LIASA Statement: Destruction of Timbuktu libraries

2013

Dear Colleagues

Further to the reports on the destruction of the Timbuktu libraries, on behalf of LIASA, I would like to register our utter dismay at the senseless destruction of libraries including the Ahmed Baba Institute of Islamic Advanced Studies and Research in Timbuktu, which was known as a  veritable treasure house of thousands of priceless Timbuktu manuscripts. The wanton and deliberate destruction of these buildings and manuscript collections, which were a unique record of sub-Saharan Africa’s medieval history and Malian history, must be denounced. It is indeed sad that a city which was historically noted for its love for learning and intellectual discourse had to fall foul to the ravages of war, fuelled by political ignorance and fundamentalism. This  type of religious vandalism is increasingly impacting on world heritage and gives rise to concerns about the protection and preservation of cultural heritage sites and material in politically unstable countries.

It is sincerely hoped that the digitisation projects undertaken by the South African and Norwegian governments, as well as the World Digital Library, will enable the world to have digital access to some of the material that is now lost forever. Every effort must be made to support those who managed to put material into safekeeping so that this valuable collection is suitably preserved.

Ujala Satgoor
LIASA President 2012-2014

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Dear Colleagues,

I would like to echo the words  of  the LIASA President, Ujala, on the matter of destruction of the Timbuktu Libraries and manuscripts .  A whole region’s memory, going back several centuries,  is again lost to war and fundamentalism. We  stand with those who condemn these acts of vandalism and, perhaps,   find solace in that the digitised collections will remain preserved.

Sincerely

Buhle Mbambo-Thata

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Dear LIASA

Voetspore is an adventure Documentary Television series, exploring Africa. As such we had the opportunity in 2009 to visit Timbuktu. We were extremely proud to see the Ahmed baba Library, erected with donations from South Africa and designed by a South African architect.

At the time of our visit the library was not operational yet, but we had the opportunity the explore the building from the inside and outside. It was very impressive to see what was done to protect and preserve the age old treasures of this ancient city. Somehow we believed only good could come from the Ahmed Baba Library.

It is with great sadness that we learnt of the developments in Mali. What a pity that the library that was erected for the sole purpose of preserving Mali’s past, lead to its destruction. The hope is that some of the documents survived, and that when peace return to this region, efforts will be made to preserve that what is left.

Our thoughts are with the people of Timbuktu. In 2009 we spent a few wonderful days in this ancient city. We think back with fondness of the people of Timbuktu. We were treated as guests, and were welcomed with open arms. We trust that there are better days ahead.

Yours truly
Johan Badenhorst
Producer/Vervaardiger
www.voetspore.co.za

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This is sad. One cannot express shock and sadness. The attack on these valuable, timeless manuscripts is a shame and its destroying all the wealth of knowledge and heritage for future generations/scholars.

Tebogo Mzizi
eThekwini Libraries

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Absolutely shocking and terribly sad that these valuable treasures will be lost forever!

Regards
Denise Nicholson

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Dear Colleagues

It is with great relief that I’ve just learned that nothing valuable was destroyed. “There was no malicious destruction of any library or collection. The custodians of the library worked quietly throughout the rebel occupation of Timbuktu to ensure the safety of their materials’ This was reported by Professor Jeppie Shamil, head of the Tombouctou Manuscripts at UCT. We salute these forward thinking custodians!

Regards
Theresa Denton
LIASA Librarian of the Year 2012

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We have to salute those unsung heroes who quietly and quickly moved the treasures to safety.
Ingrid Thomson

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Absolutely….once more librarians are the unsung heroes and heroines who protect our heritage in the face of adversity!
Nohra Moerat

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Dear Colleagues
Here locally we have seen the protesting communities burning libraries, Ratanda, is one example. We had committed librarians Julia Paris and her Gauteng South Exco playing a role to help restore the Ratanda library. I think we must as well educate our government local and provincial of these results of poor service deliveries.
Now I urge LIASA President to write to Minister of Local Government and raise concern so as to stop or minimize these barbaric acts.
Salute to those librarians who worked riskly to protect the valuable material in that library.
Zakes Radebe

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Dear Colleagues
It is reported in the news today that when the security guards, bookbinders and restorers who worked for the Ahmed Baba institute saw the smoke coming from the library they broke down and cry. The only person who did not cry was the library’s acting director, Cisse who had conspired to save the documents when the first rebels arrived. They did not realised that only 2 000 manuscripts had been moved there, the others were all still at the old library. An elderly, illiterate old man, Abba Alhadi who walks with a cane and looks like a character from the Bible packed the books into empty rice and millet sacks. During the night he would load the sacks on to trolleys that used to cart vegetables. He then pushed them across town and piled them into a lorry and onto the motorcycles, which drove them to the banks of the Niger River. They were then taken to the central Malian town of Mopti on a boat and from their it was transported to Mali’s capital, Bamako, over 1000 km with cars. Everyone thought that the city’s European educated elite would try to save the manuscripts, but this man was the perfect foil for the Islamists. In his words: “It hurt me deeply to see them go, but I took strength knowing that they were being sent to a safe place.” Most of the texts that was housed in the new building were digitised. We salute these heroes!
Theresa Denton
LIASA Librarian of the Year 2012

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Dear Colleagues
Very interesting!  It read like a suspense novel!
PIETER LOUW
UNIT MANAGER: LIBRARY & INFORMATION MANAGEMENT
RUSTENBURG LOCAL MUNICIPALITY

