Preserving Audio-Visual Heritage: A National Archives of Zimbabwe (NAZ) Perspective
By Amos Bishi (Archivist)
This paper seeks to articulate the current landscape of audio-visual heritage preservation at the National Archives of Zimbabwe and examine the barriers that have hindered the development of proficient preservation programs for them and suggests possible ways to address the challenges facing the collection and preservation of these materials in the country. Preservation of audio visual heritage is becoming important, as they are getting more and more popular in the drama arts communities. In this post-modern environment audio visual heritage which includes film, video and sound has gained full recognition as cultural assets in various countries. The paper outlines the urgent need for a preservation of the county's heritage for building the digital archives that are much desired for the future.
Background of Audio-Visual Archiving in Zimbabwe
The nature of documentary heritage in many African archives had been mostly in traditional formats. In the recent past the National Archives of Zimbabwe (NAZ) has incorporated audiovisual archives that were elevated by the library section and in 1988 the audio-visual unit was established and took control for the management of these valuable records. However the institution has not effectively procured all the equipment that facilitate correct preservation management programmes and policies that ensure sustained acquisition, preservation and access to these precious records.
The National Archives of Zimbabwe (NAZ) came into being through an Act of Parliament of 1935 in September. The department was under the government of Southern Rhodesia. Soon after the country gained its independence in 1980 the department became known as the National Archives of Zimbabwe (NAZ) with its mandate that is of acquiring, preserving and providing access to the historical and cultural heritage of the country in whatever format. The purpose of the NAZ is to ensure the permanent survival of the nation's history. The basic infrastructure and systems are in place to enable the institution to offer archival management service to the nation efficiently.
History of Zimbabwean Television
Television was introduced into the then Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) in 1960; it was the first such service in the southern region, as neighboring South Africa did not introduce Television until 1976. The ZBC introduced color television in 1984, with a second channel, available only in Harare in 1986 and this channel was disconnected in 1997 and replaced by the first independent Channel known as Joy Television. The Joy TV dissolves its operations in 2001 after failing to pay fees to the ZBC. Today ZBC has introduced the second channel known as Channel two (2) which began its operations in 2010 and it covers a distance of only eighty (80km) around Harare.
Bradsher (1988) concurred that, it all began in 1839 when the Frenchman Louis J.M Daguerre announced that he had captured a photographic image on a silver-coated copper plate. In 1977 the remarkable Thomas Alva Edison successfully recorded sound on a rotating tin foil cylinderr. The audio-visual unit exists primarily to serve the information needs of the institution, through the generation, acquisitions, organisation, preservation and dissemination of audiovisual archives. The Unit therefore continue to lag behind in technology yet audio-visual heritage has become a predominantly medium for global information exchange for past, present and future generations.
SOIMA (2007) stated that, audiovisual records are an integral part of our contemporary life and culture. Yet audiovisual materials around the world are at risk due to deterioration, technological obsolescence or damage from natural and other disasters. The audiovisual heritage has a strong appeal and visual impact to both the knowledgeable and uneducated in the social order and they clearly portray African dynamics in a multipolar world. The Culture Fund of Zimbabwe Trust states that, the past is always relevant to the present, informing our views, answering our questions and pointing us in the right direction.
The Zimbabwean government like most governments in Eastern Southern African Regional Branch (ESARBICA) of the International Council on Archives (ESARBICA) region find themselves with other numerous tasks as eradication of poverty, food security, health, and education. As a result the preservation of audio-visual heritage remains a lesser priority. Such problems with cuts in funding are frequent in developing countries. Ironically, it is in such places that audiovisual archives are most desired since a large part of the African traditions and folklore is transmitted verbally. Shuller (1996) stated that, audio and video documents are the most significant primary sources of linguistic and cultural diversity. With all respect to the role of language and written texts in human communication, the limits of these traditional tools to communicate and describe cultural phenomena are obvious and undisputed. Edmondson (2004) stated that, The cataclysmic changes of the 20th century, wars, political transformation, space exploration, the global village have not only been recorded, transmitted and shaped by them, they could not have happened without them. Collective memory has moved from a manual to a technological concept.
