Preservation through digitisation: Putting Africa’s rock art online

Hidden away amidst the whirring of large-format digital scanners, a small team continues its work to digitally preserve Africa’s rock art heritage.

The  South African Rock Art Digital Archive (SARADA) is based at the Rock Art Research Institute at Wits University and has been involved in the digital preservation of this ancient art form for the past 12 years.

Led by Azizo Da  Fonseca, the team has managed to develop a database of over 280,000 records spanning 7,000 rock art sites. In effect, it is the largest rock art digital archive in the world. Desp[ite this monumental achievement, Da  Fonseca believes there is a lot of work ahead of the team as South Africa alone has about 15,000 known rock art sites.

His team have so far digitised collections owned by the Rock Art Research Institute, Iziko Museums of Cape Town, Natal Museum, National Museum (Bloemfontein), University of Cape Town (UCT), and the University of South Africa (UNISA) among others.

Database consists of 20 TB of data so far

The original ‘documents’ comes in various formats including 35mm slides, photos, redrawings and tracings. Digital images are also stored on the database to make them accessible to other researchers.

“We store the images as TIFF files which range from 40mb to 1.6GB depending on the size of the art and the format we receive it in,” says Da Fonseca. “We have 20TB of storage and a mirrored replica for redundancy.”

After receiving a R7-million grant from the National Lottery, SARADA is focusing on expanding its collections. The project has an international outlook and is currently negotiating with museums abroad which have African rock art collections.

Da Fonseca believes the collections can be used by researchers as a starting point in their research.“This is an African project for the people of the world,” he says.

The full database is available online at



INFOGRAPHIC: Keeping warm this winter, off the grid

It’s mid-winter and Witsies are feeling the cold and the pinch of staying warm with heaters.

In an effort to keep warm, energy consumption is at its highest between 5pm and 8pm, according to statistics by Power Alert.   This infographic shows effective ways to keep warm, while reducing your electricity consumption.




Guardian editor describes SA media as ‘free and inquiring’

Guardian editor describes SA media as ‘free and inquiring’


Alan Rusbridger, editor-in-chief of The Guardian, spoke at Wits University earlier today. Photo: Dinesh Balliah.

His newspaper is one of the top most-read online publications worldwide and this afternoon Alan Rusbridger, editor-in-chief of The Guardian, described the South African media landscape as robust, diverse and “pretty free and inquiring.”

Rusbridger, who has been at the helm of the British publication for nearly twenty years, was speaking to a gathering of editors, senior journalists, media academics and students at Wits University about the Edward Snowden story. The Guardian broke the story of whistleblower Snowden, who is credited with exposing the extent of international surveillance, in 2013.

Rusbridger told the audience that the decision to publish the Snowden story was “a question of public interest”, even when the British government argued against the publication on the grounds of “national security.”

In facing some of the backlash against the paper’s decision to publish the Snowden story, Rusbridger said the support of the journalism community helped his organisation.  “It is important as a community of journalism to stick together.”

Rusbridger explained that while there is obvious anxiety in South Africa regarding media freedom, especially in light of the secrecy bill (the protection of state information bill), if the media responds by cutting back on the news that sells papers then it is giving consumers an excuse not to buy the paper.

Mondli Makhanya, former editor-in-chief of The Sunday Times, asked Rusbridger about how to react to a government that is mobilising people against the media.

Rusbridger’s response was that “journalism lives in a different place from government … media has a new role to fight [which is] explaining ‘why’ they are publishing a story.” Ultimately that defence should be able to rest on a foundation of the public interest.