Thursday, May 20, 2010

Message from LMLM's first Curator Bongani Mgijima on the occasion of the Lwandle Museum's 10th birthday.

On the 1 May 2010, Bonagni Mgijima, Lwandle Museum's first curator, was unable to attend the celebrations, but sent through a letter of support for the Museum's restoration project and continued existence. Leslie Witz read extracts from his letter at the 10th Birthday Party.

The LMLM thanks Bongani for his unwavering support of the museum over the years and for his vision and involvement in founding the museum.

Although not present at Lwandle on the 1 May 2010, over the years Bongani Mgijima has continued to support the LMLM since his formal departure in 2002. Here he speaks at the 2009 Provincial Tourism Awards ceremony in Cape Town. Source: courtesy Bongani Mgijima's Face Book page.

LMLM staff Lunga Smile and Lungiswa Teka with Bongani Mgijima at the Provincial Tourism Awards evening in Cape Town 2009. Source: courtesy Bongani Mgijima's Face Book page.

The following is the letter sent though by Bongani on the 1 May 2010.


Somerset Street. Grahamstown. 6139. Tel:+27(0)46622 2912 . Fax:+27(0)46622 23
Associated Research Institute of Rhodes University

The Manager/Curator

Lwandle Migrant Labour Museum

Old Community Hall




On behalf of myself, in my capacity as the former Curator of the LMLM and on behalf of the Board of Trustees and staff of the Albany Museum, I would like to take this opportunity to convey our good wishes on the museum's tenth anniversary.

I would have liked to be personally present to witness this great moment in history.

Unfortunately due to unforeseen circumstances I am unable to join you on this moment of
Great celebrations. However even though I am not physically here today with you, I am
Present spiritually.

Ten years is not a long time but for a unique museum like LMLM it is quite an achievement.

When LMLM started ten years ago we never thought it will reach the 1O milestone.

Within a very short period LMLM has distinguished itself as an example of what a post-apartheid museum should be.

Not very long ago, when I was still a government official in the Western Cape I watched LMLM being officially crowned the Best Community Based Tourism Attraction of the year in the Western Cape and a year later the Best Museum of the Year in the Western Cape. Ten years ago, it was unthinkable and even unfashionable to think of a museum in a township – let alone a Best Museum of the Year. Here we are, ten years later, celebrating these fine achievements.

Ten years also offers us an opportunity to reflect on the past and to acknowledge organizations that were supportive during the early years. LMLM would not have been possible without the sacrifices and dedication of many people who worked so hard to get us where we are now.

The Arts and Culture Trust of the President then administered by Craig Carbutt, the then Cape Metropolitan Tourism Board headed by Ms Nombulelo Mkefa, the Western Cape
Tourism Board specifically Mthetheleli Hugo and Clive Roman –were all early funders and supporters of the Museum. These organizations deserve special mention because, when I was the Curator of the Museum ten years ago they did not only offer funding but also encouragement.

The History Department at the University of the Western Cape through the Post Graduate
Diploma in Museums and Heritage Studies and the Project on Public Pasts and other programs has always been the godparent of LMLM. Institutions such as the South African Heritage Resources Agency, the District Six Museum, Helderberg Municipality, the Helderberg Radio, the Jewish Museum and Robben Island Museum have always been very supportive of LMLM in its early years.

My own studies for the Post Graduate Diploma in Museums and Heritage Studies, while I
Was still a curator of the museums , were partially funded by the local Rotary Club. Various businesses around Somerset West and Strand were very supportive in terms of donating equipment and photographs for LMLM's first exhibitions. The Councilors of Lwandle specifically the late Councilor Fatyela and the current ward Councilor Sotashe were the early fans of the museum.

The community of Lwandle especially the resident of Hostel33 who gave their permission that the Hostel33 could be utilised as a tourist stopover while they were still staying there deserves a special mention.

A lot has been achieved in quiet a very short space of time. My own formally association with LMLM ended in 2Q02. Some of the people who worked with me such as Kutala Vuba , Noyise Mhlathiand later Bonke Tyhulu, VusiButhelezi and Mbulelo Mrubata went on to become " Groot Krokodils" in the heritage sector. In marking ten years I also hope that provincial authorities in the Western Cape will do the right thing and ensure that LMLM does not have to close its doors in the near future.

