Starting with this article, we will be
serializing write-ups on the history of holdings and activities of the National Archives.
Brief HistoryThe early development of archival services in the then British Central
African Protectorate was largely due to the efforts of some British ministers. For
instance, in March 1914, Lord Harcourt, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, asked his
colonial governors to "furnish me (him) with a brief report as to the existing
arrangements for the custody and preservation of the older official records of the
government which you (they) administer."In 1929, L. S. Amery demanded to be apprized
not only the condition of the state of organization of the records themselves. His
successor as Colonial Secretary, W. O Ormsby Gore, revisited the situation and followed it
up with a colonial dispatch in which he emphasized that:
'The preservation of its records in a satisfactory state
must be regarded as one of the first duties of a colonial government, a duty which derives
greater urgency from ... delay in the institution of suitable protective measures may and
does lead to the inevitable loss of documents of value.
Because of such bold measures, a National Archives was
established in Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia. Through a series of laws, this new
institution was later to collect and preserve the records of the Federation of Rhodesia
In the year 1947, depots were opened in Livingstone,
Northern Rhodesia and in Zomba, Nyasaland. Eleven years later, a consolidating legislation
was carefully drawn up. Consequently in 1959, the legislation was passed as the Federal
National Archives Act.
This act provided for the preservation, custody, control
and disposal of the public records and judicial records of the federation and its
territories. The federal government thus acquired, together with various other assets, the
records of the territorial records centers created in Nyasaland and the two Rhodesias. The
records upon reaching the age of 30 years and after being judged to be of enduring
historical value - were Declared public archives right in the National Archives
Headquarters in Salisbury.
Early in the 1 960s, Nyasaland seceded from the Federation
of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. In 1963, she became a self-governing state. On the dissolution
of the federation, the Federal National Archives Act became obsolete. It was thus amended
by the Archives Enactment RegulationIt then became very prudent and even more necessary
for each of the three countries to et up its own national archival institution. With such
a reality in the minds of government officials, an Archives Working Party was established.
Its main duty was to make recommendations on how the archival resources, then in
Salisbury, could be proportionally shared. This Archives Working Party later on became the
Committee on Federal Records.
The committee consisted of a chairman, a secretary and a
representative from each of the three territories. For a period amounting to a decade,
that is, 1964-74, the committee physically examined the federal records. Thereafter
schedules for their disposal were drawn-up. The result here was that at intervals the
records became repatriated to the country from which they had been imported.However, a
sizeable body of records which were of purely federal nature presented some problems.
Since they were indivisible it was decided to keep them permanently in Salisbury.
Researchers of all the territories were guaranteed unimpeded access to these controversial
In general terms, what had earlier on been the Zomba depot
of the Federal National Archives graduated into what became known as the National Archives
of Malawi. This took place on January 1, 1964, just six months before Nyasaland became an
independent state. To this day, the National Archives of Malawi as a department enforces
two acts of Parliament, namely: the National Archives and the Printed Publications Acts.
It operates through five professional divisions, namely records centres, public archives,
historical manuscripts, conservation and the library.
Underscore from its humble beginning at independence, the
National Archives of Malawi has grown to become one of the well-organized archival
institutions in this part of Africa with numerous problems which deserve a I special
attention not in this article but a later one.In 1964, through the 60s, its holdings
consisted of about 4,500 cubic feet of government records. By 1984, this figure had grown
to not less than 39,000 cubic feet. As at now. the holdings of government files are in
excess of not less than 60,000 cubic feet. The number of files that can be consulted in
the search room is :in excess of 25,000. In 1984, it was 14,000. The figure of 25,000
could have been exceeded had there been more room, available than is the situation at the
moment. The historical manuscript section has 174 accessions from various sources.The
library has also experienced unprecedented growth. In 1964, there were 120 books. At
present the figure is in excess of 50,000. This includes Central Africana Collection. The
library also has also 1,495 titles of periodicals.
1. Records Management centres:
There are three of these, one in each of the country's
regions. Their main responsibility is to promote government records managements services.
They act as immediate storage areas for all the records falling noncurrent in the
government department. The employees in these centres also conduct records management
surveys for government records. They also offer file-issue service to those ministries and
departments which have deposited their records.
