1 February 2013 Last updated at 19:45 ET
By Peter Biles BBC News, Johannesburg
Mali: Divided nation
The images of scattered and torched storage boxes at the Ahmed Baba Institute in Timbuktu raised fears that thousands of the city’s famous manuscripts had been destroyed towards the end of Islamist rule.
Since Islamist militants were driven out of urban centres in northern Mali by French-led forces, there have been conflicting reports about the documents in Timbuktu, some of which date back to the 10th Century.
They think on their feet when faced with these challenges”
Mohamed Mathee Timbuktu Manuscripts Project
However, the majority of the manuscripts in the new South African-funded institute appear to have been protected.
South African researcher Mohamed Mathee, who is part of the Timbuktu Manuscripts Project, has been to Mali five times in the last decade.
He admits that he and his colleagues were extremely worried when the militants took control of Timbuktu last year.
However, the most recent communications with Mali have brought reassuring news.
“What we’ve heard from reliable contacts in Bamako is that most of the manuscripts are fine, they’ve not been harmed,” he said.
“I don’t think the loss is as great as has been reported because most of the manuscripts had been moved and taken to safety, long before the events of the past two weeks.” …(more).