In marking ten years I also hope that provincial authorities in the Western Cape will do the right thing and ensure that LMLM does not have to close its doors in the near future.

Before I conclude my message I would like to congratulate the previous and current
Management and Board of LMLM for the sterling work they have done in the past ten years. LMLM looks much better than it was when I was still a Curator.

In celebrating ten Years of LMLM we must also pay tribute to Mama Plummer without whose vision, commitment and dedication LMLM would not have materialised.

I would also like to commend LMLM for the work it has done in restoring Hostel 33. I am aware that this project has been made possible by the partnership forged between LMLM, 'the US Consulate in Cape Town, the National Lottery and the National Heritage Council. This is indeed a partnership that works.

Even though I am not present today to join you in celebrating these fine achievements I will be following the museum blog on the internet with very keen interest.

In only ten years, LMLM has shown us how so much could be done with so little. Our old
well established museums are taking a leaf from the book of LMLM.

May you have a Happy Birthday and live for another 100years!

Best wishes

Bongani Mgijima


1 MAY 2010

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Donations enrich the Hostel33 fabric

In a previous post 'New Glass for the Windows', we acknowledged the kind donations of original window latches by neighbours at Hostel33, which the LMLM used to replace missing iron mongery at Hostel33. The Museum also replaced and fitted new latches to peoples homes.

Here are the names of those whose kind donation is hereby gratefully acknowledged:

Kadephi Mtiya : Room 32B
Ntombithini Magwa : Room 31A
Samekelo Mtiya : Room 32C
Notshawuza Leticia Dwenene : Room 32D
'Chippa' Maqutyana : Room 29C
Mlondolozi Klaas : Room 29B
Mr. J Klaas : Room 29A

Thanks are also due to Lunga Smile, Kadephi Mtiya and Renchius van der Merwe for liaising with these donors for their support!

Contracting locally

One of the key objectives of the Hostel33 Restoration Project has been to identify and make use of local contractors in the building and exhibition processes. At the outset of the project the Museum embarked on a programme of identifying local companies with appropriate skills for the projects needs. It was decided that local companies and individuals from Lwandle and Nomzamo should be given the opportunity to conduct elements of the work, and where skills were not available locally that the museum would then look further afield. From names suggested by museum staff, board members and others, Project Manager Renchius van der Merwe set about interviewing prospective contractors for the minor building works required. It was eventually decided to employ the services of Nomzamo based contractor Laings Koti, whose thirty years experience in building and his sensitive approach seemed to be ideally suited for the works.

Nomzamo based building contractor Laings Koti inspects the state of brickwork on site as part of an initial assessment of the works required. Photograph: Noeleen Murray.

It was no surprise to find that Laings had come to Lwandle as a migrant labourer himself in the 1970s and had been a hostel dweller at Lwandle and elsewhere in the Western Cape working in the local construction industry. Laings immediately related to the project and set about making useful suggestions about how to go about the work proposed, as well as providing insights and accounts of hostel life as he walked through the interior of Hostel 33.

Laings related stories of his own experiences as a migrant labourer to Lunga Smile inside Hostel33. Photograph: Noeleen Murray.

Renchius van der Merwe carefully specified the extent of the works required and the proposed phasing of work, emphasising the need to work sensitively and practically without damaging the historic fabric of the building and Laings Koti surveyed the state of the brickwork closely.

Renchius van der Merwe and Lains Koti discuss specifications for the works on site at Hostel33. Photograph: Noeleen Murray.

Laings Koti inspects the masonry walls in the old bucket system area. Photograph: Noeleen Murray.

The next step was to submit a cost estimate for the initial works discussed. Once this was received and approved by Mr Molo and Leslie Witz of the Museum’s Board – the Financial Officer and Chairperson respectively, the quote was accepted. In the last week of April 2010 Laings’ team of workers went on site for the initial works. Bricklayers Elliot Maphatlalatsa Katlego assisted by Seyabata Thantsi and Sithembele Nqomfane began the process of rebuilding the wall at the entrance to the bucket toilet area that had disappeared around 2005, and removing the posts and washing lines that had been added to the space in front of Hostel 33 since the Hostels-to-Homes project.

