SA hands over new Timbuktu library

31 May 2010

South Africa has handed over a new library and archives building to house the ancient Mali manuscripts at the Ahmed Baba Institute of Higher Learning and Islamic Research in the historic city of Timbuktu.

South African Minister in the Presidency Collins Chabane handed the new facility over to the Malian government in a ceremony held over the weekend.

The building was constructed, following a visit by former president Thabo Mbeki in 2001, to properly house the manuscripts in a bid to preserve Africa’s intellectual heritage.

The move to preserve the manuscripts was motivated by their historical value and anticipated contribution to the re-writing of the African history from an African perspective, the Presidency said in a statement.

According to Chabane, the South Africa-Mali Timbuktu project was managed through a trust that had three main objectives, including:

  • the physical conservation of the manuscripts and training of the Malian conservators;
  • the construction of the library and archives building to house the manuscripts and all services relating to the preservation, collection and accession of the manuscripts; and
  • the creation of public awareness on the need to preserve the manuscripts and their importance as sources relating the true story of Mali and the surrounding regions.
  • ‘Place of scholarship’

    According to Chabane, colonial literature and discourse has always characterised Timbuktu as the world’s most remote place.

    “The reality is that Timbuktu was the crossroad that linked sub-Saharan Africa to the cultures of the Mediterranean and the Middle East for millennia,” he said. “Timbuktu flourished as a place of scholarship with a university when Europe had only two universities.”

    Above all, Chabane said, the manuscripts of Timbuktu demonstrated conclusively that the myth propagated by colonisers, that Africans were ignorant and illiterate, was totally false.

    “While the script used in the manuscripts is Arabic, the languages contained therein include local languages such as Songhay, Fulfulde and others,” he said.

    “Africans proclaim these manuscripts as integral to their own culture, their own literary culture that records matters of faith, law, social arrangements, environment, sciences and medicine.”

    Nepad cultural project

    The project, adopted by the New Economic Partnership of Africa’s Development (Nepad) as its first cultural project, provided intervention measures to slow down the degradation of the manuscripts and encouraged active intellectual engagement emanating from research.

    South African conservators led by the National Archives worked closely with the Tunisian government and provided training both in South Africa and Mali. In South Africa, training, mostly on preventive conservation, was provided to more than 10 Malian conservators.

    A total of 14 officials also received training in conservation at the Ahmed Baba Institute of Higher Learning and Islamic Research.

    Also present at the weekend’s ceremony were the South African ambassador to Mali, Mali Higher Education and Scientific Research Minister Siby Ginette Bellegarde, the governor of the local region and the mayor of Timbuktu.

    SAinfo reporter

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