What does the National Archives and Records Service do?

The National Archives and Records Service of South Africa was established by promulgation of the National Archives and Records Service of South Africa Act (Act No. 43 of 1996, as amended). This piece of legislation transformed the former State Archives Service into a National Archives and Records Service whose mission, functions and structures reflect the South African democratic political order and imperatives. In essence, the mission of the National Archives and Records Service is to foster a national identity and the protection of rights:

  • By preserving a national archival heritage for use by the government and people of South Africa; and
  • By promoting efficient, accountable and transparent government through the proper management and care of government records.


Records were originally created for a specific purpose as evidence of transactions. By preserving public records created by governmental bodies as archives, the National Archives and Records Service seeks to preserve the memory of what a governmental body, an organization or an individual did, as well as the circumstances and context connected with the activity. Archival records therefore help us to understand who we are, either as individuals or as organizations, and where we come from. By providing us with information about our past, we are better able to understand the present. This information is as important to a nation as individual memory is to each person. Indeed, archives provide a basis for the proper understanding of the past that is important in South Africa to inform the development of a new democratic society. A public archives such as the National Archives and Records Service is therefore a special resource for dealing with the social memory of our nation and with protecting people's rights in our country. It is a major resource for fostering a national identity. It is also a treasure house of national memory resources that is accessible to all.

Through its statutory regulation of the management of current government records, the National Archives and Records Service promotes efficient, accountable and transparent evidence-based governance. This is because the information in public records constitutes a strategic resource to enable governmental service delivery. Public records also serve as a major channel for accountability, and are a cornerstone of democracy. Through access to public records and archives, transparency is promoted. By regulating systems of classification of public records in all media and their functional management and disposal, the National Archives and Records Service fosters their effective retrieval, use and preservation for functional and archival purposes.

The Act provides for a National Archives Advisory Council to advise the Minister and the Director-General of Sport, Arts and Culture on any matter relating to the operation of the Act, and to advise the National Archivist on furthering the objects and functions of the National Archives. The other functions of the National Archives Advisory Council as contained in the Act ar to advise and consult with the South African Heritage Resources Agency on the protection of records forming part of the National Estate; to consult with the Public Protector on investigations into unauthorized destruction of records otherwise protected under the Act; and to submit a business plan annually to the Minister for his approval. The composition of the National Archives Advisory Council is determined by section 6 of the NARSSA Act.