On site measurements were checked prior to commencing work. Photograph: Noeleen Murray.

Renchius van der Merwe explains the research process behind the decision to use the Corobrik ROK bricks, explaining that they were the closest fit and that it would be necessary to use the smooth side on the outside face of the new wall. Photograph: Noeleen Murray.

Going on site Sithembele Nqomfane starts to dismantle and dig out the washing lines, taking care to ensure that they could be reused as they had been promised to Kholiswa Ngcane who runs a charitable soup kitchen from her home. Photograph: Noeleen Murray.

Renchius holds one of the four poles constructed in front of Hostel33 prior to it being designated a heritage space, were removed to clear the front facade of the hostel. Photograph: Noeleen Murray.

The new wall takes shape. Photographs: Noeleen Murray.

Renchius carefully saves the washing line cables which are used to replace those missing on neighbours' washing lines and the rest are sent to complete the washing line to be reinstalled at Kholiswa Ngcane's home from which she runs a soup kitchen. Photograph: Noeleen Murray.

Without an electrical connection yest at Hostel33, the kind favour of neighbours enabled power to be supplied for the power tools necessary on site. Photograph: Noeleen Murray.

View of the new wall from the interior of the bucket toilet area, clearly showing the ribbed side of the new bricks, prior to being platered using the original 'bagged' finish. Photograph: Noeleen Murray.
The extent of the new wall prior to being bagged. Photograph: Noeleen Murray.

View from the street showing Hostel33, no longer obscured from view by poles and washing lines and with the rebuilt screen wall at the bucket toilet area. Pjotograpoh: Noeleen Murray.

Board member Chris Meje arrives on site to inspect the works completed by the contractor he had recommended! Photograph: Noeleen Murray.

Detail of the newly built wall prior to being bagged. Photograph: Noeleen Murray.

Detail of the ribbed side of the new wall, prior to being concealed through being bagged. Photograph: Noeleen Murray.

The new wall receives a 'bagged' plaster finish to match the rest of the building. Photograph: Noeleen Murray.

Side view showing the reconstructed steps, in the position of the old steps as revealed by inspection on site and confirmed by Chris Meje and others who had previously used this and similar buildings. Photograph: Noeleen Murray.

While project managing the building works, Renchius carefully cleans the new window panes, a week after the glazing has taken place. Photograph: Noeleen Murray.
Laings's Koti's son and Renchius install the new sign indicating that Hostel33 is under restoration. Photograph: Noeleen Murray.

As the first phase of the building works is completed, and in keeping the LMLM's process approach, the old sign is moved inside Hostel33, indicating another layer in the history of the building's use. Photograph: Noeleen Murray.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Using oral histories to curate lives in Hostel 33

One of the major issues confronting museums as they seek new methodologies of display and interpretation is how to incorporate oral histories into their exhibitionary practices. There is always a technological issue and, related to this, costs which may be involved. Sometimes audio bells are used, in some instances excerpts from interviews are shown in an audio-visual form on monitors, audio-wands, headsets and mobile phones are increasingly used in art galleries, and in older technologies visitors are required lift up a handset and listen to a recording.

The Lwandle Museum has been unable to afford any of these devices and instead has made extensive use of presenting an edited transcribed version as written text. In addition tour guides draw upon oral histories in their renditions to visitors. But the ways oral histories are used goes beyond a mere question of technology and raises issues about the ways voices are constantly mediated. Chrischene Julius of the District Six Museum has written an important article, ‘Digging Deeper than the eye approves’, published in Kronos: Southern African Histories, 34 (2008), which examines these processes. She maintains that although claims are constantly being made to represent voices through oral histories in museums, through the performance of interviewing, translation, transcription and editing what occurs is a process of curating voices for the purposes of the museum. In the processes of making decisions about how to make the oral visual memories can become contained and much more circumscribed than was originally intended.

On 16 April 2010 students from the African Programme in Museum and Heritage Studies at UWC and fellows of the Centre for Humanities Research visited the museum to analyse how oral histories are being curated and to discuss how the guides in the new tours to restored Hostel 33 might make use of oral histories.

