The National Archives of Zimbabwe was established through an Act of Parliament in 1935 now known as the National Archives Act 1986 (Chapter 25:06). The National Archives of Zimbabwe was thus established to be the storehouse of the nation's documented history. It started by commencing its operations in two small rooms and in 1938, the department moved into the basement of Milton Building and took over an area of 9,000 square feet; this was to be the home of the archives of the country for the next twenty-three years. Vyvian William Hiller, the then chief archivist equivalent of the Director, and two assistants opened the Government Archives Office in Harare. His tenure in office was from 1935-1958.
Dawn of Archives in Zimbabwe: 1923-1935
When BSAC company rule was terminated in 1923, departmental records remained in the offices which had created them. Current records were distributed to those departments which had taken over the functions of the Administrator and those of no administrative value were sent to the British South Africa Company's London office while those deemed of no importance were destroyed. It was not until 1933 that any significant progress towards the formation of the Archives was made. In 1933, the year of the 40th anniversary of the settlers' conquest of Matabeleland, a historical exhibition was organised which comprised of books, pictures, private manuscripts and public records. The exhibition aroused interest and resulted in the formation of the National Historic Committee, which was charged with bringing to the notice of the public the importance of forming a permanent National Historic Collection and the establishment of National Archives. The committee was given official status in 1934 and on 12 April 1935 the National Archives Act was promulgated. The first task of the archives was to make a survey of the existing records in possession of departments. The survey helped to establish what records existed, their distribution, state of preservation order and accessibility, the deformities they had suffered and the measures taken by the various offices for their care and arrangement. The survey established that some records had been destroyed under the plenary powers which all the departments had assumed over the records until the passing of the Archives Act, others had been destroyed by termites and many had been damaged by the effects of tropical climate. As a result of this inquiry, instructions were given that no records were to be destroyed without reference to the Archives. A cardinal principle underlying all archives legislation was now that public archives are primarily preserved for their administrative rather than historical value. Departments were thus instructed to prepare Records Destruction Committees (RDCs) and these formed the basis of Standing Instructions which gave departments' authority to dispose of records to this date.
Birth of Archives:1935-1980
In 1946 the Archives Amendment Act was passed so as to enable the Chief Archivist to perform duties on records of Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland and for the provision of an inter-territorial Archives Commission known as the Central African Archives Commission. Consequently, archives operations were extended to Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) and Nyasaland (now Malawi) where branches were opened in Livingstone and Zomba, respectively. The year 1953 saw the formation of the three territories of Southern and Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland. Thereafter, on 1 July 1954 Government Archives of Southern Rhodesia was transformed into a federal institution the Central Africa Archives (CAA). In that particular year, a records management section was established to deal with current records. In 1955 a joint archival service was instituted for local authorities in Southern Rhodesia. After the passing of the Federal Archives Act in 1958, the institution was renamed to the National Archives of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. At the break-up of Federation in 1963, the control of archives lay with the respective territories and Zambia and Malawi took over custody of their own territorial records. The records of the now defunct Federal Government are preserved in the National Archives of Zimbabwe in Harare and are made available to the territories in terms of the Inter-Governmental Agreement on Federal Records of 1963. A satellite repository was opened at Cranborne in 1965 and towards the end of 1966 a branch repository was opened in Bulawayo to cater for the western end of the country. That same year an extra repository was erected at headquarters in Harare.
Spreading wings: Post 1980
To build up the historical resources of the nation, the Archives extended its collecting policy to areas previously neglected or insufficiently developed. Shona and Ndebele oral history and traditions; documentation of the Liberation Movement in exile 1959-1980 and migrated archives were now being collected. Also the modernising of archival training, technology, techniques and facilities was greatly assisted by the wave of solidarity and support for the popular goals of the new state and its National Archives. To date the National Archives has seen a lot of developments such as the opening of the Audio Visual Unit in 1989 so as to cater for the audio visual archives that were coming into the archives. The archives have also spread its wings to provinces with provincial centres in Mutare, Masvingo, Gweru, Chinhoyi and Bulawayo. Since 1935, the number of National Archives staff has grown immensely and visits to the Archives have increased. This reflects the new commitment to 'bringing the archives to the people' through widespread publicity and the innovation of 'Open Days' first tried with great response in 1984. A lot of people are showing a great interest in the need to preserve records and this has caused a number of institutions to start having related programmes to do with Archival Administration, Records Management and Library and Information Science. In a bid to foster development in the field of Information Science, the National Archives of Zimbabwe has provided hands on training to students in relevant fields from universities, polytechnic colleges and other training institutes. These institutions in turn feed the institution with professionals and the Archives can boast of 32 archivists to date with relevant qualifications and experience.
Participation in the archival field
With the attainment of independence in 1980, the National Archives joined the International Archival community and quickly asserted itself as one of the foremost of Archival institutions in Africa. This is evidenced by Zimbabwe's assumption of the Chair of the East and Central African Regional Branch of the International Council on Archives (ECARBICA) in 1982 when, Director, Angeline.S. Kamba was the Vice President of the International Council on Archives (ICA). That same year, the National Archives hosted the Seventh Biennial Conference and Seminar of ECARBICA and Mrs Kamba was elected as the 1982-4 Chairperson. In 1985 she was elected Vice President of the ICA, a post she held for four years, with Mr Peter Mazikana (who was the then Deputy Director) being appointed as a member of the ICA Working Group on Audio Visual Archives. Mr.Samuel Njovana was elected Assistant Editor of ESARBICA during the same period. Members of the National Archives, past and present, have contributed immensely to further the Archival profession in their different capacities. Mr Peter Mazikana, (former Deputy Director) was the Editor of the ESARBICA Journal. Prof. Patrick Ngulube and former Chief Archivist is the current Editor of the same Journal. The current Director, Mr Ivan. M. Murambiwa was the President of ESARBICA from 2015 to 2017 and was the Secretary General from 2001 to 2003. A number of other prominent members have held these seats showing the levels of archival awareness growing within the country and in the region.
There were some notable publications that were published looking at the pre-colonial archival administration and the post-colonial era. Some of these include
Guide to Historical Manuscripts
T.W. Baxter (Director 1959 -70). This is a collection of Historical Manuscripts highlighting outstanding documents.
Guide to the Public Archives
Helps all those who are interested in knowing the history of the country.
Rhodesia Epic which
A collection of pictures that tells the story of Rhodesia from the earliest times to independence.