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23 September 2022
Celebrating the launch of TheMuseumsLab’s module 3
"Heritage in the African context is something that cannot be defined or constricted to a space where one can 'view' it." These were the words by Professor Ciraj Rassool, University of the Western Cape (UWC) history professor and Director: African Programme in Museum and Heritage Studies. 

Prof Rassool (pictured) was speaking at TheMuseumsLab Module 3 launch in Cape Town, where the month of September is synonymous with celebrating and embracing our heritage as South Africans. Module 3, goes beyond ‘heritage’ and critically engages with museums and museology in South Africa, with a  view to understanding the transformative engagements particularly in the South African context that museums have played in the history and struggles against apartheid and colonialism.  

Professor Pamela Dube, UWC's Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Student Development and Support, in her role as the programme director for the launch event, introduced each of the keynote speakers as she engaged with the guests on the importance of TheMuseumsLab. 

“It is an honour to welcome each one of you to Cape Town, South Africa, and indeed to UWC,” Professor Dube said. Prof Dube was also the first presenter in Module 1 in TheMuseumsLab when she spoke on the future of cultural memories.

Prof Rassool, who will direct Module 3, said: “This German-government funded programme brings 55 African and European curators to Cape Town to examine a laboratory of museum transformation in a post-apartheid society. Module 3 will be hosted by UWC with most sessions taking place at the Homecoming Centre of the District Six Museum.”

Prof Tyrone Pretorius, UWC Rector and Vice-Chancellor, said in Africa the celebration of the heritage of the indigenous people had usually been highlighted, and rightfully so, as diverse and colourful. But it was often times misunderstood, especially by those who either failed to accept change or embrace the heritage of the African continent. 

The audience at the launch also listened to a pre-recorded video address by Dr Naledi Pandor, the Minister of International Relations and Cooperation of South Africa. In attendance too were Dr Andreas Görgen (General Secretary, Federal Ministry of Culture and Media (Berlin) and Dr Luyanda Mphalwa, Chair of the South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA). 

“TheMuseumsLab 2022 is a significant event for UWC because we have a long history of commitment to safeguarding the cultural objects entrusted to us. We are also dedicated to forming partnerships with museums and other custodians that benefit research and new knowledge,” said Prof Pretorius.

“One of our most important partnerships is of course with the Robben Island Museum, which we believe, as a university, must be preserved so that future generations of scholars, researchers, and people from the community can benefit from it. Museums have an important place in communities and societies. They allow sense-making, give us meaning and open us up to different perceptions and attitudes. They even allow us to explore sensitive issues."



Dr Pandor lauded UWC’s efforts.

“The programme will have tremendous benefits for heritage sites across Africa and Europe. It has the potential to not only transform museums but foster societal change by addressing urgent issues of social justice in the heritage and cultural institutions domain. With respect to TheMuseumsLab we are pleased with the participation of African fellows as we cannot overstate the importance of expanding postgraduate research in Africa.” 

"I would dearly like to acknowledge the robust efforts of the University of the Western Cape to enhance research productivity in our country and in that university in particular. As a formerly disadvantaged institution, the University of the Western Cape has made a critical contribution to reshaping higher education, and is one of the continent's great success stories."

The partnership with the German government has allowed TheMuseumsLab to open and facilitate a conversation that is important and is highlighted through the various partnerships and key stakeholder relations. Dr Görgen highlighted the importance of the African consultancy group, The Advisors.

Dr Görgen: "We [the German Government] are very glad to be here and I am personally honoured to speak to you today on behalf of the Minister of Culture, but my first thank you goes after the university [UWC] to that wonderful team who has made TheMuseumsLab. It is The Advisors, and they are called the advisors, to remind us that the German society is not as inclusive, not as open, [and] not as diverse as it should be. We need these advisors because they are not already part of these institutions in Germany. They have to advise us, as a government as well as the big institutions like the DAAD [The German Academic Exchange Service], the Goethe-Institut [and Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen] and even the museums. The programme wouldn't be what it is without them and without the support of [Professor] Ciraj and of others who have this programme in the background."

The MuseumsLab module 3 will focus on the African heritage and conversation around how to accurately preserve and continue to engage in the conversation around the rich heritage that needs to be preserved for generations to come. Chairperson of the South African Heritage Resources Agency, Dr Luyanda Mphalwa, emphasised the importance of the financial and resource backing of the leaders and governments. 

"Partnerships are the thing, so we have got to establish more partnerships so that we can unlock some of the resources that are going to enable us to speak to the ministers [of Government]," Dr Mphalwa said in his opening statement. "We need to remind our leaders that it is their responsibility to unlock those resources so that organisations like ours [SAHRA] can be able to execute their mandate sufficiently and in the service of people. As SAHRA we appreciate very much the partnership that TheMuseumsLab has established with UWC, which is an institution we are proud of as South Africans in the heritage space, but also in developing a society that is inclusive and free from the chains of colonialism."
 
Prof Veerasamy Yengopal, Dr Luyanda Mphalwa, Dr Andreas Görgen, Prof Pamela Dube, Prof Tyrone Pretorius, Prof Ciraj Rassool, Prof Monwabisi Ralarala