Lunga Smile relates stories of Lwandle to African Programme in Museum and Heritage Studies students and staff and Centre for Humanities Research fellows from UWC. Photograph: Leslie Witz
Different modes for the curation of oral histories were discerned in the museum. In Iimbali zeKhaya (Stories of Home) extracts from interview are presented to accompany large photographs of individuals. These are mainly presented as parts of a narration by the interviewee and appeared in English and isiXhosa. The oral appears then as the voice of the image. In the newer exhibition, Abavelisi Bengingqi yaseLwandle (Lwandle Designers), voice is again rendered in textual form of edited extracts in isiXhosa and English to accompany photographs of designers and their work, but in this case the interviews are presented as a conversation between the researchers and the interviewees. Interventions, questions, interjections and responses of the interviewers are incorporated into the display. In this manner an attempt is made to highlight the dialogic nature of oral histories, something which hardly appears in either written texts or in museum displays.

Detail of Lwandle Designers exhibition: Dumisani Molo in conversation with Lunga Smile and Leslie Witz. Here the voices of both interviewer and interviewee are graphically displayed. Photograph: Leslie Witz.

What became apparent throughout this discussion is that the way that the museum had made curatorial choices of representing oral histories, so much so that some of the students were asserting that the ‘voice’ was not that of the interviewees but that of the museum. This raised a heated debate about the intentions of oral history and its supposed articulation of democratic ideals and transformatory strategies. Although no conclusion was reached it was evident that such an idealist notion of oral history needed to be abandoned and replaced by a methodology that consciously sought to represent, in exhibition, the ways that voices are mediated.

This left us with the question of how the museum is going to incorporate oral histories into the tour narratives of Hostel 33. From very early on the museum decided against installing electronic equipment in the hostel, both for security reasons and the costs involved.

Importantly, past experiences over the past ten years, has shown that the personalized guided narration is the most effective manner of representing notions of experience. Two strategies have been employed. The first is an ambitious oral history project that is being carried out by the museum with Grade 9 scholars from local schools, Khanyolwethu, Rusthof and Simunyene. Drawing on the museum’s experience in its partnership with the District Six Museum in a Youth ambassadors’ programme in 2008, the students are learning techniques of interviewing, contributing to a growing oral history collection in the museum and hopefully becoming advocates for the museum in their communities. This programme is being led by the museum’s education officer, Lundi Mama. The museum has also identified individuals who have lived in the hostels in different periods and is conducting a series of interviews with them. Finally, as community members become involved in the restoration process they also recall moments and experiences of their past lives when Lwandle was a place of hostels. Hostel 33 then serves, in the words of Pierre Nora, as an aide memoire.

From these interviews and reminiscences the museum will develop one or two life stories which will the form the basis of the tour guide narrations. The idea is to move away from a generalized account to one that will resonate through the individual account. Photographs of the hostel, and documents such as pass books are being reproduced to create additional visual and tangible remnants. The oral histories, together with these selected and crafted arfticats will enable the museum to imagine, image and represent lives for visitors to Hostel 33.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

What's in a Tour?

One of the major components of the Lwandle Migrant Labour Museum visitor experience is the Walking Tour. From the earliest days of the Museum’s establishment, the idea of the Walking Tour was developed as a way of taking visitors into the landscape of the migrant labour compound. Here visitors experienced first-hand the spaces and places associated with the systems of control which formed the basis of the compound, as well as a sense of the conditions of the township into which Lwandle has grown since the 1980s.

LMLM's Curator Lunga Smile takes visitors on the Walking Tour through Lwandle, April 2010. Photograph: Noeleen Murray.

Over the years the Museum’s research has been focused on gathering memories and information about the landscape, its planning, its buildings, and peoples’ memories of the migrant labour experience. In 2001, a joint project between the Lwandle Museum and University of the Western Cape’s Project on Public Pasts (based in the History Department and funded by the NRF), along with students from the then Post-graduate Diploma in Museum and Heritage Studies -now the African Programme in Museum and Heritage Studies-, UCT Architecture students and Brown University to facilitate a research culture amongst students so they would go on to become graduate students, produced an exhibition based on a research project undertaken in Lwandle , entitled ‘Unayo na iMephu?’ (Do you have a Map?) Components of this exhibition still form part of the permanent exhibitions on display at the Old Community Hall at the museum.

