16 March 2012


Welcoming Speech by Bongani Mgijima , Manager of the Albany Museum

Former President of SAMA , Ms Beverley Thomas,
Chairperson of SAMA EC, Ms Marita Venter,
Our distinguished guest, Prof Julie Wells,

It is my pleasure to welcome you to the 29th SAMA Eastern Cape Conference and Annual General Meeting.

It is not the first time that SAMA is organising a conference of this note and hopefully it not the last one in the Makana Municipality.

The year 2012 marks an important milestone in the history of Makana Municipality since this great city of saints was founded 200 years ago. It is therefore quite befitting that this conference should happen here and at this time.

I hope that you will take some of your time in between the conference to admire the charming built heritage of the city.

The year 2012 also marks the centenary of the oldest liberation movement in Africa – the African National Congress. It is also not coincidental therefore that this conference is straddling the months of February and March.

For it was in February 22 years ago that Madiba walked through the gates of Victor Vester Prison into the new South Africa as a free man. It was 52 years ago on 21 March that thousands of people laid down their lives for the achievement of the freedoms we are enjoying today.

As we are celebrating these freedoms we should not lose sight of the fact that our museums today are facing a whole range of multidimensional challenges.

I am tempted to think that in the next 20 years, when it comes to museums, three scenarios will play themselves out. To illustrate my future scenarios of what may happen to museums in 20 years time please allow me to use birds linked to museums as examples.

The first one I refer to as the dodo bird scenario. The dodo bird became extinct many years ago and its extinction is attributed to human activity.

The East London Museum is believed to keep the only surviving egg of a dodo bird. Under this scenario museums will cease to exist or they will become extinct the same way as the dodo bird. The current funding of museums is pointing to that direction.

The second scenario is that museums will go the way of the phoenix bird. The phoenix bird is a mythical bird that is reputed to live for many years after which it burns and on its ashes a new bird is reborn.

The phoenix is also the logo used by the Albany Museum. Under this scenario museums as we know them will collapse and on their ruins a new form of museums will emerge. This we are seeing in the new form of exhibitions which are beginning to challenge current museum practices in a very reflexive manner.

My third and last scenario is that of an eagle bird. According to Wikipedia “the eagle symbolises strength, courage, far sightedness and immortality. It is considered to be the king of the air and the messenger of highest gods”. The eagle is also the coat of arms of Egypt whose museum in Alexandria is considered to be the first inthe world. Under this scenario museums will thrive and will be well funded.

The most important thing about future scenarios ,and all predictions for that matter, is that they can become self fulfilling prophecies. Whether these predictions become true or false depends entirely on us as museum practitioners.

The actions we take today will determine whether our museums in the Eastern Cape will follow the route of the dodo ( become extinct) , whether they get resurrected in the form of a phoenix and whether they will soar above and thrive like an eagle.

With those few words, ladies and gentlemen finally allow me on behalf of the Albany Museum to wish you a fruitful and pleasant conference and a good time in Grahamstown.

And again, I hope that after the speeches you will find time to explore our town which is indeed a GREAT PLACE TO BE.

You are all welcome. Thank you.

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