APC discussions with Tshisimani: archives and activism
In March Carolyn Hamilton and Jo-Anne Duggan were invited to meet with the staff of the Tshisimani Centre for Activist Education to share some thoughts on archival activism and the challenges of archiving activism. According to the Centre’s website, the name ‘Tshisimani’ is drawn from a word in the TshiVenda language meaning fountain, spring or ‘at the water source’.
This captures the driving inspiration for the Centre which is to nourish, replenish and sustain the power and capacity of activist movements. One of the ways in which Tshisimani is hoping to do this is through the constitution of an archive of activism.
As Carolyn noted, one of the most important conclusions drawn in the Archival Platform’s forthcoming report, A Ground of Struggle: four decades of archival activism in South Africa, is the centrality of the recognition in public life that archives are a crucial ground of political struggle and hence a necessary site of political activism in their own right.
The report argues that issues of service delivery, incompetency, corruption and the ominous shutdown of access to information coupled with student demands for radical change have put the state once more into the sights of activists, archival and other. Current forms of activism, many of them emergent and embryonic across many sectors, largely proceed unaware, or with only a limited understanding of the kinds of activism that have gone before them.The archives of activists are resources to inform contemporary activists about the history and practice of activism: they are resources capable of galvanising and shaping activism and of indicating what works and what does not. There is hence a need for them to be made available.
The challenge, which formed the core of the discussions is, how, in real terms, to constitute an archive of contemporary activism at a time when new forms of activism, new technologies, new forms of community and new struggles for social justice are catalysing new forms of archival activism. One of the issues that emerged as a strong theme in the meeting was who had the right to constitute the archives of activism, and on what terms? We applaud Tshisimani’s determination to engage proactively with these issues!