Needless to say that these centers ensure that ministries
and departments transfer their non-current records to the records management centers for
safekeeping. Once the records have been retired to these centers, a decision is made on
what to destroy and what to keep.
Such a decision is based on the standing instructions for
the deposition of records drawn Jointly by prominent officials of ministries/departments
and the senior staff of the National Archives of Malawi. The Instructions indicate how
long the file is going to be kept after its closure.. Nonetheless, some records are
eliminated as soon as their value to the government ceases, while others are recommended
to be kept permanently for posterity's sake.
The Nation, 24 November, 2000
A repository of information
This continuation on the Nations Archives outlines the
organizations various sections and usesRecords deposited in the Records Centers
remain in Property of the depositing ministry or department. It is for this reason that a
file reference service is offered and maintained, ministries' and departments are,
therefore, very free to consult or request for their files deposited at the records
centers anytime they want them for reference
However, files or documents requested for reference are
supposed to be returned to the centers as soon as reference is over.
No ministry/department is allowed to consult/request for
records of another m Ministry/department without the consent of that ministry/ department.
Furthermore any individual wanting to consult records of a particular ministry/department
has to seek permission from the depositing ministry/ department. Otherwise, he want be
allowed to inspect the records he wants.
The records in the records centres after reaching the age
of forty years after the closure of files of such records are appraised by the staff of
the National Archives of Malawi. After being judged to be of enduring historical value
they are declared. Public Archives. This means that such records ceases to be the property
of those ministries/departments that created them and deposited them in the recordsIt also
follows that the custody of such records goes into the hands of the Senior Archivist in
the Public Archives Sections. This Archivist then following ICA rules for arranging and
describing archives prepares finding aids to ease the process of retrieving the archives
for inspection by researchers since they are open for public inspection.
Suffice it to say that permission to use the public'
archives is possible only after government clearance has been granted. Permission is
sought by applying to the Director of National Archives giving an explicit statement of
the research project, the period of research, purpose of the research and its possible
usefulness. In addition to this the applicant must enclose his/her curriculum vitae.
Applications are usually supposed to be processed within six weeks.
Historical manuscripts are basically collections of private
institutions such as corporate bodies, churches, clubs and societies and also of
individuals such as missionaries, colonial administrators, planters, hunters, just to
mention a few. This section is, therefore, involved in the collection of papers of the
above-mentioned institutions and persons who played a role in the development of the
nation from the formative years during the colonial era to the present. These complement
official written sources and they are usually correspondences, minute-book reports,
photographs, drawings, etc Such collections are then arranged and described in order to
make them accessible through catalogues, guides, lists, indexes and inventories 'The
section also controls the search room which provides services to general leaders,
researchers and students. It also offers advisory services through the post or in person.
Furthermore it is also involved in the training of personnel from private sector in
establishing their own archives. It also conducts surveys of business archives.The section
also coordinates oral history collection of prominent people. The interviews are
transcribed thereby enriching the country's collection of oral history.
For one to access historical manuscripts he has to apply
for permission through the Director of National Archives to the owners of the manuscripts.
Its main objective is to maintain a
comprehensive collection of printed literature relating to Malawi and the neighbouring
countries of which is to preserve the countrys documentary/literary heritage for
posterity and provision of supplementary sources of information for research and
scholarships. Its functions include the following: Collecting all publications relating to
Malawi and neighbouring countries through purchase, legal deposit or gifts and exchange;
Providing reference and bibliographic services to the general public.Compiling the Malawi
National Bibliography; Acting as a national coordinating agency for International Standard
Book Numbering system, (ISBN) Researchers and members of the public may consult the
printed literature, without prior arrangement. The only restriction imposed is that
researchers are not allowed to go home with library material.
The functions of this section are three
document repairing, book binding and microfilming. Document repairing extends the useful
life of material. The Bindery assists in binding loose material into book form. This also
spares the material from deterioration. Microfilming is essential for protecting material
that may be liable to further damage or may be at risk. Therefore multiple copies are made
for security and ease of access.
The paper has briefly outlined the history
of the National Archives of Malawi, its holdings, and its activities. However, the
numerous problems confronting the institution have been sidelined in this paper. 'They
obviously deserve a special and more rare treat 'This ought to be done in the near future.