By Joel Pearson


In this article, I explore the flows of official paperwork in the troubled Mogalakwena Local Municipality in the Waterberg District of Limpopo Province from 2009 to 2015. The documentary environment of this municipality exhibits many of the challenges identified in existing scholarship on contemporary records management in the state. In this paper, I raise another aspect which has not been interrogated sufficiently by South African archival scholars: the role that divisive political conflicts play in shaping records practices. This study takes cues from the work of scholars of paperwork elsewhere, who have called attention to the social and political climates in which state functionaries write. What lies beneath the gridwork of generic terminology that letters the documentary productions of the state is a world of competing human designs, of antagonistic strategies, and, in particularly contested settings, of emotional distress and bitter fights for political survival. In Mogalakwena, an intensifying political conflict came to directly influence documentary practices in the institution, resulting in a ‘war of documents’. This study offers another reminder to both archival practitioners and historians to consider the document in context, and understand it as an instrument of power through which broader social struggles are refracted.

Read the full article in the South African History Journal