publication and what is the relevance to my work at SAHA?

I chose to read SAHA in the classroom because I wanted to understand more about who SAHA is, what SAHA does and most importantly, how SAHA features in education.

This series is just one of the many projects that SAHA undertake on a daily basis but I chose it because I’m an 80s child and I don’t know much about the 1980s.

I’ve been working for SAHA for almost two months and I have come to realise the vastness of the Organisation and the deep scope of their work and so I found that this story brought me some insight into the technical workings of SAHA.

I’m the Administration and Information Officer here at SAHA. In the second booklet in the series, I read about the formation and history of UDF. Because I knew SAHA’s roots are in the UDF, reading about the history of the UDF brought the South African History Archive into another perspective. As an Administrator I should know why I do what I do, what the rest of the people in the office are doing and how my being here helps them deliver on their objectives.

Reading the series also gave me the basic skills to navigate the website as the public would navigate it. At first for me the website was huge and complicated, but now it’s just huge. Now I’ll be able to discuss and assist someone on the phone who’s trying to make their way through our website.

Amanda Rowen, Web and Communications Coordinator.

What did you read?

SAHA, 2014, SAHA Exhibitions in the Classroom - Guide for Educators, The Future is Ours: Commemorating Youth in the Struggle.

This booklet is the third in a series of guides based on the SAHA portable exhibition kits. The guide is based on The Future is Ours exhibition.

What does the publication say?

The booklet focuses mainly on the 1970s and 80s and each of the pages correspond with the exhibition panels. The booklet begins with the origins of the youth struggle and an explanation of how black South African youth were oppressed by the Bantu Education Act of 1953.

It then goes on to explain the origins of the youth struggle and the formation of the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL). The next sections discuss the Black Consciousness movement, Steve Biko’s life and death and the Soweto uprising on June 16, 1976, which is commemorated each year with a national public holiday, Youth Day.

Following the uprising the apartheid state began a crackdown on resistance; many young people were detained and even sentenced to death. In the 1980s the Botha apartheid government became more dependent on the military to maintain control and suppress resistance. During this time many people were unhappy with the compulsory conscription taking place. After the imprisonment of 12 conscientious objectors, a war resistance movement which went on to become the End Conscription Campaign (ECC) was born.

Other forms of resistance that took place during this were school boycotts and the youth ‘Comrades’ taking Thabo Mbeki’s words to heart to: ‘make the townships ungovernable’ by taking to the streets to create ‘havoc’. However, this led to concerns among educators and parents that a generation of children were going to grow up without education.

The National Education Crisis Committee (NECC) was formed and encouraged teachers and students to use knowledge and skills to challenge the education system from within. It proposed the introduction of a ‘People’s Education’ to oppose the apartheid beliefs inherent in the curriculum.

South African Youth Congress (SAYCO), the largest youth grouping in the history of South Africa was launched in 1987. SAYCO adopted the Freedom Charter and their slogan echoed the words of the charter Freedom or Death: Victory is Certain.

The booklet closes with details about the relaunching of the ANCYL after the ANC and other parties were unbanned in 1990 and the subsequent disbanding in 2013.

What questions/ issues did the publication raise?

This entire publication is designed to make the reader think and ask questions. It does this in a number of interesting ways. The activities in the booklet encourage readers to contemplate the issues raised and engage with them in various ways. There are visual icons that direct readers to different kinds of activities such as: pausing for internal reflection, making connections between the past and the present and learning more from SAHA’s other publications and products.

I particularly enjoyed the activities that encourage readers to analyse visual cues such as photographs and answer questions relating to them.

Who would I recommend read this?

Although this publication is designed with a specific audience in mind, I would recommend this to anyone wanting to gain a broader understanding of the Struggles in South Africa, particularly the role that young people played. Organisations like the ANCYL marked the rise of a new generation of leaders, names now famous worldwide such as Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu and of course Nelson Mandela and it was interesting to learn about how the youth movements grew and changed over time.

Why I chose this publication and what is the relevance to my work at SAHA?

I chose this publication firstly because I have just started working at SAHA and with Youth Day approaching I wanted to better understand the origins of what is now a national public holiday in South Africa. I had a basic knowledge of the Soweto Uprising and I don’t imagine there are many people that are not familiar with the moving image of Hector Pieterson’s body being carried through the streets, I wanted to gain a broader understanding of the roles young people played in the Struggle and use this to inform my ongoing work at SAHA.

