Jan 31, 2022

South African Parliament’s Botched Digitisation May Mean Millions Of Precious Documents Were Lost In The Fire

The normal “rule of thumb” for preserving documents has long suggested the best method of preserving documents is to digitize them. However, recent experiences in South Africa show that digitization alone may not be sufficient.

A project about five years ago was supposed to create a digital store of the South African Parliament’s archive. But quality-control samples suggest that nearly half the pages were not scanned properly, and there are troubling questions about how the project was managed, especially by Parliament itself.

A botched digitisation project has probably condemned irreplaceable documents to extinction following a recent fire in Parliament that damaged or destroyed many paper documents. As a result of the fire plus the improper digitization, many of South Africa’s most important legal documents are now lost forever.

No other store of archival material in the country has a copy. Of particular importance are the annexures to the Hansard — the official record of Parliament’s deliberations going back to 1910. The records include unpublished government reports, annual reports, research, and manuscripts.

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