Museum, Media, Message

By Eilean Hooper-Greenhill | Go to book overview

16

Museums, myths and missionaries: redressing the past for a new South Africa

Janet Hall

Social and cultural changes

This chapter seeks to outline the position in South African museums after years of apartheid government, and to comment on the effects this has had on the cultural traditions and attitudes to cultural heritage in our country. It will also include examples of innovative partnerships which have been formed between some South African museums and their local communities, that demonstrate a spirit of genuine co-operation and trust.

In 1990, with the final dissolution of apartheid, the government opened the formerly ‘white’ state schools to all races. This move has brought a sharply increased awareness of the importance of an education that will prepare children for the multicultural contacts that are now part of their everyday lives.

It is no longer acceptable educational practice to judge and label people, and new perspectives are being sought which will teach that despite the many differences between us we all share a heritage that needs to be acknowledged and commemorated.

Many teachers have turned to museums for help with multicultural, multiethnic perspectives on the school curriculum, and as the Education Officer I find myself directly on the interface between museum, teachers and expectant school groups. As museums we owe our visitors a greater understanding of, and a broader perspective on, the people we claim to serve. There is a compelling need for us to look at comprehensive multiethnic provision very soon.

There is an African proverb which says, ‘Until the lions have their historians, tales of history will always glorify the hunter.’ Within this proverb lies the essence of South Africa, a country deeply rooted in the ancestral traditions of thousands of years, and at the same time one deeply divided and degraded through the ignorance and cultural arrogance of successive waves of colonists, missionaries and an apartheid government, all of whom have failed to recognize the richness and complexity of the African peoples they met and subjugated.

Largely as a result of missionary zeal and their aim to ‘convert’ the heathen and teach them to adopt a lifestyle similar to that of nineteenth-century Britain,

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