This past month saw museum staff from around the country gather in Pietermaritzburg for the annual South African Museums Association (SAMA) conference. The following report on the conference was compiled by Steve Kotze, the current Chairperson of SAMA KZN:
The 83rd annual South African Museums Association conference was graciously hosted by the Director and staff of Msunduzi Museum (which incorporates the Voortrekker Museum complex) in Pietermaritzburg from 21 to 24 October 2019. The conference was officially opened by the MEC for Arts, Sports, Culture and Recreation in KZN, Hon. Hlengiwe Mavimbela, and those attending were welcomed to the Msunduzi Museum by Rob Luyt, on behalf of Dr Mlungisi Ngubane. The small team organising the event represented the KwaZulu-Natal branch of SAMA, including Local History Museums’ staff members Steve Kotze and Ayanda Ngcobo, as well as Robyn Gruijters (Michaelhouse Museum), and Zameka Yamile (KwaZulu Cultural Museum, Ondini).
Almost 80 delegates from all regions gathered in the KZN capital to engage with an extremely wide variety of presentations incorporating almost every field in the museum world. The theme was based on the International Council of Museums’ for the year, namely “Museums as Cultural Hubs: The future of tradition”, and this gave ample opportunity for discussion among specialists in Natural Science, Research, Fine Arts, Literature, Cultural History, Digital technology, Liberation Heritage, Archaeology, Corporate museums and Museum education, while examples of transformation or change of various kinds were found running as a common thread through many papers. The conference programme is available for those who would like to read the abstracts that were submitted.
Special mention should be made of the five presentations made by staff of the KwaZulu-Natal Museum, also based in Pietermaritzburg, who made up a considerable proportion of the presenters and were led by their Director, Luthando Maphasa. However, the Local History Museums of eThekwini Municipality were also part of the programme in the form of an award-winning appearance by graphic designer Nosipho Mbuthuma. Her paper, “Digital Technology: The future of tradition” received the SAMA President’s Award for the best presentation by a first time speaker at a SAMA conference. On behalf of all her colleagues we would like to congratulate Nosipho for overcoming her fear of speaking in public and winning this prestigious recognition.
The SAMA conference included several opportunities for colleagues to visit the numerous museums and galleries found in and around Pietermaritzburg. Bryony Clarke and the friendly staff of Tatham Art Gallery hosted a welcome event in the Lorna Ferguson Room where the marimba bands of Michaelhouse provided the entertainment. Two excursions took place as part of the conference as well. One explored some of the heritage sites of Pietermaritzburg, starting with a morning spent at the KwaZulu-Natal Museum, which is one of the oldest institutions of its kind in the region. Before lunch the tour continued to the Old Prison Museum, while the afternoon was taken up with a visit to the Maritzburg College museum. The alternative tour ventured further afield among heritage sites in the celebrated agricultural landscape that stretches north of Pietermaritzburg. The first stop was at Mpophomeni Township, which included the ‘Zulu-Mpophomeni Tourism Experience’ pioneered by Frank Mchunu, after which the tour proceeded to the Mandela Capture Site, near Midmar Dam. Finally, tea was served at the brand new museum at Michaelhouse School. These various experiences allowed conference delegates to get an experience of some of the newest and oldest heritage sites in KwaZulu-Natal, as well as to see a few examples of museums that have begun to flourish in some of the older schools in the region.
The conference included the Annual General Meeting of SAMA during which Dr Bongani Ndhlovu of IZIKO in Cape Town was elected as Vice-President, among other important business of the organisation. That night, at the farewell gala dinner held at Victoria Country Club, the current president of the organisation Regina van Vuuren handed her responsibilities over to Dr Helene Vollgraaff, who embarks on a two-year period in office as SAMA president.
Image of Msunduzi Museum courtesy of www.battlefieldsroute.co.za