You may not be aware of it, but treasures detailing the life and culture of times gone by can be found in plain sight at the National Library of South Africa (NLSA).
The establishment is home to many historical gems which are currently on exhibition to commemorate the NLSA’s 200th anniversary.
The NLSA is the oldest library and public institution of any kind in the country and its anniversary exhibition titled “Treasure House of Knowledge” was curated to honour the grande dame, showcasing 300 of the institute’s greatest national treasures for the public to enjoy.
Works on display include a 10th century illuminated gospel book, with hand-painted illustrations, and Solomon T Plaatje’s translation of Julius Caesar into Tswana. These are some of the twomillion items in the library.
If you missed out on an issue of the Huisgenoot, you can catch up on the missed copy at the exhibition as the NLSA has every edition printed since 1954. A letter written by Olive Schreiner to Mahatma Gandhi during a time of turbulence in South Africa is also a treasure on display.
“The library was established on March 20, 1818 as a result of Governor of the Cape Lord Charles Somerset introducing a special tax on wine to help set up the institution. At this stage, it was known as the South African Public Library,” stated an NSRA guide.
“The empty display cabinets and unfilled shelves represent silences, omissions and erasures of heritage. These spaces are for the things that are not in the NLSA, because 176 years of its 200-year history existed under conditions of colonialism and apartheid.”
Today the NSLA has made strides in addressing historical imbalances of the past and has assisted in building the South African Documentary Heritage Collection and promoting information access.
Follow the NLSA’s social media pages to keep informed.