C o m m o n w e a l t h
A s s o c i a t i o n o f
M u s e u m s
CAM Bulletin Number 2 - Feb. 1996
CAM's First Event in Africa: The 1995 Seminar and Outreach Program in Gaborone and Pretoria
The Commonwealth Association of Museums (CAM) held its seminar and outreach program: Museums and the National Identity: Ideas, Issues and Applications in September 1995 to foster greater understanding of the African museum environment, in particular southern Africa, and to welcome South Africa back to the Commonwealth. Its objectives included promoting links among museum people in Botswana and South Africa, the neighbouring African museum community, and the wider Commonwealth. The theme dealt with an issue of great importance in the contemporary world and the two very different situations in Botswana and South Africa informed the seminar discussions.
The program began with a study tour of South African museums in the Johannesburg and Pretoria area on Sept. 18, 19 and 20. There were 23 participants from 14 Commonwealth countries. On Sept. 21, delegates travelled by land to Gaborone, Botswana to begin the seminar and CAM meetings. They were joined by 13 participants from the National Museum, Monuments and Art Gallery (NMMAG) and several private museums in Botswana. During the program in Gaborone, an informative tour of the National Museum and Art Gallery was included and two additional days were spent visiting museums outside the city and observing a visit of 'Zebra on Wheels", the mobile museum program of NMMAG.
Two senior African professionals, and two Past Presidents initiated more formal contact in Cape Town and Johannesburg with a broader range of South African museums and government departments responsible for museums to encourage collaboration especially with the African museum community.
Both the program study tour and the small group appointments provided a strong impression of the situation of South African museums. There is a spirit of optimism in "the Rainbow Nation" and a recognition of the need for change to join the positive movement forward with the Reconstruction and Development Programme. For museums primarily concerned with the colonial past, change is critical to encompass the full range of South Africa's cultural and natural heritage to foster cultural identity, reconciliation and nation building. The inclusion of marginalized groups and cultures which have been traditionally excluded, significantly those of black South Africans, and the development of black professionals are two of the key directions.
The importance of culture to the processes of national identity and nation building was recognized by the ANC in setting up the Commission on Museums, Monuments and Heraldry to address practical issues of reconstruction and policy in the cultural sphere shortly after the unbanning of the liberation movements in 1990. Several initiatives in this area came together with the establishment in 1994 of the Arts and Culture Task Group (ACAG). Its report was issued in the summer of 1995 and laid the groundwork for future policy.
Notable progress has been made in the policy area and, for example, with the Tswaing Crater Museum and its community involvement model, but much work needs to be done to create the new practices necessary to transform the goals into reality.
Botswana museums presented an interesting contrast to the situation of South Africa. The efforts to build the national identity through museums and make it meaningful to the majority of the population is a common challenge. This was emphasized by both the study tour component in Botswana and the seminar discussions. The National Museum in Botswana has had excellent response to its mobile museum program which takes the museum out to the villages and communities. Its cross-cultural presentation illustrates the adaptation of Batswana cultures to the environment and how each one has developed its own capability to survive. It has been very successful in enhancing understanding and involving not only the school children but the whole village. This process of building common identity and understanding demands a concentrated effort which must reach out from the museum, an intimidating and unfamiliar structure to much of the population.
Delegates had an opportunity to tour the National Museum and Art Gallery in Gaborone and to observe the "Zebra on Wheels" program in Ditshegwane Village. The village provided a warm welcome hosting the participants at a traditional meal and presenting an excellent traditional dance program. The Kgosi Sechele I Museum in Molepolole and the Phutadikobo Museum in Mochudi hosted the group rounding out the memorable Botswana experience.
The importance of the museum's role in contributing to the national identity of present political states and to their stability was generally accepted by participants in the seminar. It was not a homogeneous national identity that was envisioned but one which fully accepts the cultural diversity of the nation in order to ensure a place for everyone.
Discussions and comments from speakers and delegates alike frequently described the obstacles to being inclusive. Collections, especially where they were mainly established by colonial administrators, were often inadequate to the task of reflecting the cultural diversity or depth of the countries represented, both because they have been acquired primarily by colonial collectors and because they missed the richness of "amasiko" (as described in the ACI'AG report) the living culture of oral history, traditions, rituals, and customs of a people. The necessity of transforming the museum into an organic institution based within the cultures of its location, in this case Africa, was recognized as essential to enabling museums to carry out a critical role.