The second reason I chose this particular publication was that I want to be aware of and understand the different audiences that SAHA communicate with and the type of products used. I could really picture school children engaging with their teachers in discussing these issues and I particularly liked the different types of activities suggested in the book which take into account that people learn in different ways. 

Nozipiwo Magabuko, SAHA's Freedom of Information Programme Administration and Information Officer

What did you read?

Chapter 6 – ‘Applying PAIA: Legal, Political and Contextual Issues’, in Allan, K, (ed), 2009, Paper Wars, South African History Archive, Wits University Press, pp144-200.

What does the publication say?

Section 32(1) of South Africa's Constitution provides, in summary, that everyone has the right of access to any information held by public bodies, and also to access any information held by private bodies that is required for the exercise or protection of any right. The Promotion of Access to Information Act, 2000 (PAIA) has been enacted to give effect to this right to access information.

PAIA requests can be made by individuals, organisations or communities to both public and private bodies.  Form A is used to make a PAIA request to a public body and Form C is used for a PAIA request to a private body. The distinction between public and private bodies, can be confusing and if you do not get it right, can mean the wrong form is used to make a PAIA request.

The chapter I read discusses a case study of the Iscor steel manufacturing plant in Vanderbijlpark in 2000, when SAHA requested minutes of meetings held between 1965 and 1973, on behalf of Mondli Hlatshwayo, a Witwatersrand University student. Iscor refused to process the request stating that a public body form was used instead of the private body form for the request. In the 1960s Iscor was under government and the information requested was from the time Iscor was considered a public body. During the court intervention Judge van der Westhuizen ruled that the meetings in question were held during the time Iscor was still a public body and that the information be given to the requester.

When making a decision on a PAIA request, a body can refuse a request  by referring to the exemptions in the PAIA legislation. Many of those exemptions can be overridden in the public interest,  but because of how the ‘public interest’ is defined in PAIA, this is only in cases where it requires that disclosure would reveal evidence of a substantial contravention of or failure to comply with the law, or an imminent and serious public safety or environmental risk, and that the public interest in disclosure outweighs the harm contemplated. In a case where the public interest overrides a PAIA exemption, documents can be released under the  PAIA request.

There are enforcement mechanisms if someone wants to challenge the decision by the public or private bodies not to release a document. The requester is entitled to lodge an internal appeal against a decision of a public body to the Minister of the department. If the requester is not happy with a decision of either a public body or a private body they can lodge a complaint with the public protector (in some limited cases) or the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC). If there is no joy with the outcome an application to the High Court (and in some cases to the Magistrates’ Courts) for relief can be lodged.

During the apartheid government, records were kept and protected regarding certain individuals. Government was not transparent with the records they had and as a result, they were kept secretly. For example, in the case of the Operation Crackdown targeting organised crime, records could not be found - at all levels local, provincial and national by SAPS.

PAIA encourages each public body to produce and submit a PAIA manual to the SAHRC. These manuals play a very important role in ensuring that requesters understands the functions and structure of a public body and records collected. NARSA enforces requirements on public bodies and gives power to the National Archives as the overseer of record management. PAIA allows the National Archives to receive and comment on filing plans submitted by public bodies.

Why I chose this article and what is the relevance to SAHA’s work?

I chose this article because what is in this chapter is giving me more light regarding the work I do. When I analyse the files from 2001 to 2012 I realise that there are tendencies which still prevail in our days regarding PAIA application. There are still instances where the records cannot be found or do not exist. I believe that the more PAIA requests are submitted to public bodies, the more public bodies will comply with the Act and will want to give records to those requesting them in terms of granting access to information to the public or individuals. Preservation of records and valuing records management on the other hand should take priority within our government and its people so that we will not find difficulty in accessing information whenever it is needed. Saving information would help to have a better future.

Who would I recommend read this?

I would recommend government departments to read this chapter because I believe if they can get this information they will realise how important it is to keep the record safe and protected from being damaged and destroyed. Everybody needs to read this chapter as it will empower them to know what is important and what is happening around them.