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Standard Encyclopaedia of Southern Africa


The Standard Encyclopaedia of Southern Africa is a regional encyclopaedia. The main emphasis in the encyclopaedia falls upon the Republic of South Africa and its immediate neighbours. The general selection of persons worthy of separate biographies, in common with many other encyclopaedias, was limited to deceased persons. 'Distinction' was interpreted very broadly; like the Dictionary of South African biography [DSAB], the encyclopaedia contains biographies of 'scoundrels, frauds, eccentrics, tyrants and traitors who made a sufficient impression on their contemporaries to ensure a lasting memory'.

This work was the final result of close collaboration between the editors and more than 1 000 contributors. These included some who wrote only one article and others who wrote several hundred.

Nasou of Cape Town was the publisher, the first volume released in 1970, the last, Volume 12 with supplements and index in 1976.

[Precised from 'Introduction' to Volume 1]

Some architects and architectural writers associated with the enterprise are:
Doreen GREIG 'Norman EATON' (Vol 4, 1971:190)
Ronald LEWCOCK 'Architecture' (Vol 1, 1970: 506-533), 'JONES, William Oliver' (Vol 6, 1972:235)
James WALTON 'Vernacular Architecture' (Vol 1, 1970: 534-545)


The Argus, Wednesday September 29 1976

MAMMOTH South African publishing project reaches completion this week with the appearance of the 12th volume of the Standard Encyclopaedia of Southern Africa. The final volume contains a short supplement and an index.

Work on the encyclopaedia, the most ambitious private publication ever undertaken in this country, began in 1957 and the first two volumes were published in 1970. Others followed at regular intervals. The publishers are Nasou.

About 1400 experts have contributed to the encyclopaedia, which is estimated to have cost between R1,5-million and R2-million.

The encyclopaedia is regional and is confined to Southern Africa — South Africa, South West Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, Angola, Mozambique, Rhodesia, Zambia, Tanzania, Madagascar, Kenya, Uganda, Ruanda, Burundi and Zaire. Thus the article on cricket, for example, does not describe what cricket is, how it developed or what constitute the rules of the game. Only the story of South African cricket is told, from the time of its inception in this country until today. This article was written by commentator Charles Fortune.

The encyclopaedia therefore does not attempt to compete with general encyclopaedias such as the Britannica but is complementary to them.

The project was initially conceived as a six-volume South African encyclopaedia to be published in Afrikaans. It was later decided to embrace the whole of Southern Africa up to the equator and also to issue the encyclopaedia in, English, especially as this would also secure a foreign market. It was soon obvious that six volumes would be insufficient to contain the wealth of material to be collected. It was later decided that the English and Afrikaans editions would comprise 12 volumes each. With the passage of time it became apparent that the English edition was nearing completion more rapidly than was the Afrikaans. Owing to the sharp increase in the price of paper and rising labour costs, it was decided in 1973 to discontinue work on the Afrikaans edition.


A great achievement
The Cape Times, SATURDAY, OCTOBER 9. 1976

THE publication this month of the twelfth and final volume of the Standard Encyclopaedia of Southern Africa* has quite rightly been widely noted as the final point in one of the most remarkable achievements in book publishing in South Africa. The first two volumes in the series appeared in August 1970. Since then, they have appeared at regular intervals. The final volume is as contemporaneous as one could possibly expect in a work of this nature: there are details of legislation debated at this year's parliamentary sitting, biographical notes on prominent personalities who have died this year, including Stuart Cloete and Senator Paul Sauer, sporting achievements earlier this year and other items. The second half includes an index to references in this and the other 11 volumes in the series. The superb standards of production have been maintained from the first publication.

At this stage, it is important to put into proper perspective the achievements of the publishers of this encyclopaedia, originally planned as a six-volume work, in Afrikaans, dealing with South Africa only. It was the American author Robert Ardrey who once said that publishing books in South Africa in Afrikaans only was to him rather like an American publisher deciding to publish books only for a city the size of, say, Cleveland (population just over 2 000 000). Basic economics — and population statistics — were clearly the major influences in the decision, taken by the publishers in 1973, to discontinue the production of the Afrikaans versions of the encyclopaedia. In addition, it was found that rather more than half of the contributors provided their material in English, and the time taken for translation would seriously delay publication, It was a courageous, and wise, decision to limit the work to English, the more so when it is considered that this decision was taken by an Afrikaans publishing house (whose books are primarily educational). Conscientious planning and editing must also have made it clear at an early stage that to limit references to South Africa only in a work of this nature would seriously limit the range and depth of information, A contemporary essay in South Africa's foreign policies would be meaningless without mention of Rhodesia, Zambia, Zaire, Ivory Coast, Liberia and others. Scholarly notes on early man in South Africa would, in the same way, lack perspective without discussion of significant links with, for instance, Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania, or Rift Valley sites in Kenya. In this way, the articles in the encyclopaedia have attained the stature which they should have: references capable of scrutiny by international authorities in specific fields. So the first of what should be the two primary objectives of a reference work of any kind is met — that of absolute accuracy, backed by dedicated and scholarly research and original contributions by acknowledged experts. The second objective, and certainly one to which there would be more sensitivity in South Africa than in many other countries, is that of impartiality. Time, probably, is the ultimate test of this quality. But there are other yardsticks which can be applied as well. The standing of contributors of articles where the subject itself is one of intense controversy can, in itself, allay fears. Apartheid, in the Standard Encyclopaedia of Southern Africa, is discussed, not by a politician or an anonymous official, but by Professor Ellison Kahn, professor of law at the University of the Witwatersrand. It is reasonable to assume, therefore, that the subject is dealt with in as dispassionate a manner as possible. And in what is after all a fair caution, an editor's note preceding Professor Kahn's text suggests, that a number of directly or indirectly related articles should be read as well, so that a "fairly balanced exposition of the policy and its implications" can be had. Professor Kahn himself makes allowance for time as the final arbiter in his essay. After pointing out that any exercise in social change must cause temporary, hardship and "perhaps injustice", he says a dynamic policy of separate development "which means uplift, not disregard or rejection" will ultimately lead to a just order. "The crucial question is whether action will match protestation", he concludes. If apartheid is used extensively to illustrate the efforts made to reach impartiality in the encyclopaedia, it is a fair illustration. And there are similar efforts in other areas as well.

In the final analysis, the success of the Standard Encyclopaedia will be the extent to which it is used as the "standard reference." It is not, and has never set out to be, a Britannica or Winkler Prins. The 12 volumes will' obviously complement these International works. But as it comes to be regarded, more and more often, as the basic source of information it will attain its objectives.

*Volume 12: Supplement and Index, Standard Encyclopaedia of Southern Africa.