Monday, April 12, 2010

Charette with the neighbours of Hostel 33, 12 November 2009

The Board of the Lwandle Migrant Labour Museum was excited when the architects from Jakupa and Associates, whom we had appointed to provide professional services for the restoration of Hostel 33, suggested to us at the inaugural client-architect meeting held on 1 October 2009, that the first phase in the process be a series of charettes. The initial one would be largely with neighbours of the Hostel, and then a follow-up with the board and staff of the museum. They explained that a charette could be seen as a type of gathering together of ideas, concerns and challenges in quite an open-ended and from there honing in on specific issues which emerged from discussion that related to the envisaged project. The word charette means a cart or barrow, and quite literally the concept is to throw the ideas into the cart to begin working out a design solution. From the charettes the architect’s brief would be developed. This opened up the possibilities for the close involvement of those living in Lwandle and near to Hostel 33 in the museum activities and contributing towards the remaking of Hostel 33. The minutes of the client-architect meeting also indicate that one suggestion made was that 'the charette process could be documented and form part of the museum display'.

Neighbours, Board and Staff of the LMLM gathered for the Charette.
All photographs by Leslie Witz.

Key to the success of the charette was ensuring attendance and participation. Lunga Smile, the museum's manger, spent days speaking to the neighbours of Hostel 33 explaining to them what was being envisaged around the restoration and how it was essential that they become part of the process. Carefully and in detail he explained and answered questions about how the museum wanted them to become stakeholders in the future of the hostel as a proposed heritage site. The results of his efforts were evident when the first of the charettes was held in the restaurant annex to the museum (a converted large container) on 12 November 2009. Approximately forty people from Lwandle attended the charette which was facilitated by Khalied Jacobs and Renchius van der Merwe from Jakupa and Lunga Smile and Masa Soko from the museum’s side.

Staff from LMLM and Jakupa seting up for the Charette.

Each participant was given three small cards on which they were asked to write briefly and anonymously what they perceives to be the problems or challenges associated with the proposed development of Hostel 33. Masa and Lunga assisted some of the participants with explanation, translation and writing their ideas, so that all could make their contributions to the discussion. These were collected and grouped on the wall of the container with the audience participating and clarifying the points they had made. This took longer than anticipated as the response was overwhelming as participants debated and challenged the ways their points were being represented and grouped as they were being placed on the wall. When the idea was expressed in isiXhosa Lunga or Masa would translate into English, with the enthusiastic help of other participants in the workshop.

Broadly the responses can be categorized as concerns with memory, preservation, cleanliness, security and jobs. Conserving the memories of migrancy for future generations was a major motivation expressed for the project. What the process of preservation entailed though was quite ambiguous. Some saw it as keeping the hostel as it was before and not being re-built while others wanted it tidied up and made beautiful. Preservation was seen to involve painting, clearing up the litter, repairing the door, installing electricity, fixing the ceiling and putting up pictures and curtains. Issues of security were a major concern, mostly aptly expressed in the term ‘iburglar’. Ideas were put forward ranging from installing burglar guards, ensuring that children did not throw stones and break the windows to putting up a fence around the hostel. Finally there was a concern that those who live in Lwandle would benefit from the project especially in terms of job creation, both while the restoration was taking place and when tourists visited the hostel.

Neighbours describe details of the hostel.

After the ideas were posted on the board the participants divided into two groups to discuss and draw on paper what their vision was for Hostel 33. In both cases what the groups tried to do was represent diagrammatically what they thought the hostels had looked like: the divisions into compartments (one group drew 8, the other 12), the heights of the walls between compartments, the location of beds, tables and cupboards, the outdoor bucket latrines, and siting of the two light bulbs in the hostels. In one group there was an indication of how the hostels had changed over time, with initially no separation between the compartments, then with residents installing self-made curtains and later making divisions by hammering together pieces of wood in a frame. The discussion around what to include in the diagrams was heated and energetic. As a result the workshop began to run over time and the Rise and Shine Dance Academy who use the venue to practice their ballroom dancing during the week decided to practice on the lawn outside the museum.

Schemes were presented showing ideas and drawings, which were discussed energetically as Lunga Smile (right) kept everyone informed with running translations.

At the end group presented their vision of the envisaged restored Hostel 33, as the participants argued about what should be added or excluded from the diagrams. In the case of both groups there was an attempt to present the hostel in realist terms, with claims to accuracy being paramount and, almost inevitably, highly contested. There was also a sense that change had to be central and that the different lives of various inhabitants of the hostel for the over almost 50 year of its existence needed to be incorporated. At the end of the first charette there no firm decisions had been made, but most importantly the neighbours of Hostel 33 were being informed about the process of restoration and were making a substantial contribution to it. Probably the most apt summing up was from Christine Makabane, a museum board member, who voluntarily attached her name to the suggestion she put forward: ‘Arise and Shine Hostel 33 After Aparteit’, she wrote.

Participants at the Charette wrote comments on cards which recorded their ideas.

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