Audio-visual heritage at the archival institution are at risk, the unit lacks infrastructure, policies, expertise and functional equipment that facilitate the preservation of these valuable assets. The audiovisual collections are the most threatened due to their nature and demand for highly technical equipment. These sources of information need to be properly preserved to achieve the ultimate goal of providing access to all generations. This is consistent with the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and it's Convention on Civil and Political Rights (1966), which stipulates that everyone has the right to an identity, and therefore the right of access to their documentary heritage, including their audiovisual heritage. This includes the right to know it exists, and where to find it.
The audiovisual unit is a member of the IASA, AMIA, FIAT, FIAF, SOIMA and several other Audiovisual organizations but lately the institution was not in a position to send it members to attend the workshops pertaining to the advent of technology in their profession that of analog and digital and thus the unit continues to lag behind and as a result the unit continue to fight obsolescence of its carriers, equipment and analog technology furthermore the audiovisual archivist are not getting scholarships from these organizations for training in developed countries and the few that got training in developed countries left the institution in search of greener pastures. However the institution has got an audiovisual archivist who was trained at George Eastman museum of film and photography who now currently works for the United Nations is now responsible for training in ESARBICA member countries in film archiving.
Acquisition of audiovisual heritage
Currently the National Archives acquires audiovisual material from only government departments primarily the Ministry of Information Production Services Centre. With no Legal deposit Act, individual film and sound producers do not deposit their material to the Archives. The Archives has either to purchase audiovisual materials or get a donation. The National Archives has tried to acquire audiovisual materials from the National broadcaster Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings but there has been no progress on the issue. Apart from the vast paper documents dating back to the 1890s the institution holds more than thirty thousand still photographs dating back to mid 19 th century, thousands of gramophone records (vinyl) several hundreds of audiotapes with music and oral testimonies, slides, reel tapes, magnetic tapes and Compact Disks (CDs) all on or about Zimbabwe.
The collection and equipment
The unit has over 3 000 films titles produced between 1940 and 1980. The films come in 16mm and 35mm gauges. Most of the films were produced by the Central Film African Unit and its predecessors (Federation Film Unit and Zimbabwe Production Services). CAFU was formed during the peak of colonisation of Africa and the original idea behind its formulation was to educate Africans good practices through films. The films were distributed and shown to audiences through a mobile film service across Africa and many other Commonwealth territories. Against this background, film collection constitutes a rich source of information on colonial history, not only on Zimbabwe but also in Zambia and Malawi. The collection also portrays the history of Zimbabwe's Liberation struggle from early uprisings in 1950s. The picture below portrays films in canisters shelved on high density steel shelves in cold rooms.
The NAZ has over 15,000 vinyl discs of varied musical genres. The discs were transferred from ZBC Radio Two now Radio Zimbabwe and portrays the Zimbabwean music culture. Most of the music that was played on air from the 1950s to the late 1990s is in this gramophone records collection. Such local music genres as Folklore, Traditional and among others constitute the collection. The picture below portrays the gramophone playback equipment and some vinyl disc on a rack at the unit's sound room.
Largely on reel to reel audio tapes and audio, the collection is a rich source of information on the history of the liberation war struggle. Most of the materials are live radio broadcasts from Radio Maputo during the Zimbabwe's liberation struggle. The collection comprises of interviews of leaders from various guerrilla groups, liberation songs, reports on events such as Chimoio and Nyadzonya massacres. The picture below portrays a reel to reel playback equipment and some reel carriers in their cases.
The Unit has got a collection of Television programmes, largely on VHS and UMATIC, the NAZ has a small but growing collection of television programmes from ZBC TV. A lot of history, culture is captured in these various collections, people from within and outside the country from individuals, organisations, artists, filmmakers, academics, and government organisations, legislators use these collections.
