It was the recent loss of the Shelagh Willet which got me googling Lesotho, David Ambrose and Morija.
The Historical Dictionary of Lesotho helpfully stated of Ambrose that, ‘perhaps the best measure of his role is his enormous annotated bibliography containing virtually every published and unpublished work that he could locate that has anything to do with Lesotho. After twelve years of collaborative effort with Shelagh Willet, a professional librarian, they published their Lesotho: A Comprehensive Bibliography, in 1980.’ Remarkable – and we haven’t even begun to catalogue the hundreds of news reports of the old Mafikeng Mail! My next job was to google Morija and its Director, Steve Gill, so that he could inform David Ambrose about Shelagh’s passing.
The Morija web site proved to be attractive, and informative – something it had in
common with that of the newly created and opened Moruleng Cultural Precinct which proudly refers to ‘ the innovative Mphebatho Museum which is our flagship attraction, the newly restored Dutch Reformed Mission Church, the magical landscape of ancient settlement patterns, the
spectacular open air kgotla, the bell tower viewing deck, the craft centre and coffee shop.’ Such lovely enthusiasm! Out of curiosity, I then googled our own National Museum to see how it might compare and found that it is far from being anyone’s flagship, that is tired and absolutely without enthusiasm. Minimal information was followed by the unexciting news (for any visitor) that it is a government department and then by two remarkably contrasting comments.
The first from the government Tourism people which is all bombast claiming that, ‘the National Museum has been a vibrant focal point of artistic and cultural activity since its inception’ and that ‘the mandate has always been to display and promote the country’s natural and cultural heritage. Recently celebrating its 40th anniversary (2008), the National Museum and Art Gallery has gone from strength to strength in the collection of artifacts, research, exhibitions, national and international collaborations, and in its vigorous outreach programmes.’
Rather more realistically, the Lonely Planet brings the whole thing down with a bump. ‘If you come with expectations reasonably lowered, you may enjoy this small, neglected museum. It’s a good way to kill an hour if you’re into taxidermy…’ Apart from making it obvious that there cannot be much vibrancy about a project that has left its web site untended for the last six or seven years, the comparison between these sites is depressing and demonstrates how seriously
How is it possible that the government which prioritises tourism should so neglect its national museum that an international guide for visitors should describe it as small (it is, if
shorn of the two art galleries and the admin blocks), neglected and worth a visit if you are into stuffed animals and have nothing else to do.
That is a desperately depressing observation about a project that was established forty-seven years ago but perhaps more pertinently has been a government project for thirty-nine, has a significantly large staff and a handsome annual budget but lacks even the usual shop.
Can the government really believe that it is getting value for money? Yes, there are the regular art exhibitions but remove these and what is left is indeed a small, neglected museum?
As matters now stand, this museum in twenty years time, will still be much as is it is today. The problem is that, almost by choice, it has so cocooned and isolated itself that there is no way that the energy and vision which would be needed to turn it around can find expression. It deliberately cut its link with the Botswana Society, has no links with any of the universities or any meaningful connection with the small NGO museums.
It has no means of tapping into and utilising the skills and interests potentially available to it within the
Gaborone community and has contrived to make itself so irrelevant that no one even bothers to criticise it. And clearly it is getting nothing in the way of inspiration from the Ministry of which it is a part. The museum is stuck in the pre-diamond days when Gaborone was still without its
Game Reserve and when a museum of beautiful dioramas and stuffed animals made some sense. But that was then.
Today, the place needs a major shake up so that it becomes the flagship that is so desperately needed in Gaborone. But if that is impossible, something entirely new needs to be established which would being us into this millennium – hopefully a national heritage centre.
This would cost money – but a great deal of this stuff is currently being wafted around and ending up either in the wrong hands or with little to show for it.
It can be done and it should be done. As a matter of urgency.