Speakers came from across the Commonwealth with emphasis on Africa. Sixteen presentations during the seminar included the keynote address by Professor Bethwell Ogot, University of Maseno, Kenya, 'National Identity and Nationalism: Concepts and Ideologies", and George Mvenge of Zimbabwe speaking on "Collections and National Identity". Emmanuel Arinze of Nigeria discussed 'The Development of a Curatorial Vision: An African Perspective" dealing with the importance of a museum vision which relates to the society in which it is situated and is responsive to societal requirements and needs. Gordon Metz spoke movingly of the South African experience complementing presentations by Gill Berning and Udo Kusel of South Africa, and the Host Director, Tjako Mpulubusi, with Elizabeth Gron and Paul Lane, described the Botswana experience. Duncan Cameron, of Canada concluded the discussion with a commentary on the overall themes and directions of the meetings.
Proceedings will be published by CAM within the next few months.
The meetings also considered the role of CAM in Africa. Resolutions from the program stressed the need for CAM to foster continuing dialogue and communication and support more formal training and professional development to find ways of addressing the obstacles in Southern Africa. In recognition of new relationships, Gordon Metz from South Africa was elected to the Executive Council. Doreen Nteta of Botswana was re-elected.
The study tour and seminar was a very rich and rewarding experience. It has already led to strengthened partnerships informally and will continue to inform the work of the association.
In particular, we thank for their generous support and assistance and for making possible this exceptional experience:
- The Commonwealth Foundation - major program support
- NORAD - funds for publication of the proceedings
- Southern African Museums Association - arrangements, participation and, through the National Cultural History Museum, hosting of several events
- Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology - well represented by Ms. Brigitte Mabandla, hosted CAM at Tswaing Crater Museum
- Mayibuye Centre, National Monuments Council, South African Art Gallery, South African Museum, District Six Museum, The Castle, and group of SAMA and local museum representatives, in Cape Town, for hosting three CAM representatives
- National Cultural History Museum, Jan Smuts House, Wifiem Prinsloo Agricultural Museum, Sammy Marks Museum, Transvaal Museum, Museum Africa, Johannesburg Art Gallery, Breweries Centennial Museum, in Johannesburg and Pretoria, Funda Community Centre in Soweto, Tswaing Crater Museum, for generously receiving and hosting the CAM study tour
- Mr. Peter Skosana, Minister for Sports, Arts and Culture, and Mr. V. Modise and Mr. C. Kriel, Province of Gauteng, Mr. J.F.V. Bartmann, Deputy Director of Dept. of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology and Carol Steinberg in Johannesburg, for meeting with the small deletion.
- National Museum, Monuments and Art Gallery in Gaborone, Ditshegwane Village and School, Kgosi Sechele I Museum in Molepolole, Phutadikobo Museum in Mochudi for arranging tours, transportation and hosting the CAM group so well in Botswana
- Mr. B. Temane, the Honourable Minister of Labour and Home Affairs for hosting a wonderful reception to launch the Botswana event and Mrs. M. Nasha, The Honourable Assistant Minister of Local Government, Lands and Housing, who opened the meetings with an excellent address; the Botswana government departments and the National Museums for their support in assisting with administrative requirements and office equipment
- The Grand Palm Hotel for providing a room for office purposes; the Prison Dept. Band; the Botswana Society; the Botswana Cultural Archives, Barclays Bank for complimentary folders and banking services; Ms. Trudy Kneale and the hotel staff for arrangements
- Dr. Bethwell Ogot, University of Maseno, Kenya for keynote address
- All of the agencies and institutions which supported attendance for individual participants including: The British Council, Botswana, The Canadian Museums Association, UNESCO, Kingston, Jamaica (unable to be used)
- The High Commission of South Africa in Canada, especially Ms. Liebeth Turbati, for smoothing the way
Not least are all those individuals who worked very hard and devoted much time to make the program a success. It would take much more space to mention all the much appreciated contributions. At the least, we wish to acknowledge our significant debt to Dr. Udo Küsel, Glyn Balkwill, Kobus Basson and Gordon Metz in South Africa; Tjako Mpulubusi, Tickey Pule, Elizabeth Gron, Makgolo Makgolo, Bruce Hargreaves and Michael Taylor in Gaborone; Doreen Nteta, Emmanuel Arinze, Amar Galla for program arrangements, the Program Committee of CAM and all the speakers who contributed to make the seminar a success.
Truly a collaborative and successful effort - Thank you!
see also article on Gaborone Revisited by Alison Heath for fuller description of Botswana museums