Sandy Grant’s article on what he sees as humiliation and a tragic situation with the Botswana National Museum was a humbling ladder from the cloud nine of celebrations that we so much enjoyed.
He reminded me of the songs they sing at weddings when they are drunk with jealousy: dikuku di monate, lenyalo le boima rona re a tsamaya le tla sala le di bona or perhaps most fitting “O thetha ka di suit kgomo di seyo mo sakeng”.
The Museums Day celebrations were two days of bliss. The Thursday panel discussion, partly sponsored by the Botswana Tourism Organisation and graced by the US Embassy Public Officer, Ineke Stoneham, comprised highly respected facilitators. Some like Drs Keletso Setlhabi and Boga Manatsha were from the history department of the University of Botswana challenging museums on relevance and transformation.
The cultural heritage repatriation specialist, Ciraj Rasool came all the way University of the Western Cape and advocated for independence of museums to serve not the state powers but the public. Renowned historian Jeffress Ramsay who is now at the Botswana Public Service College was a respondent together with myself and celebrated the founders of the museum idea in Bathoeng, Ellenberger and Campbell.
The celebrations climaxed with the opening of the breathtaking Stephen Mogotsi-led photographic exhibition of the 50-year journey of Botswana Museums that will run for at least three months.
The Museum staff launched a special 100 page full colour 50th Anniversary issue of the Zebras Voice and curator, Marumo Marumo’s book on the Alien Plant Species of Gaborone. The cherry on the cake was the pinnacle day graced by the Acting President, His Honour, Mr. Slumber Tsogwane, almost a replication of the 1968 opening of the Museum exhibition by the then Acting President, Mr. Q.K.J. Masire.
In all my 18 years at museums I have not seen such selfless application by staff for an event. More inspired were the highly unionised former industrial class staff. They demanded no overtime payment, and volunteered under the tutelage of Cde. Mokgweetsi Jackson who has been with museums for a whopping 36 years.
There was palpable excitement in the air and salivation as we slaughtered a beast, a goat and tens of chickens in festivity buffet preparations for the 300 guests. We were joined in by other Environment Ministry volunteers adorned in mateisi apparel as part of the Dikgafela mimicry procession from the CID on Independence Avenue to the National Museum.
Meanwhile, Mr. Sandy Grant, like a night time wizard, already had in print a shrewdly crafted alternative menu published in Mmegi and entitled “National Museum: Tragedy and Humiliation”.
The Audience Museum
In the lamentations of Sandy Grant, an unexplained jab is given to the now popular Capricorn Marker, which he only describes as a mess. Museum professionals themselves often intensely engage at boardrooms before reaching consensus in the production of knowledge and the interventions at heritage sites, including at the Capricorn Monument. This is for the simple reason that Museum professionals must write and think outside the box. Let me give you a fresh inside example. Last week the Director sent me a WhatsApp message and a picture that had been doing rounds for a fortnight. In this picture, a Caucasian tourist is climbing on the Capricorn monument.
My Director instructed me to put a sign that forbids people to climb the Capricorn monument. I engaged him - why should people not climb on this built up monument Sir? Is it really not safe? After all there is no sacredness against its climbing such as at Lentswe la Baratani in Otse or Dimomo cave at Malaka. Clearly, from Facebook posts the customers want to climb parts of this monument.
Why can’t we strengthen and redesign the monument to allow for the customer needs and yet append a disclaimer in the event of injury? In fact, in the already proposed refurbishment and re-adjusted location of the Capricorn monument, the current visitor experiences should inform our initiatives to enhancing customer experience. The A1 motorists and travellers are, no doubt, a stressed lot and accident statistics are there to prove so. How can this erected monument contribute with measurable impact in the safety and stress relief of motorists?
The above example should be a reminder to Mr. Grant; that museums are a mirror of the society and need to be progressive in application and addressing societal issues and ills. In all fairness to the department, the Museum has done pretty well here. That is why the museum annually hosted exhibitions on HIV Aids, Cultural cooperation and once hosted the controversial Virginal Monologues Inc. and a host of others.