Equipment responsible for all the audiovisual processes include film inspection, editing, cleaning, dubbing, preservation, viewing, copying, data entry for cataloguing and access are the electric film inspection table, Sternberg editing table, Ultrasonic cleaning machine, Telecine machine 35/16mm projector, film rewinding table, Sony Video Monitors, Coldrooms, Dehumidifiers, Revox head phones, Revox tape deck, slide reader, Revox speakers, Ferguson Video Cassette Recorder, 2 Mecer Pentium 4 computers.
The left picture portrays an audiovisual archivist operating a film editing table and the picture at the right side portrays a non functioning ultrasonic film cleaning machine. The diagram below illustrates all the basic equipment that is currently housed at audiovisual unit.
Challenges faced by the institution
The existence and growing volumes of audiovisual media has created new challenges in the institution in some degree comparable to conventional paper. The institut ion has got good infrastructure and technical equipment but it is failing to maintain standards due to machine broken down and lack of technical staff and financial recourses to service the machines. Like the rest of Africa the institution suffer from technological lap. Obsolescence of the carriers and equipment presents a challenge to the archivist in the Audiovisual Unit who lacks knowledge and skills in the management of audiovisual materials.
The Audiovisual Unit lacks a dedicated repository for housing its collections with properly controlled temperature and humidity. The Unit currently uses the records center storage facilities, the country lacks legislation that recognizes audiovisual heritage as cultural assets yet the UNESCO has declared them as valuable cultural sources of information.
Most of the collections are still in analogue format and there is little migration and digitization to current formats due to lack of funding and non functioning play back equipment. Technological obsolescence is a major handicap in the institution since most of the collections are on analogue carriers which include films, vinyl, reel to reel magnetic tapes, cassets, U-matic, Beta and VHS. None functioning of playback and dubbing technical equipment is posing a threat on accessing and migrating the carriers to the latest medium so as to be in touch with tomorrow.
Director of the national archives should report to a powerful ministry or report directly to parliament. Such positions will enable national archives to fulfill their mandate. This will be very helpful to the NAZ as the government archivist will raise the concern of preserving the country heritage to the house of assembly which resembles the society processes that will in cooperated into the houses of memory through audiovisual archiving.
The institution should network with local, regional and international Audiovisual Archives with the same equipment for example the National Film, Video and Sound Archive of South Africa (NFVSA) to assist in repairing their equipment. The audiovisual archive of South Africa is well established and the NAZ audiovisual; archivists should cooperate with the South African Audiovisual archivist through training and workshops through some inter archival arrangements. Policy makers should review existing archival legislation to reflect new technologies. This is very crucial in the case of the NAZ and other institutions within the region; the NAZ is currently struggling to propose for the amendment of the NAZ Act of 1986 so that it will accommodate legal deposit for audiovisual archive materials of Zimbabwean concerns as it is at the NAFVA of South Africa Act No. 43 of 1996.
There is need for the institution at large to engage with the global community at large which includes that of the Japanese Cultural Fund which used to be the elephant of the audiovisual in for donating equipment and also help to rescue the dissipating audiovisual materials. This can also be done through training, attaching experts to the unit and as well as financial rescues.
Network with National Film Archives from developed countries to donate the equipment that they don't use but is still in good condition. In 2006 through networking the Archives received a 16mm Pageant projector courtesy of Tim Wagner, Inspection bench handles courtesy of the Northeast historic Film, and the George Eastman House shipped it at their expense to the National Archives of Zimbabwe. This cooperation and networking among Film Archives and Audiovisual Archivists should continue.
SOIMA 2007, Safeguarding Sound and Image Collections 6-31 August, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Bradsher, J. G. (Editor) 1988. Managing Archives and Archival Institutions. London. Mansell Publishing Limited.
Edmondson, R. 2004. Audiovisual Archiving: Philosophy and Principles. UNESCO Recommendations for the Safeguarding and Preservation of Moving Images. Paris.
Shuller, D. 1996. "Preservation of Audio and Video Materials in Tropical Countries". IASA Journal 7 Reprint in: International Preservation News 21/2000.