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
Having visited the Botswana National Museum and Art Gallery in 1990 to attend the annual meeting of the International Committee for Education and Cultural Action of ICOM (it was the first time an ICOM Committee met in Africa), it was a great pleasure to return five years later for the Commonwealth Association of Museums meeting. As on the first occasion the museum in Gaborone was our very kind host for the duration of the conference.
It was to a much changed Museum and Art Gallery that we came. Tjako Mpulubusi has been Director since 1990 and has initiated many exciting new developments. The National Museum had an excellent range of buildings, when I first visited, many of which appeared unused and almost derelict. The visitor used to be greeted by an interesting but small ethnographic and ecological exhibition, the newly opened art gallery and a garden with some rather sad looking animals. Now the ethnographic exhibition has been extended to include a carefully thought out archaeological and palaeontological exhibit. A colourful new exhibition, Botswana Traditional Craft and Contemporary Art and Design fills the Art Gallery and a further exhibition space. Traditional objects like baskets, stools and chairs, musical instruments, toys and costume are displayed and show the influence that the historical objects have had on contemporary design and the use of traditional materials.
The garden has been improved with out-door exhibits (the animals have been retired) and an impressive range of new facilities has been provided for visitors. The lecture theatre has been completed and a handling room I classroom has been opened; it is a useful space fitted with benches that can be used in a variety of ways. [The main thrust of the museum's education programme is towards the mobile museum, the Zebra on Wheels as it is impossible for the vast majority of the population to even contemplate visiting Gaborone] There is a busy Library and Information Centre and a pleasant shop selling Botswana crafts. A small cafeteria is planned to open soon. Fully climate controlled stores will be added in the next tranche of development.
The museum has a much increased staff; there are now something like 120 employees. This has enabled ethnographic collecting programmes to be initiated. Major new legislation provides for the museum to carry out predevelopment archaeological impact studies for any new developments or mines and ensures that funding is available for them to intervene as necessary. The Art Gallery staff are providing in-service training programmes for teachers in the traditional crafts and skills of the Setswana. These are proving very popular and a series of videos, sponsored by the British Council, is being created based on the training sessions. This programme is giving increased value to traditional skills that were rapidly being discarded and forgotten.
A programme establishing small local museums under the auspices of the National Museum is also being developed. There are new and embryonic museums at Molepolole, Francistown and Mann as well as the two long-established and well known-ones at Mochudi and Serowe. These museums tell the history and ecology of their areas and exhibit their traditional crafts. They also provide outlets for the sale of contemporary craft-work to tourists, which will give a considerable boost to the local economies.
Those of us who were in Gaborone in 1990 will never forget the day that we spent travelling with the Zebra on Wheels the National Museum's famous mobile museum. We left at first light and drove out first by bus and then transferred to the back of a flat-top lorry for about three hours before we arrived at the village school at Takotokwane, right in the Kalahari Desert. We received such a warm welcome from both pupils and teachers. We watched the work of the travelling museum team, ate a meal with the children and then were entertained by them with their traditional dancing. We returned to Gaborone long after dark! This autumn we followed a similar programme at Ditshegwane, another village on the edge of the Kalahari; the whole day was made far less arduous by the extensive road building programme that the Botswana government is undertaking. How comfortable to travel all the way by mini bus! Having been out with 'the Zebra' before meant that I knew what to expect and gained much greater enjoyment from the opportunity to chat to teachers and pupils. At Ditshegwane we were joined by the villagers and I helped to serve lunch to them which gave me a fascinating opportunity to meet some of them. Later they also danced for us, encouraged by the example of their children.
The Zebra on Wheels is funded by NORAD and SIDA. It goes from strength to strength and has recently been given three impressive new buses through a generous Japanese donation. They have every bit of modern electronic equipment, videos and computers which will bring magic and delight to villages throughout Botswana just as the old four-wheel drives did in their time. They will be put through all manner of rugged testing by Tickey and her staff as they drive deep into Botswana along its sandy roads.
Tjako Mpulubusi maintains that his museum is one of the poorest museums in the world! All I can say is bravo to Tjako and all his staff.
Alison M. Heath
24th January 1996
P.S. One of the things that most worried me during my first visit to Southern Africa was the tide of litter brought by the increasing development of the countries - plastic bags and soft drink cans were everywhere. I am delighted to be able to report that means are being found to control the problem. Consultants have advised a small government tax on each plastic bag. Very simple but very effective. In South Africa the National Cultural History Museum has solved the problem of the litter of empty drink cans in a local town by charging a small admission fee to one of its sites but children may enter in exchange for 20 empty cans which are then crushed and sent to be recycled! I nominate this as the best new idea for 1995!!!