Friday, January 11, 2013

South African archives computers down for a week

Researchers trying to consult the computers that hold the indexes to the South African archives have been greeted with this message since last week:

SITA Inverse Web Proxy Server

The requested URL could not be retrieved

While trying to retrieve the URL:
The following error was encountered:
Connection Failed
The system returned:
(60) Operation timed out

The remote host or network may be down. Please try the request again.
Your cache administrator is

The computer systems are used by the archives staff, and by researchers in such topics as history and genealogy, either remotely via the web, or at the archives themselves.

When researchers began reporting that the system was inaccessible last weekend, there were some jokes about civil servants not working at weekends, and people expected the system to be up and running again by Monday or Tuesday at the latest.

When it wasn't, people began looking a bit more closely at this "SITA", and discovered that it is not run by civil servants at all. It seems that a lot of the state's information and computer services have been privatised. SITA's web site tells us
SITA is committed to leveraging Information Technology as a strategic resource for government

SITA was established in 1999 to consolidate and coordinate the State’s information technology resources in order to achieve cost savings through scale, increase delivery capabilities and enhance interoperability.

It also tells us that it is SITA (Pty) Ltd, which means that it has been wholly privatised.

Perhaps it is time for some investigative journalists to start looking into SITA and how it operates, who it is responsible/accountable to, if anyone. Privatising an important strategic resource for government somehow doesn't seem like a good idea.

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