National English Literary Museum

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The National English Documentation Centre

The National English Literary Museum (NELM)[1] had its roots in a small collection of indigenous manuscripts by Guy Butler of Rhodes University in the 1960s. In 1972 the Institute for the Study of English in Africa (ISEA), under the leadership of Professors Guy Butler and André de Villiers, formed the Thomas Pringle Collection , an initiative which sought to collect source material on South African literature in English. This collection became the nucleus of the independent National English Documentation Centre, established 1974 after successfully negotiating with the Human Sciences Research Council and the National Documentation Centre for Afrikaans Literature there for the transferral of all English literary documents in its holdings to Grahamstown. André de Villiers became the first director.

In 1980 the National Documentation Centre for English became a Declared Cultural Institution in 1980, funded by the then Department of Education.

The National English Literary Museum (NELM)

Gazetted as a declared Cultural Institute in 1980, it was then renamed the National English Literary Museum (NELM) in 1982. Materials collected and conserved by the museum include monographs, criticism, manuscripts, correspondence, proofs, photographs, recordings and personalia connected with writers of English in South Africa. NELM's major collections are: the papers of Thomas Pringle, Roy Campbell, Lionel Abrahams, James Ambrose Brown, Dennis Brutus, Guy Butler, Stuart Cloete, Jack Cope, Sir Percy Fitzpatrick, Athol Fugard, Leon Gluckman, Joy Packer and Barney Simon. Rhodes University declared NELM an associated research institution in 1981. The research and library resources of NELM are available for consultation.

The original director, André de Villiers, was later followed by Malcolm Hacksley and in 2010 by Beverley Thomas. NELM houses the world’s most comprehensive collection of resources relating to southern African literature in English. The collection includes authors’ manuscripts, printers’ proofs, diaries, correspondence, publishers’ archives, posters, play-scripts, theatre programmes, portrait paintings and busts, and over 20 000 published works.

The Amazwi South African Museum of Literature

The National English Literary Museum was officially renamed Amazwi South African Museum of Literature by the Minister of Arts and Culture in March 2019. The museum now has a mandate to collect literary artefacts relating to the literatures of all South African languages.

The word Amazwi is the Zulu word for "voices" and the name was added to the new title when the museum's functions were expanded to include the collection, conservation and promotion of the literatures of all of South Africa’s official languages.

Physical space

Originally accommodated in a rented building with limited collections storage and only 30m2 of exhibition space, it relocated to a new, purpose-built museum in Worcester Street, Grahamstown in 2016, providing the museum with 200m2 foyer and multi-purpose space and 350m2 dedicated exhibition space. The building has a 5-star rating from the Green Building Council of South Africa, the first museum in the country to achieve this.


Malcolm Hacksley, Rhodes Calendar 1996. Rhodes University, Grahamstown.

MacKenzie, 1993

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