Aresearch project launched recently by the Centre of Excellence for Invasion Biology (CIB) at Stellenbosch University aims to build an electronic database of South Africans who helped with the building, logistics and maintenance of the various South African research bases in Antarctica.
The Antarctica Heritage Project, which is funded by the National Research Foundation (NRF), is in the process of compiling an extensive electronic archive that includes oral, visual and tangible memories of the scores of men and women who have worked in this cold region over the years as part of, besides others, the South African National Antarctic Programme.
CIB researcher Dora Scott says that, although South Africa does not claim territory in Antarctica, the country is one of the original signatories to the Antarctic Treaty, in 1959. “South Africans have also been involved in research in Antarctica and on the Prince Edward Islands and Gough Island for more than 60 years, since the Marion and Prince Edward islands in the Southern Ocean were annexed by South Africa in 1948,” she explains.
However, despite South Africa’s extensive involvement in the region, there still is a shortage of easily accessible information.
The research team has already made contact with a number of the scientists, meteorologists and geologists who formed part of the various overwintering and research teams over the years, but further sources of information are sought so that social scientists and historians can compile a more complete picture of South Africa’s involvement in the region.
“The same sources, articles and books are used over and over when any writing is done on the history, heritage and geopolitical aspects, and it is time for these sources of information to be supplemented and updated so that more comprehensive information is available,” says Scott.
She adds that there are very few records of the personal experiences of individuals in these inhospitable environments, particularly before 1985. “It is important that this heritage is preserved for the future because, without it, it will be impossible for scientists to do proper research work,” Scott notes.
These areas have been valuable outdoor classrooms for many of South Africa’s authoritative researchers over the years, and many scientific publications have been published as a result. “CIB scientists and postgraduate students count among the scientists from different South African universities and institutions who have raised their research standing through regular visits to the areas,” Scott asserts.
The CIB appeals to mariners, construction workers, scientists, joiners, engineers and doctors who have worked in the Antarctic region in the past 60 years to contact its researchers. The database will be open to anyone who, in future, would like to do research on the history, heritage and geopolitical aspects of the region.