MU partners with South African school to preserve Robben Island documents


Political prison is the subject.

After Nelson Mandela died last week, the University of Missouri College of Education will have a hand in honoring his legacy by partnering with the University of the Western Cape and Robben Island Museum in South Africa to preserve thousands of historical papers, photos and items related to the political prisoners held at Robben Island.

Thomas Kochtanek, associate professor in the School of Information Science & Learning Technologies, said MU has been partners in education with UWC since 1986, and the schools have collaborated on several projects over the years. “This project is entirely new. It began out of that long-term relationship between the universities, percolated over the past year and resulted in the crafting of a memorandum of understanding between the two universities to pursue the project,” Kochtanek said.

The memorandum of understanding was signed last Monday.

“This is really an access project; we’re going to provide access to documents that otherwise you would never be able to see” unless you would “get in an airplane, fly for 24 hours to South Africa and make an appointment to see these documents, which are pretty special,” Kochtanek said.

Kochtanek said UWC will handle the primary documents — the paper, photos, videos — all the things in the archives that are memorable. He said while UWC is preserving those artifacts, it will scan them, and that is where MU takes over.

“The expertise at Mizzou is digital curation. …Mizzou’s task is to make sure we adhere to international standards for the exchange of pictures, videos and so forth and design a really cool website,” Kochtanek said.

Kochtanek said the content, which includes hundreds of thousands of pages of historical papers and about 120,000 photos, belongs to the Robben Island Museum. Robben Island is where many political prisoners, including Mandela, were incarcerated for opposing apartheid and the South African regime from the 1960s to the early 1990s. Others mentioned in archive documents include former Archbishop Desmond Tutu and South African Constitution author Albie Sachs.

Kochtanek said the project will take a couple of years but will be worth the work.

“These are treasures and resources, and it’s all classics, and all of this material was underground until democracy prevailed. This is really a story of democracy and the struggle through the apartheid era,” Kochtanek said.

While the loss of Mandela has saddened everyone, Mandela’s legacy of reconciliation and forgiveness, towards the vision of the ‘rainbow’ nation, will live on in this way,” Daniel Clay, dean of the MU College of Education, said in a prepared statement.

Clay said he is proud to continue a working relationship with UWC, adding their partnership was the first ever between a U.S. university and a nonwhite South African University.

This article was published in the Monday, December 9, 2013 edition of the Columbia Daily Tribune with the headline “MU has role in Mandela projet