Parliament Should Inspire National Archives

By Joel Mandaza

Although the quality of debate in our Parliament is fairly low, there are good things happening at in there.

In equal measure, these need to be highlighted.

As far as public institutions are concerned, the Parliament`s website is well run and has up to date information.

Even the Hansard is timeously uploaded, an approach which will allow members of the public access to deliberations that directly concern them.

The level of freedom which is afforded media covering Parliament is relatively better to that given at other public institutions.

But this is not to mean they should grow complacent.

Maybe it is time others took a leaf from the Parliament`s book and tried to keep information within reach of many Zimbabweans.

One such organisation which needs to humbly take notes from Parliament is the National Archives.

The National Archives is a public office meant to ensure all of the country`s communicated and recorded history is well –kept.

On the compilation side, they are near excellent.

They try by all means to ensure every book, pamphlet and other media are well kept, albeit in paper form.

This is where the danger lies, the office`s inability to move from the paper and clip methods of keeping records to a more convenient model.

There are a number of reasons why it should be a cause for concern that they are not fully digitalised.

Places with a lot of paper naturally possess a fire risk.

Should anything happen to the country`s history stored at National Archives, one wonders how much can be salvaged.

In this age of information wars, it is important that the existence of malice be kept within reach of reason.

It is almost 40 years since Zimbabwe gained its independence.

There is no need to maintain the colonial approach of having two main points of archiving in Harare and Bulawayo.

If the country is serious with devolution, the access to such services in all provinces, closer to the people should be on top of its list.

The current format of the National Archives systems only accommodates who are seeking to access the country`s history for a profit.

It is presently exclusionary.

Would a person in Mandamabwe, in Masvingo Province use more than $300 to go read old newspapers and speeches?

The opportunity cost is too big especially with the pressuring position the economy finds itself in.

As a result, some people will never have the experience of the national archive, not because of lack of interest but inaccessibility.

This is different from Parliament which reaches people through the national television, mainstream media and a digital Hansard.

One wonders if they are taking longer to convert held information to digital at National Archives, are they able to keep in touch with information shared on the internet.

As it stands, there is a lot of information being shared on online platforms individual or as organised media.

Are the National Archives capturing content shared by online media and communication people?

Will, there be a way of retracing all news articles, think pieces, pictures and videos being shared on the internet?

In the era of podcasts, blogs, e-books and other unconventional methods of taking part in the conversation which may be relevant accounts of history, there is a need for National Archives to modernise their reasoning.

Are they collating all documentaries, satire and skits being made for the internet?

One struggles to see how the current modus operandi at the organisation matches with the new formats of information dissemination.

With an estimated 4 million plus citizens based in the diaspora.

There is a need to consider them strongly in ensuring that they too have access to national information.

Other departments like the Registrar General`s office have been trying to increase inclusivity by reintroducing diaspora passport applications.

It is in the same way that the National Archives should cater for those who cannot physically be home.
Information should not be tedious to access,

Sometimes one is tempted to think the delay in digitalising the National Archives is deliberate.

The powers that be want to keep contentious records away from the scrutiny of the public eye.

Zimbabwe is a country which faced tension in its formative post-independence stage and there are episodes like Gukurahundi, Operation Murambatsvina and Operation Restore Legacy, which have had little information in the public domain.

Perhaps one seeking coherent accounts in what transpired may need to visit the physical archives where their reason of need may inform what information they access.

What if the office is maintaining a redundant system to ensure they control historic narratives on behalf of the state?

Can parliament watch as a potential danger of the distortion of history stands glaringly visible? Not when the Parliament itself stands as a good example of transparency.

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Daniel Chigundu

Daniel Chigundu is a male journalist in Zimbabwe and has been practising since September 2009. He used to the editor for The Business Connect (newspaper) in Harare, has his own news website Tourism Focus which is biased towards the tourism sector. Daniel is also working with Magamba Network on their project called Open Parliament where they do live coverage of Parliamentary activities on Twitter and Facebook. He is currently the secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Parliamentary Journalists Forum, is a member of Zimbabwe Small Broadcasters Association and a board member of Digital Communication Network. He holds a Diploma in Communication and Journalism from the Christian College of Southern Africa (CCOSA), a certificate in Youth leadership training from the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES), a certificate in Citizen Journalism from Magamba Network and is currently a first-year student at Zimbabwe Open University studying for a Bachelor of Arts Honours in Ethics and Organisational Leadership.

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