By: Zongezile Matshoba
The 29th conference of the South African Museums Association (SAMA) Eastern Cape Chapter was hosted in Grahamstown on from the Tuesday until Thursday this week. Welcoming the delegates was Bongani Mgijima, Manager of Albany Museum which was hosting the conference. In his welcoming address, he related 2012 and the relevance of SAMA to the African National Congress (ANC) centenary celebrations, and the February month with the 22nd anniversary release of former State President of South Africa, Dr Nelson Mandela.
Mgijima went on to draw some scenarios that are facing the museums. The first scenario that he drew was that of a dodo bird which has become instinct, a clear indication that museums, if not supported, will become instinct too. The second scenario was that of a phoenix bird, a mythical bird which is also used as the Albany Museum logo. The myth is that the phoenix has the ability to rise from the ashes, and the museums need to that. The last scenario was that of an eagle bird, also used in the coat of arms of Egypt.
These scenarios were also put into perspective by Patricia Mafu, Manager of Museums in the Directorate of Museums and Heritage in the Department of Sports, Recreation, Arts and Culture. Mafu counted five key areas that determine the value of museums.
Firstly, she mentioned the critical issue of funding. Museums continued to be severely underfunded. Secondly, she touched on infrastructure development which entails the maintenance of these old buildings that date as way back as 1800s. Thirdly, she talked of social cohesion, and transformation of museums was at the centre of this discussion. Fourthly, she tried to show the importance of human resource and the retention of staff, especially those with scarce skills. Lastly, she highlighted that governance is very crucial, and therefore the finalization of the repealing of the Museum Act of 2004 and the capacitating of Board of Trustees are crucial.
Both Mgijima and Mafu challenged SAMA delegates to show the importance of the association and its continued existence. Earlier, another presenter from Bayworld has challenged delegates to be museum activists and come up with solutions instead of wanting to point problems only.
He, together with Councilor Julia Wells who delivered the keynote address which centred on the Project 200 that reflects on Grahamstown's past 200 years, welcomed delegates in Makana, which is a great place to be.
Within the conference was the annual general meeting that dealt with the governance of SAMA, presentation of papers, a gala dinner, Walking Tours by Fleur Way-Jones and some excursions to the International Library of African Music and Albany Observatory Museum.