Endangered Archives

EAP429: A survey of church archives in Botswana

Mr Shadreck Bayane, Public Procurement and Asset Disposal Board
2011 award - Pilot project
£1,779 for 4 months

Project Overview

Botswana’s unique, interesting and long history would be incomplete without the rich documentary heritage of Churches. It goes without saying that churches played a pivotal role in the peace and stability of this Southern African country which it has enjoyed since gaining independence from Britain in 1966.

That the significance and role of churches in Botswana has evolved over time is not in dispute. What is not clear though is where their records and archives are or how they have been kept. These records have remained inaccessible and there is a danger that some may be lost. The records need to be located and a register of their whereabouts be maintained.

Researchers, scholars, policy makers, churches and their local, regional and international associate members and partners, general populace and other stakeholders stand to benefit greatly from a complete guide to Botswana church records and archives. This project would go a long way to giving the Botswana churches the opportunities and support to adequately collect, preserve and maintain their records and historical documents.

Botswana has harsh climatic conditions, with summer temperatures ranging between 30ºC - 42ºC, and during winter temperatures get as low as -3ºC. Also, being a tropical area, it is invested with many biological pests such as termites. All of this is detrimental to the long term preservation of church archives.

A considerable number of different churches in major towns and villages across the country will be covered such as the Dutch Reformed, Lutheran, Methodist, Seventh Adventist and Anglican churches, United Congregational church of Southern Africa (UCCSA), African Independent churches and Pentecostal churches. The project will seek to identify the types, formats, quantities and condition of the archives involved. The material is thought to date back to the late 19th century and to cover registers of baptisms, marriages, burials and other services, minutes and financial records, correspondence and administrative records, photographs, files on influential individuals, education and health.

The purpose of this survey of church archives and records in Botswana, which shall culminate with a compilation of a detailed report and/or inventory of the church records and archives, is to address fundamental issues such as the locations of the records and archives, who the custodians are and how the records are collected, preserved, arranged, described and made available for use.

Project Outcome

This study has revealed that the materials are mainly located in three areas: within churches’ head offices and branches across and outside the country; in private hands; and, to a lesser extent, considering the large number of old churches in the country, at the Botswana National Archives and Records Services. Stored in improper containers, in unsuitable buildings with uncontrolled temperatures, some torn and worn-out and handled by personnel lacking the understanding of preservation techniques, the study indicates that the loss, irrevocable damage, scattering and misplacement and physical deterioration of most of these materials is inevitable in the long term if a solution is not found anytime soon. The churches which participated and/or were covered in this study were:

  1. Methodist Church of Southern Africa
  2. Assemblies of God
  3. Faith Gospel After Christ Church
  4. Roman Catholic Church
  5. Anglican Church
  6. United Congregational Church of Southern Africa (UCCSA)
  7. Body Church of Jesus Christ
  8. Church of the Nazarene
  9. Jehovah’s Witness Botswana
  10. Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa
  11. Seventh Day Adventist Church
  12. Old Apostolic Church

This study has established that the materials are not effectively stored and preserved and as a result they remain inaccessible and susceptible to deterioration, loss and misplacement. Therefore, the study recommends that these church archives should be salvaged through digitisation. All the relevant local stakeholders should start to play their part in earnest in the effective management and administration of church archives in the country.

These materials, dating back to the 1960s and earlier, were predominantly paper-based. The study discovered that they are owned and administered by the respective churches. The materials consisted mainly of, inter alia, church correspondences, reports, minutes of meetings, church constitutions and registration, baptismal, marriage, deacons, birth and dedication certificates.

Survey report (PDF format 430KB)