Visitors to the museum are invited to contribute their memories. Panels produced in English and isiXhosa from research into the landscape of Lwandle, August 2001, from the exhibition Unayo na iMephu? (Group project curated by Bongani Mgijima, Noeleen Murray and Leslie Witz with students and academics. Graphics by Angela Tuck.

Running in parallel with on-going research and oral history projects over the last ten years, the Lwandle Museum staff have produced, reviewed and up-dated written narratives for the tour which each tour guide uses as the basis for their tours. Along with personal additions the current tour guides, adapt these narratives on each Walking Tour, thereby providing visitors with a combination material from the museum’s research archive with personal views of the guides, all of whom are local residents.

Example of one of the scripts produced over the years for the Walking Tour, based on research by the LMLM. Photograph: Noeleen Murray.

The Lwandle Museum is very much a museum about process and the tour narrative reflects this. Museum staff met recently to update the Walking Tour narratives to include accounts of the research revealed in the process of restoring Hostel 33 over the last few months.

LMLM staff met with Noeleen Murray to discuss changes to the Walking Tour, following recent developments in the restoration of Hostel 33, April 2010. L-R, Mphumzi Nzozo (tour guide), Lunga Smile (curator), Simpiwe Konono (tour guide) and Lundi Mama (education officer). Photograph: Noeleen Murray.

As such, people who visit the museum while the restoration is taking place are shown the ways in which the museum is working with the historical fabric of the building and invited to contribute to debates around the evolving exhibitions. Visitors record their experiences in the museum's Visitors Book.

A mixture of research and personal experience, LMLM's tour guides are all local residents who know the place intimately. Photograph: Noeleen Murray.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Birthday Celebrations as Lwandle Museum turns 10 - Workers Day - 1 May 2010.

Last weekend, on Workers’ Day, 1 May 2010, the Lwandle Migrant Labour Museum celebrated its 10th birthday. The Museum hosted a birthday party to which it invited its many friends, collaborators and supporters as a way of thanking everyone who has contributed to the continued existence of the museum. Community members and friends of the museum were treated to performances by groups associated with the Museum. Ten years ago the Uzuko Gospel Choir sang at the Museum’s Launch and they returned, along with Simpiwe Konono (now one of the Museum’s employees as a Tour Guide and the Master of Ceremonies for the day’s celebration programmes) to perform the national anthem, poignantly opening the day’s celebrations.

Lwandle sensations – acapella group the Red Dazzlers performed a number of pieces starting with a piece about Xenophobia – appropriately performed in the space of the migrant museum. This was followed by speeches by co-founder of the museum, Charmian ‘Mama’ Plummer and the Chair of the Board of the museum, Leslie WItz. Next up were spoken performances by local poets whose work won awards as part of the recent Lwandle Museum poetry competition, and dancing by the Rise and Shine dance group (also closely associated with the Museum) and later a football match between the teams from local taxi-drivers and the police. It was a remarkable occasion. As Leslie Witz has written subsequently:

‘Ten years ago, when the museum was opened by the poet Sandile Dikeni no-one had thought it would last this long. But through the commitment of its staff and board and the support of the community it has defied expectations. The Lwandle Migrant Labour Museum today challenges the traditional role of a museum and many other more well-established museums in the country are taking a leaf out of its book.’

The birthday was also an important moment in the restoration process currently underway at Hostel 33 as staff of the museum led guests on the newly updated tour to Hostel 33. Here they were able to show, for the fist time, the new exhibitions taking place in the hostel interior as well as in the old bucket toilet area, and to receive comment and feedback.

Some images from the day by Leslie Witz and Noeleen Murray.

Early on the morning of the 1st of May Staff prepared the hall scape for the celebrations. In the foreground a hostel bed (donated by Board Member Mr. R. Molo) signifies the new exhibitions opened for the fist time on the day. Photograph: Leslie Witz.

Chairperson of the Board of the Lwandle Museum, Leslie Witz, is visibly excited to see progress on site at Hostel 33 on his arrival before the celebrations. Standing in front of the hostel in the space which had been cleared of paraphernalia such as washing lines and poles, and showing the newly reconstructed wall at the entrance to the bucket toilet area, the building sits more authentically in the context of the hostel row. Photograph: Noeleen Murray.

The new exhibition - Recreating the Lived Spaces of Hostel 33 - where hostels rooms were re-inhabited along with input and work by previous residents. Photograph: Leslie Witz.

