My Lockdown Experience

By Susan Mvungi

Susan Mvungi is an archival specialist in the Primary Collections Department in Special Collections, UCT Libraries

Image credit: BusinessTech

2020 was a year unlike any other. Nothing could have prepared us for the Coronavirus pandemic. Nobody could have foreseen the government ordering a national lockdown on the 26th March 2020. I started the Archivist role with Special Collections under lockdown restrictions in April 2020, hence, I have not had a single ‘normal’ day as an Archivist. My whole world was turned upside down, all my work had to be done remotely. I used tools such as Microsoft teams and Zoom to interact with colleagues whom I had never met in real life. Despite all of this, the Special Collections team still managed to make me feel welcomed and provided me with all the necessary tools and knowledge that I needed to perform my duties. This blog will demonstrate the work of an Archivist during lockdown.

Project-related work

I received my work laptop from the University and began to work using the University’s Virtual Private Network. I was engaged in various project related work. My first project involved working on AtoM to create AtoM archival description records for collections such as: the William Plomer Gift Collection (BC396), Richard Owen Dudley (BC1522), the Snape Papers (BC340) the Mackenzie Collection (BC1), Early South African College Documents (BC4), Elsie Hall Papers (BC10), Ebden Miscellany (BC5B), McGregor Collection (BC9), the TB Davie Collection (BC6-8), and University of Cape Town Centenary, 1929 (BC12) through to Dr Bremer (BC24).

 Richard Owen Dudley

Audio/Visual Archive

I also contributed to the BVF41 Khomani San – Hugh Brody Archive photo project, by adding metadata (data that provides information about other data) to the photos and identifying duplicates within the collection. The Khomani San digital archive provides a small, rich, diverse archive on the Khomani San people of the southern Kalahari. The Khomani San archive includes irreplaceable audio material of the N|uu language and is the most exhaustive documentation of the Khomani San heritage. The archive holds 15 years of work with the Khomani San and includes original film, maps, GIS databases, family trees, and transcripts. I had to identify and go through images/photos to see which ones were officially part of the collection, so as to preserve and showcase (rights dependent).

Dawid Kruiper and Hugh Brody

Another audio/visual archive I was involved with was the BVF17 Community Media Trust (CMT) AIDS archive. The CMT is a non-profit company that focusses on interaction in the spheres of health and human rights. The AIDS archive is an archival resource on HIV/AIDS and consists of footage of people living with the virus, and the work done by health care workers and other support networks. I worked on a file naming convention for the AIDS archive files for folders on the server (1996-2010). And I was also instrumental in terms of metadata work for this collection.

Memory@UCT Blog

I became an administrator for the Special Collections Memory@UCT blog website which uses WordPress. Being an administrator gave me the opportunity to add blog stories onto the website. The blog post platform was crucial during the lockdown period, because it was used as a tool to communicate to others the work that was accomplished during this time. The following blog posts were among the few blogs that I posted: New history of UCT under apartheid shines a light on archival sources in Special Collections, written by Clive Kirkwood; and Literacy, a shared goal, written by Thundeza Mafungwa.

Archival Inventories

I had the pleasure of working on several interesting archival collections that had been donated to the Special Collections Department for further processing. The process involved receiving the material and then rearranging it into a logical order, and then preserving the material digitally on the Special Collections finding aids website, according to a predetermined categorization. The Professor Arthur Barclay Bull personal papers was the first collection I embarked on classifying. Prof Arthur Bull was one of the pioneers in South African Anaesthesia from the 1940’s up until his death in 2001. The material was donated by Emeritus Associate Professor Peter Gordon and it comprised of two archival boxes. This collection is significant because Arthur Bull revolutionised the field of Anaesthesia, contributing to the field in South Africa and internationally. The Taurus blood warmer that was used after blood transfusion was one of the many technologies introduced by Bull and it is still in use till today.

Taurus Blood Warmer

The next collection I worked on was the Harold Cressy papers comprising of one archival box.  The material in this collection was donated by researcher UCT Emeritus Associate Professor Mohamed Adhikari, who published a biography on Harold Cressy in 2012 entitled Against the current: A biography of Harold Cressy, 1889-1916.

Against the current: A biography of Harold Cressy, 1889-1916

The personal papers in this collection provided a valuable history of the apartheid Bantu Education Act and Harold Cressy’s role as an education activist, teacher, and civil rights activist, and as the first coloured person to obtain a degree in South Africa. Cressy founded the Teachers’ League of South Africa which was instrumental in reforming the South African education system against the Bantu Education Act. In 1953 the Cape Town Secondary School was renamed to Harold Cressy High School.

Trafalgar Memorial Plaque

The Reverend Daniel J. Jacobs papers was another interesting small collection I worked on comprising of two archival boxes. The papers in this collection provided a valuable history of the Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church in Worcester under the leadership of Rev Daniel J. Jacobs. The next collection was the Helen Rooza papers comprising of a single archive box. Helen Rooza was a costumier/accomplished seamstress/wardrobe mistress with a career in Cape Town theatre life from the 1950’s covering many decades. In the 1970’s Helen became a founder member of the Space Theatre in Bloem Street with Brian Astbury, Yvonne Bryceland, and Athol Fugard. Helen received the Cape Tercentenary Foundation award in 1979 for her contribution to cultural life.

Helen Rooza scrapbook

I am currently busy sorting and arranging the Professor William Harold Hutt papers. The material in this collection provides a history of Professor William Harold Hutt’s academic career as an economist. The collection also includes personal material, newspaper clippings, letters of correspondence, and some of his popular publications. The collection highlights Hutt’s contribution to the field of economics, the work he did towards improving unemployment in countries, and the work he did with trade unions. Hutt also worked to improve the situation created by apartheid white labour unions causing great hinderances to black people trying to enter the workforce in South Africa.

The collection also includes material collected by his wife Grethe Hutt-Schonken who was an art lover and collector. She travelled to the interior of Africa and studied African folklore and art and her paintings are based mainly on ethnic cultures of Black Africa. Content belonging to Grethe in this collection includes diaries, photographs, postcards, collection of degree certificates, and newspaper clippings.

William Harold Hutt

Other work

Other small project work I have been involved in included putting together an inventory for the Alf Wannenburgh tapes; and creating metadata to support the digitisation of the interview of Ivan Toms for the Centre for Popular Memory (CPM) project. I created a spreadsheet for the Bleek and Lloyd collection. The spreadsheets contents were put together by comparing the Bleek and Lloyd digital collection website with photos from the Bleek and Lloyd collection. Then cross-checking that with the metadata from the actual physical photo (front and verso), and ensuring that all the necessary metadata regarding the photo was included.

Bleek and Lloyd Collection – Lake Chryssie B. women and Children

After the country eased up its lockdown regulations, the Special Collections department saw it fit to provide a scan and email service from September 2020. I was part of the team providing the service physically onsite once every Wednesday.

Joining the Special Collections team under these uncertain times of lockdown has had its challenges, but I have enjoyed every minute of it, and joining a great team has a lot to do with it. The past 12 months have brought me into a new way of thinking about archive work, and has led me to appreciate that virtual libraries are the future. The pandemic has changed the way that we work forever.