SU library head to assist in reconstruction of Mali’s cultural heritage

Ms Ellen Tise, Senior Director of the Library and Information Service, was nominated by the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) to serve on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) expert working group for the restoration and reconstruction of Mali’s cultural heritage and building the necessary capacity.

Cultural heritage in Mali suffered considerable damage in the recent conflict between the Mali government and Islamic rebels when world heritage sites and the Ahmed Baba Institute of Islamic Advanced Studies and Research were targeted by plunderers.

Timbuktu manuscript on astrology and mathematics.

Timbuktu manuscript on astrology and mathematics.

The role of the UNESCO working group will be to assess the impact of the conflict on Mali’s cultural heritage and to provide assistance for the rebuilding of library infrastructure in the country.  Training seminars on preservation, restoration, digitisation and disaster management and recovery are also foreseen.

In a statement released on 28 February 2013, IFLA explained that Ms Tise is exceptionally well-equipped to fullfil this role.  As Past President of IFLA she has an excellent understanding of IFLA and the organisation’s work on cultural heritage. She is also a member of UNESCO’s Memory of the World advisory board and Chair of the National Library Board in South Africa. As head of Stellenbosch University Library and Information Service she is familiar with African universities’ cooperation with Mali with regards to cultural heritage.  Ms Tise’s role will focus on liaison across the participating organisations.

The importance and value of Mali’s cultural heritage is immeasurable. The country is home to one of the world’s first universities and ancient mosques.  In 1988 Timbuktu was declared a World Heritage site.  Goa with it’s Tomb of Askia, followed in 2004. More that 300 000 ancient documents in Timbuktu, in Arabic, which date back to the 12th century are believed to tell the story of the development of Islamic society and of dialogue among cultures. Aspects such as Islamic science, health practices, astrology, spirituality and philsophy are covered in the collections of manuscripts.  The documents have been kept in Timbuktu for centuries where early civilisations hoped it would be inaccessibly far from harm.

Since 2001 the South African government has been working with Mali on a number of projects related to the manuscripts and other cultural heritage.  South Africa was also involved in the establishing of the Ahmed Baba Institute of Islamic Advanced Studies and Research in Timbuktu in 2009.  This Institute is the largest repository for ancient manuscripts in West Africa.

Reacting to her nomination, Ms Tise said: “It is a great honour for me to serve on this working group, but it goes with great responsibility.  A few week ago the world held its breath when images of the destruction in Mali appeared in the media.  This working group must try to ensure that it does not happen again”.

“The loss and damage of world heritage must be prevented at all cost,” Ms Tise added.

Lucia Schoombee, Library and Information Service