Noeleen Murray shows Leslie Witz how artifacts which have been gathered and donated are now assembled into a depiction of the lived space of the hostel. Here she displays how beds were stacked using brick and paint tins to create bunks as the hostels became overcrowded. Photograph: Leslie Witz.

While looking around the new exhibition, we noticed that a window pane had been shattered by a brick thrown at the window, sadly highlighting the security concerns over refurbishing the hostel interiors with goods. Photograph: Noeleen Murray.

Back at the Old Community Hall, current curator Lunga Smile greets one of his predecessors Vusi Buthelezi, who along with Bonke Thule were there to celebrate the museum's continued existence. Photograph: Leslie Witz.

The hall fills up, as visitors gather before the offical programme commenced. Photograph: Leslie WItz.

A young visitor surveys the exhibits. Photograph: Leslie Witz.

Museum mamas - Charmian 'Mama' Plummer, Mama Christine Makabane and Noeleen Murray. Photograph: Leslie Witz.

The Uzuko Gospel Choir on stage at the Lwandle Museum, with Simpiwe Konono (centre back row). Photograph Leslie Witz.

Red Dazzlers acapella group. Source: (accessed 7 May 2010, 21h24)

Guests gather outside Hostel 33. On the 1 May 2010, the Lwandle Museum ran four tours - conducted in isiXhosa and English - in keeping with the Museum's multi-lingual approach. The new tours - workshopped over the past few weeks provide a narrative about hostel life based on oral history research with previous residents as a way of creating 'storied lives'. These ideas were first workshopped at LMLM on March 2009 with Ciraj Rassool (of UWC's Department of History and the District Six Museum), who along with District Six Museum colleagues was present to see with work (Rassool, is second from the right in the image alongside Bonita Bennet and Mandy Sanger) Photograph: Noeleen Murray.

Curators of the new exhibition shown in its first installation on 1 May, pictured outside the hostel as the new tours get underway, Sylvia Monqo, and Kholiswa Ncane with Noeleen Murray and children and grandchildren. Photograph: Leslie Witz.

The first tour was Lunga's Tour (conducted in English), which commenced from Hostel 33. Here he is pictured in the bucket system area with Bonita Bennet (far left) and Many Sanger (far right) of the District Six Museum, Stanley Baluku (a Fellow from the CHR at UWC) and Zaina Nabirye of the APMHS at UWC. Photograph: Noeleen Murray.

The next tour - Simpiwe's Tour - started with a walk through Lwandle and was conducted in isiXhosa. Here he is photographed telling the story of the restoration of the bucket toilet area before guiding visitors through the space. Photograph: Noeleen Murray.

Mphumzi’s Tour - here he is telling Jade Gibson (Post-Doctoral Fellow from UWC) about the ways in which the museum has gathered stories in order to re-inhabit one of the rooms in Hostel 33. Photograph: Noeleen Murray.
On Lundi's Tour - he impressed visitors including his lecturer in Oral History from UWC - Nicky Rousseau - with his accounts of hostel life, the museum's research and the resultant exhibitions. Photograph: Noeleen Murray.

Mark Canning from the Restoration Project's sponsors at the US Consulate leaves the bucket toilet area. Photograph: Noeleen Murray.

Danie Botha looks at the reconstructed protest sign on display at the entrance to Hostel 33, as neighbour Kadephi Mtiya. keeps a watch at the door. Photograph: Noeleen Murray.
Lwandle Museum Board Member Chris Meje (left), chats to industrial archaeologist David Worth and Vincent Kolbe, long time contributor to the District Six Museum. Photograph: Noeleen Murray.

A thumbs up from ex-hostel dweller and Board Member Mr. E. Nyongwana (centre), pictured here with LMLM's tour guide Simpiwe Konono and neighbour Kadephi Mtiya.Photograph: Noeleen Murray.

Lwandle Museum supporters Charmian Plummer, Danie Botha, Shehnaaz Moosa, Matthew Cooke and children enjoy the lunch organised by the LMLM's Lungiswa Teka. Photograph: Noeleen Murray.
Don't miss the next Poetry Competition performances in celebration of 10 years, see:!/event.php?eid=346274087554&index=1