When the BDP was allowed to hold its 50th anniversary in the Octagon Gallery last year, we were inadvertently opening doors to other political parties to do the same when they are ready. It is for this diverse role that the ministry gives a subvention to Thapong, which Mr. Grant also questions. Besides the artwork mandate, Thapong is housed in a historic old building and custodian of the Village Anglo Boer War graves and Gaberones Fort
Alec Campbell was not an angel, neither alone
Perhaps that last and brief sentence in Sandy Grant’s prose says more than meets the eye. It simply says ‘Poor Alec Campbell”. Having referred to Campbell in positive terms and as founder of the Museum earlier, then rubbishing all the subsequent Batswana Museum directors as uninterested, Sandy’s prose smacks of prejudice. However, he reaches audacious levels by casting aspersion on the ability of independence time Botswana Cabinet Ministers in appreciating art and suggests there was no known Motswana artist.
First, on this Mr. Grant deserves a reprimand. Secondly, we should let the ashes and soul of Mr. Campbell rest in peace and honour. However, this over celebration of Alec Campbell by Sandy and other Batswana of Western origin must be taken with a pinch of salt. Alec Campbell did his part as a private collector, an amateur archaeologist and employee of the department and later a consulting archaeologist.
He also attracted a lot of international research on Botswana, publishing frequently from his laborious fieldwork. However, the establishment of museums was as much, if not more, the vision of Kgosi kgolo Bathoen II.
As the Stephen Mogotsi-led 50th Anniversary Exhibition shows, history demonstrates that the success of the museum mandate has been team work including the immense contribution of Mrs. Doreen Nteta, the first museum professional staff member and later director.
Her 1983 treatise helped to redefine the future of Museums work in Botswana. Others too, such as Tarisayi Madondo, Tickey Pule brought in fundamental innovations, not least the legendary and much envied Zebras on wheels public programme that takes the museum to remote areas and the first listing of a World Heritage Site, respectively.
The trio of Bathoen II, Alec Campbell and Doreen Nteta is given honour in the ongoing exhibition. Mr. Sandy Grant should exercise restraint lest he propagates a tilted narrative that sees only pale skinned members of our society as worthy of recognition. That is now how we have so far built this nation.
I have nothing but honour for Mr. Campbell who was a hardworking, loving and humble servant of our society and whose approach and demeanour was admirable and a far cry from many whom the nation has hosted and adopted. However, Mr. Campbell’s illustrious career was not without freckles. An example is his documented and archaic management plan recommendations (1994) to deny Tsodilo village of developments.
He recommended relocation of the Basarwa and wanted no usable access roads from Nxamasere to Tsodilo but sentimentalised about the steep sands to be accessed and enjoyed by tourists using 4x4. We are wise and restrained enough to know that this Alec Campbell proposal to keep a people frozen in time was a ruse meant to protect the rock art as a priority against the people. Even worse, it stood to satiate the appetite of western romanticised views of especially the Basarwa of the Tsodilo area.
However, we are gracious and forgiving enough to situate it on the general conservation methods of Alec Campbell’s time and of his orientation in colonial conservation frameworks and his former work as a wildlife custodian. Therefore, any glorification of Mr. Campbell and other privileged employees should be tampered with restraint.
Botswana Heritage doubting Thomas
Mr. Grant is too negative to the point of downplaying the otherwise positive facts that even he stipulates in his melancholic prose. We too - and for years now - have lamented the lack of political will and corresponding financial investment to turn around the museums and heritage sites sector.
We fought from within, in service of the nation, to change the relegation of museums to the forgone alternative in previous development plans. As Museums turn 50, the proverbial silver lining has dawned with over P230 million investment geared towards museums and monuments during NDP XI. We have started and are at different stages on pre-development studies, architectural designs and land acquisitions and storyline developments for Ntsweng near Molepolole, Old Palapye, Baratani and Matsieng to kick start the NDP XI commitments. Worse than the Biblical Thomas, Mr. Grant refuses to surrender even when confronted with inside evidence of the resurrected hope for Museums.
Post Script: Dear Mr. Sandy Grant, I was only riding on the 50th anniversary excitement and can’t promise to sustain the debate because duty calls. I also doubt if my Principals will allow me any further public discussions beyond the licence of a respondent. If I don’t respond to yours and other heritage articles, I promise to read and learn from your counsel. Do pass by my office for tea, a copy of the 50th Anniversary special issue and most importantly, a peace pipe.
*Phillip Segadika is Archaeologist & Heritage Manager at Botswana National Museum and Monuments. He writes in his personal capacity