Digital Innovation South Africa (DISA) is an important open-access digital archive that chronicles southern African social and political history, with a particular emphasis on the freedom struggle during the apartheid era. Bringing together primary source material from archives, libraries, and universities from across South Africa, DISA provides researchers, teachers, students, and the public with valuable access to a period of history that reshaped not only South Africa but the world as well.

Clean and intuitive, the website is navigable through six tabs towards the top of the page, namely: ‘Home’, ‘About Us’, ‘Browse Collection’, ‘Content Filter’, ‘Links’, and ‘Search’. The home page presents a very brief overview of what visitors can expect from the collections hosted on the site as well as a feature on Steve Biko that you can click through to find out more about the activist’s life and times as well as the resources associated with him hosted on DISA and beyond. In ‘About Us’—which is further broken down into subsections—there is an overview of how the project came about, contact details for the team behind the website, a list of the project’s partners, and terms and conditions for using the DISA digital archive. The digital archive itself can be accessed via ‘Browse Collection’ which can be examined through the type of documentation (e.g. affidavits, briefs, constitutions, letters, oral histories, resolutions, videos among others) or within the five specific collections that the documents are collected in: the ‘Alan Paton Centre & Struggle Archives’, ‘Campbell Collections’, ‘Centre for African Literary Studies’, ‘Gandhi-Luthuli Documentation Centre’, and ‘Indigenous Knowledge Systems’. Meanwhile, the content filter effectively serves as an advanced search engine that supplements the basic keyword search function in ‘Search’. And finally, the links section allows visitors to continue their exploration of the anti-apartheid struggle away from DISA through blogs, other digital archives, digital resources and infrastructures, and external organisations. In addition to the main features, the footer also features links to other projects hosted by DISA including ‘Durban in Motion’ (which is currently unavailable as the link generates a 404 Error), ‘Indigenous Knowledge System’, and the ‘South Africa Music Archive Project’ and other resources hosted off-site.

The collections themselves are wonderfully rich and detailed, with each archival item fully digitised and catalogued with excellent metadata including details on the creator, date of production, type of resource, language, coverage, links to its original holding institution, length of document, digital rights, keywords, and concise descriptions. One particularly evocative resource that visitors might want to pay attention to are the videos of the freedom struggle, which feature rarely seen footage of activists and protestors gathering as part of political rallies, cultural events, sports days, and religious gatherings. In particular, the Federation of South African Women’s Western Cape Womens’ Festival provides much needed insight into the role of women in attempts to improve South African’s future and the intersection between the broader freedom struggle and the women’s movement.

In terms of uses within the classroom, entire courses can be built on the primary source material available considering the depth and breadth of the collections. One way educators can use it is to perhaps collect the available documents on a particular individual or event during the anti-apartheid struggle and present it to students to analyse and put into conversation with each other in order to create profiles or summaries. Alternately, students can be encouraged to use DISA as a database during their research for long-form written assessments, which trains them in archival research, discerning sources relevant to their research projects, and figuring out how to synthesise their selected primary source material with each other and secondary source material.

Providing scholars, teachers, students, and the public with direct access to a comprehensive range of historical sources, Digital Innovation South Africa is an excellent and important repository for documents from important moments in South Africa’s recent past.

Reviewed by Bernard Z. Keo, Monash University
How to Cite This Source
Bernard Z. Keo, Digital Innovation South Africa in World History Commons,