n Mousaion - The University of South Africa Library : from the Soweto rebellion to the beginning of the end of apartheid, 1976-1990

Volume 24, Issue 2
  • ISSN : 0027-2639



This article explores the history of the University of South Africa (Unisa) library from 1976 to 1990. It situates the growth of information services in distance education in South Africa within the context of political protest associated with the Soweto uprising of the mid 1970s and the states of emergency of the mid 1980s. It traces the vicissitudes of the library as it charted a course through educational instability, rising student expectations, the declining value of the South African currency, and increased bureaucratisation and computerisation to offer an efficient and comprehensive service to a wider, more racially mixed, constitutency than the apartheid government ever anticipated. This naturally earned Unisa considerable state approval because it could be paraded as a national, 'non-racial' university at a time when apartheid aroused universal opprobrium. An attempt is also made in the article to reassert the importance of library history as a credible field of research through a case study of South Africa's largest academic library. Its alleged political complicity and ambivalent reputation are examined on the basis of archival and published sources and assessed against the critical debates of the apartheid state which permeated historical, educational and information discourses from the 1970s to the unbanning of the liberation movements in 1990.

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