Johannesburg — The Timbuktu manuscripts must be preserved because they reflect the contribution of the African mind to the human story.
This is according to Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, who was speaking on Friday at the launch of a book about the construction of the Ahmed Institute of Higher Learning and Islamic Research in Mali.
The building was constructed to house the historic manuscripts of African scholars dating back some 800 years. The most prominent of these writers was Ahmed Baba, a prolific writer who lived from 1556 to 1627.
Entitled "Building an African Partnership", the book tells the story of the cooperation of South Africa and Mali in constructing the building - from 2001 when then President Thabo Mbeki first mooted the idea, to 2009 when the new impressive structure was officially opened with much fanfare.
Motlanthe paid tribute to former President Mbeki for showing "remarkable foresight in understanding the intrinsic value of the manuscripts".
"It takes an extraordinary mind to identify such treasures," he said.
Motlanthe said the exceptional cooperation between South Africa and Mali reflected close ties forged over the years.
He, however, expressed concern over the threats posed on the building by armed rebels. "I hope that no human will be so base as to threaten these treasures."
Essop Pahad, chairperson of the Timbuktu Trust, said now that the book had been published, the trust would fold and the project would be handed over to the Department of Arts and Culture.
Deputy Minister of Arts and Culture Joe Phaahla pledged South Africa's continued support in preserving the manuscripts. He expressed hope that the conflict in Mali would be resolved and the manuscripts saved.
"One can only hope that through the intervention of the African Union, the political situation in Mali will be normalised as soon as possible, and work that is still pending regarding this project will be resumed without any further hurdles, for the betterment of the lives of all in Mali, South Africa, the African continent and indeed the rest of humankind the world over," he said.