City’s reading room has no documents

2010-03-02 00:00

IF YOU visit the National Archives website, you will find the following notice posted at the top of the home page: “Renovation of Pietermaritzburg Archives Repository: Implications for reading room users.”

Be warned that those “implications” mean that you can no longer walk into the archives’ reading room in Pietermaritz Street and expect to gain access to documents, because all the archival material has been moved off site while the building is being renovated.

This has been the situation for some months and plays out into long and frustrating waits for documents, which has led to protests by researchers and historians.

The notification was posted on the website after a request by a genealogical research body.

It warns potential users of the archives to contact reading room staff at least five days before a visit to ensure the documents they wish to consult can be made available.

In practice, the waiting time can be much longer, as not all the material has been unpacked at the new storage location, which is kept secret for security purposes. Archive staff are also having to deal with angry people who have driven long distances only to find they will have to return again when the documents they requested have arrived at the reading room.

According to the notification issued by Judith Hawley, head of the Pietermaritzburg Archives Repository, the renovation “is expected to commence in April or May 2010 and should be completed by early 2011”.

However, no tender for the renovation has been awarded.

This is the latest development in a saga that began in 2007 when the National Archives (operating under the national Department of Arts and Culture) provided finance for major renovations to the Pietermaritzburg Archives Repository, and a contract was issued by the Public Works Department. This contract commenced in April 2007.

The contractor, according to the construction signage in front of the archives, was Sharpe Building and Plumbing Services. It subcontracted electrical work, fire detection and air-conditioning to specialist companies. However, the work of the main contractor proved to be problematic, and the contract was terminated in December 2008. This resulted in the termination of the work of the specialist contractors.

During this renovation period, the archival material was kept on site. This proved to be an unworkable situation, and it was decided that all the material would be moved off site before renovations were continued by a new contractor.

However, no advertised tender invitation for the renovation has come to light, despite the Public Works Department undertaking to issue a replacement contract.

It is also understood that the department intends taking legal action against Sharpe Building and Plumbing Services.

A list of questions was sent to the department on February 18, requesting clarification on these matters, but no response has been received.

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