Unisa unveils Thabo Mbeki Presidential Library

Today (Tuesday, 16 September 2014), the University of South Africa (Unisa) and the Thabo Mbeki Foundation (TMF) officially announced the establishment of the Thabo Mbeki Presidential Library. The first of its kind on the African continent, the library will serve as a vehicle through which his legacy will be bequeathed to current and future generations and is borne of the realisation and acknowledgement that both official and private papers of political leaders in African countries are often not preserved or archived properly by their governments.

In many instances, if not always; institutions outside the African continent claim and retain the ownership and control of this material; thus denying Africans the opportunity to retain institutional knowledge about their own countries and the continent’s leaders. The dire consequence of this is that knowledge about the continent and its leaders is interpreted by others while African scholars are almost always obliged to travel outside the continent to research about their own institutions and leaders.

The Thabo Mbeki Presidential Library (TMPL) will endeavour to redress this anomaly and will become a ‘living library’ that will address important matters of knowledge production, peace building as well as advancing prosperity and equality for the transformation of Africa. It will be wholly-owned and managed by Africans and will connect and collaborate with similar centres across the world whose objectives are to advance the rennaisance and unity of Africa.

The TMPL has been deliberately conceptualised in such a way that it will not only focus on the life and times of former President Mbeki, but also on the larger context within which his political life took place, with the following broader scope :

  • To enable a reflection on South African, African and global developments stretching from the first decade of the 20th Century
  • To provide the space to reflect on the processes and realities which have created the conditions where Africa is today through the three broad time-periods: (1) the pre-colonial and colonial period; (2) the struggle against colonialism; and (3) the post-colonial era)
  • To enable the possibility to confront the question – where should Africa be tomorrow, as it pursues the objective of the Renaissance of Africa?
  • To serve as an important institution to re-energise the broad African Renaissance Movement aimed at contributing towards Africa claiming the 21st century

According to Dr. Buhle Mbambo-Thata, the Executive Director for Library Services at Unisa, African scholars, students and the general public will be the primary beneficiaries of the TMPL, with Unisa and the Thabo Mbeki Foundation carrying the obligation to ensure the preservation and provision of access in a controlled environment.

Unisa Principal and Vice Chancellor, Professor Mandla Makhanya echoed these sentiments, arguing that the life and times of Mr Mbeki represent one of the unique opportunities to examine the history of the liberation of Africa.

“TMPL will serve as a centre of excellence in African knowledge, a place for African scholarship and an interactive space for reflection. This is a place where Africans can get to know and write their own history, a place to learn what shaped the society that we currently live in and a centre for inter-generational engagement. This will be a place where the world and African diaspora will better understand Africa, Mr Mbeki and the ideas that shaped his thinking. We are thus very excited about the immensity of the scholarly value of the records, documents and artefacts to be hosted in the TMPL library and museum; and believe that these will positively contribute to the research output of students and researchers of any institution, who wish to access the variety of documentary reflections of the past presidents,” added Makhanya.

Former President Mbeki himself advised on the need for the library to reflect as widely as possible on the history of the African people and their struggle, stretching as far back as the 1900’s.

“Given the importance which the library will have to attach to the mission of the liberation and development of South Africa and the Rennaisance of Africa, I think that it will be inevitable that the library will have to consider whether its collected materials should not start with the first Pan-African Congress held in Manchester, England, in 1900. I say this because this congress was the very first gathering of the African oppressed throughout the world, where the delegates defined the central task of the African liberation movement from the 20th century onwards,” he emphasised.

The TMPL will be jointly owned and run by Unisa and the Thabo Mbeki Foundation, and will be located on a dedicated wing of the Unisa Main Library at its Muckleneuk Campus in Tshwane. It will be implemented in the following three phases:

  • The first phase is its current location as a ‘miniature library’ at Unisa’s Satellite library in the Kgorong Building (1st Floor), Muckleneuk Campus
  • The second phase is its planned relocation to the dedicated wing of the Unisa main library on the Muckleneuk Campus. Construction of the TMPL wing is currently under way, with seed funding of R22 million allocated for this purpose.
  • The third phase entails a longer term plan for the establishment and operationalisation of a new fit-for-purpose facility to house the expanded library and museum.

Author: Press Release

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