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Good morning Colleagues
I would like to add my voice to the congratulations reverberating across our continent and the world, to honour those brave souls who saved priceless, historic documents in Mali. Preservation of information and knowledge is dear to us as humans, as librarians. It is with this love of knowledge that I urge librarians not to perpetuate the ignorance and bias portrayed in the media. PLEASE refrain from referring to these ignoramuses, guilty of these ignorant acts of destruction, as Islamist rebels. They have about as much to do with Islam as you and the Pope. These people do not represent the beliefs and values of Islam. They are as misguided and as far removed from Islam as it is possible to be. As librarians we need to be as informed as possible. Most mainstream media, through their owners and policy makers have agendas of their own. They feel free to link the terms Muslim and Islam to words such as rebels and terrorists and worst. These tags are not attached to atrocities committed by followers of other faiths. As informed librarians we should know better.
Regards
Anwa Adriaanse
Principal Librarian: Technical Services
Library and Information Services
Directorate: Community Services
City of Cape Town

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Dear Colleagues

What worries me about the Timbuktu libraries saga is the following:
SATV2 on the 19:00 news (29th Jan 2013) indicated that damage to the “libraries” were minimal – (The Afrikaans word used was minimaal.)

Pretoria News p. 14 of 30th Jan 2013 proclaims in bold letters “Centuries of Timbuktu history in ruins: Islamist fighters in the Mali desert city have destroyed a South African-funded library that contained priceless and ancient manuscripts”.

SATV2 on the 19:00 news (4th Febr 2013) showed scenes of manuscripts burnt and damaged (supposedly taken in the Ahmed Baba Institute.)

Do a search on Google for more news on the destruction of the Timbuktu libraries.

I refer to the numerous e-mails posted on the subject of “the valuable material which now will be lost forever…” due to “religious vandalism…”  but thank heavens for “digitisation”.

But now we are “saluting the forward thinking custodians”, ”who worked riskly to protect the valuable material…” and we are “greatly relieved that nothing valuable was destroyed”.

As librarians/information workers we should see the above for what it really is – call it mis-information or call itdis-information, you decide.

And in the end, do we know what to believe.

Regards.
Nico M Ferreira
Unisa Library Service

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To all our colleagues in the trouble torn area of Timbuktu we the Librarians and members of the Library and Information Association of South Africa (LIASA)are following your story on our network. We commend you for the efforts in trying to protect and preserve the unique rare and valuable manuscript collections, the worlds’ heritage and research resources. Thank you and take care.

Nellie Somers

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The Portfolio Committee on Arts and Culture has received with disappointment the reports that militants in Mali have burned down the Ahmed Baba Centre for Documentation and Research, which housed priceless manuscripts.

The burning down of the Centre means the destruction of valuable history not only for Mali, but for the world as a whole. The Committee is concerned about the impact that this reckless action will have on future generations as it will deprive them of the opportunity to see first-hand scholarly advances made in this continent.

The action also goes against the ethos of cultural revival as advocated by the African Union, and derails efforts to retrieve and protect Africa’s cultural heritage for the purpose of reinforcing the uniqueness of the African identity.

The Centre, funded by the South African Government, was central to the development of Mali and the continent as a whole. This is because the Centre attracted visitors from around the world, resulting in economic participation by the people of Mali and surrounding countries. The heightened economic activity brought with it much needed employment opportunities, and would have resulted in more development around the area.

The Committee urges all Africans to remain proud of their culture and history. The Committee will continue to support initiatives aimed at retrieving and preserving of cultural heritage symbols that will assist in reinforcing African heritage. The Committee calls on proud Africans to actively work together in a bid to protect such cultural symbols.
Portfolio Committee on Arts and Culture

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The NLSA is again ready to take up the challenge of helping to preserve the Timbuktu manuscripts as part of the precious and unique African heritage
The CEO of the National Library of South Africa (NLSA), John Tsebe, welcomes the news that the people of Timbuktu managed to save from destruction the bulk of the manuscripts housed at the Ahmed Baba Institute, regardless of the danger this action could have posed to themselves. Against the background of the present marshaling of efforts to deal with the resulting emergency situation, the NLSA is ready to offer its resources and expertise in document conservation and restoration, provided the relevant Malian authorities approve, and as soon as the local conditions permit.

The NLSA has been involved from the beginning with the Timbuktu Manuscript Libraries Project, which was officially launched on Africa Day, 25th May 2003. The SA-Mali Project was declared an official South African Presidential Project, and was endorsed by the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) as its first cultural project. As National Librarian of South Africa, John Tsebe was appointed to the Committee in 2004. The Department of Arts and Culture established a training program for Malian conservators and heritage professionals, including technical support and the mutual development of conservation facilities. A group of Malian conservation students attended training at the NLSA Cape Town Campus Conservation Laboratory in 2005. From 2003 to 2008 the NLSA participated in various paper conservation fieldwork trips at the Ahmed Baba Institute, assisting with the preservation of historic manuscripts as well as with the planning of a new library building.

The National Library of South Africa recently signed an agreement to act as IFLA (International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions) International Centre for Preservation and Conservation (PAC) for the Southern African Region, including Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. One of the main aims of IFLA PAC is to promote and facilitate the world wide development of national, institutional and international preservation initiatives.
John K. Tsebe
Chief Executive Officer and National Librarian
National Library of South Africa
14 Feb 2013