As the National Museum and Monuments marked its 50th anniversary recently, rather than outright celebrations, sober debate was focussed on how to resuscitate the institution and renew its appeal, particularly to the youth and tourists. Mmegi Correspondent, NASARETHA KGAMANYANE was amongst the crowd
Two years after Botswana gained its Independence, the National Museum and Monuments was established, an event graced by then acting president, the late Sir Ketumile Masire.
From those high hopes on September 30, 1968, the museum’s running expenses rose and by 1975, its founder, Alec Campbell had to ask government to take over, which happened in March 1979, when the institution formally became a government department.
Despite the funding issue apparently resolved at that time, the museum has over the years begun to physically resemble the antiques it preserves, as it has devolved into a fossil of sorts, frozen in time by a funding gap and public apathy.
At the museum’s 50th anniversary celebrations this week, a panel discussion quickly turned to debate on how to restore lustre to the institution.
Addressing the gathering, senior lecturer in Archaeology at the University of Botswana, Keletso Setlhabi said the museum had to catch up to the 21st century.
For instance, the National Museum in this century must include the elephant story, which is the country’s most prominent natural heritage. The elephant success story is one that the country must commemorate.
“I really want to start with a picture of a museum in the 21st century. What else can I think of except the elephant story? I wanted to come in here in the 21st century and want to see or experience an exhibition in the National Museum platform of the real story of an elephant in Botswana. Elephants are our natural heritage.
“Wildlife is part of Botswana’s heritage. It is also a question of moving from the statics, to representations of heritage where we can see them ‘living’. What really matters to me is their part in the community. How people live with them.” For Setlhabi, the museum should address the trend of cultural renunciation in Botswana. If the museum could showcase cultures and different tribes across the country, Batswana, particularly the youth could be able to appreciate and tolerate each other’s culture. This could also help people be proud of their roots.
The museum, Setlhabi said, could also promote gender issues,
“There are lots of bottlenecks in the National Museum. If it does not address HIV/AIDS, xenophobia, abuse and other issues affecting us, it is not reaching its mandate,” she said.
For his part, Boga Manatsha from the UB said national museums should always support collective memory. He said since museums are cultural entities, they must support tourism.
“Museums involve both tangible and intangible artefacts. This institution must promote cultural diversity and it must also promote cultural dialogue,” he said.
He added that children must be taught about their cultures through the museum where they could develop self-cultural identity at an early age. He said transformative learning and democratic dialogue was also very important.
Manatsha added that in the 21st century, the institution had to be able to promote minorities such as the gay community and others. He added that museum studies must be infused into school curriculums.
Professor of History at the University of Western Cape in South Africa, Ciraj Rassool said museums around the world were discussing ways that they could be decolonised. He said currently, the focus was on ways of how these institutions could be restructured in a way that would enable them to showcase their artefacts and diverse cultures without being influenced by colonisation.
“People are now discussing how artefacts taken around the world could be returned to their places of origin. We see them as missing ancestors. We want the remains of missing ancestors to be returned to their places of origin where they were before they were stolen,” he said.
Rassool added that in the same vein, it was time that museums such as the South Africa’s Museum of Apartheid are turned into museums of democracy.
“Museums should become places where the public can communicate with society. It is also time governments help museums become independent so that they can run smoothly.”