Workshop report – ‘Documenting Liberation Struggles in Southern Africa’

The report ‘Documenting Liberation Struggles in Southern Africa ’, edited by Chris Saunders, has now been compiled. It is based on a workshop in South Africa where the topic of discussion was the Nordic Africa Institute’s several-year long documentation project about southern Africa’s liberation struggles.

Leading researchers and other experts from the Nordic countries and southern Africa attended the workshop. The papers included concern the documentation of the history of the liberation struggles. They also present issues regarding access and ways in which co-operation between Nordic and southern African universities could be furthered. The report includes suggestions as to how research can continue thanks to the data that have now been identified.

Between 1960 and 1994 a large number of organisations in the Nordic countries – aid and youth organisations, political parties and churches – supported the struggles in different ways. A vast bilateral co-operation emerged and many well documented conferences and meetings were held in the Nordic countries during this period. Several visits to refugee camps in Africa and encounters with different leaders have also been documented on video, audio tape and in photos.

“The documentation project was a continuation of the work that Lennart Wohlgemuth and Tor Sellström initiated in the middle of the 1990s. Their efforts resulted in a series of books about the Nordic countries’ support for the liberation movements in southern Africa. They left a lot of documented material that we did not really know how to handle. At that time the idea was born to create an electronic archive. The original idea has been revised and we now have a website with information and some documentation, as well as information about other documented material that is available in the Nordic countries,” says NAI Director Carin Norberg, who also took part in the workshop in South Africa.

So far the project has produced indexes in English and many archives have been catalogued. Documents totalling more than 30,000 pages as well as audio and audio-visual material have been digitalized at the Institute.

”One obstacle we encountered concerned the technical aspects regarding electronic archives. Today this is an area that has developed rapidly, but at the time, at the start of the new millennium, it was something new,” says Carin Norberg.

The website content include interviews with important actors, photographs, publications and posters from 1960-1996. These should be regarded as tools when searching for information about the Nordic countries' involvement in the liberation struggles. Visitors are also referred to other information materials.

It is hoped that the documentation project will help researchers identify sources and suggest lines of future inquiry into the liberation struggles in southern Africa.

Carin Norberg argues that there is a lot to be learnt from the documentation project.

“One lesson is how important it is to document events in time, before people who were important disappear. Another lesson is that the project concerned countries in the north and in the south, and that the preconditions to carry out documentation differ a lot between the Nordic countries and countries in southern Africa . The project has therefore not only been about documentation in the Nordic countries, but also about supporting and building archives in southern Africa, as well as establishing contacts between historians, archivists and political scientists from both sides,” says Carin Norberg.

Click here to go to the Liberation Africa site.

National liberation movements
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