The literary archives for South African feminist writer Bessie Head have deteriorated significantly over the past few decades. Please help preserve this vital Africa literary archive by donating to the digitisation project, if you have the means.

Bessie Head was born in South Africa and moved to exile in Botswana, where she eventually became a citizen, and where most of her work is set. Her books, found on countless university syllabi, include the novels When Rain Clouds Gather, Maru, and A Question of Power, as well as an early novella, The Cardinals, a social history, Serowe: Village of the Rain Wind, and A Bewitched Crossroad, which combines fact and fiction.

Bessie Head is one of most important writers in 20th century African literature and indeed within South Africa’s literary legacy. Her papers are archived at the Khama III Memorial Museum in Serowe, Botswana, along with the Khama Family Papers, and include voluminous correspondence, manuscripts, and interviews, in addition to other documents and audio-visual material.

The Bessie Head Digitisation Project is organized by Dorothy Driver, Emeritus Professor of the University of Cape Town; Leloba Molema, Chair of the Bessie Head Heritage Trust;  Mary Lederer, Founding Trustee of the Bessie Head Heritage Trust; and Gasenone Kediseng, Curator, Khama III Memorial Museum.

The conditions of some of the material in the Bessie Head Papers have deteriorated significantly. The project’s aim is to raise funds to digitise some of the extremely fragile material in the collection such as audiotapes of interviews and oversize material that thus far has not been possible to copy. If this material is not digitised, scholars and the public will not have access to crucial archives because it will be too fragile to make available.

The Museum budget unfortunately only has enough funds for salaries, but not enough to cover the work of the archivist, who works on a volunteer basis. The digitisation must be done by an experienced technician with access to technical equipment and reside in Serowe for a month. The budget for the project includes the technician’s costs (equipment, salary, travel, food, and accommodation), amounting to USD $15,000.

Here are some ways you can help support the Bessie Head Digitisation Project:

Donate to the project here.

  • Unless you prefer to remain anonymous, your name will be registered at the Khama III Memorial Museum as one of the donors, along with the amount donated.
  • Indicate whether the donation is made in your personal capacity or as an affiliate of an organization.

Share this appeal with others in your community who have the means to donate.

We hope that Brittle Paperians take the time to contribute to preserving South Africa’s literary legacy and spread this call far and wide!