Dr Ivan Meyer Delivers Speech at District Six Museum
The Important Role of Museums in Our Communities
Communities pride themselves on their identities. These identities are created over decades, sometimes centuries, and form from a number of reasons. Culture, heritage, tradition - these all play a role in shaping our community. To forget one's culture and heritage is to forget one's identity. It is for this reason that I value museums and their function in our society. They are the gateways to the past, which you have full access to, the collectors of stories and knowledge, and the guardians of history.
In South Africa, we have many different types of museums. We have the nationally funded Iziko museums, like the Natural History Museum in the Company Gardens, there are the smaller Provincial Government-funded museums like the one in Simon's Town, and we have the small community museums that are started and kept alive by passionate individuals, such as the Khayelitsha Museum, which recently won an award at the annual Cultural Awards ceremony. Today we are standing in another type of museum, the District Six Museum, which is privately funded, and supported by the community.
All of these museums have the same function: to chronicle the tales of our communities, to keep history alive and keep the public informed of the atrocities committed against humankind. Museums record the extraordinary strength of humankind, our resilience and resistance towards oppression, and the happier stories too, of life during times gone by. Museums also assist with policy development in terms of arts, culture, housing and many other areas.
If you look around you today, you will see photos that have captured a moment in time, street signs that were part of people's daily lives, no longer known by those names, and tools, instruments and artefacts that have been modernised in today's society, making the originals obsolete.
District Six has a painful past; while some still have happy memories of the good times they shared, many remember the forced removals foremost. They remember the injustice committed against them in the name of apartheid and, while these memories may be bitter, they are necessary to remind us of what can happen when our rights are trampled on. This museum offers these citizens a place to preserve their personal histories. I am pleased that this building is here today, with all these memories and stories to keep the history of District Six alive.
Without this museum, we may forget our painful past.
I would like to appeal to all parents in the province to bring their children to this museum, and all other museums in their communities. From one generation to the next, we can pass on our heritage and keep it alive.
On a more formal note, and in the ongoing quest to promote the heritage landscape in the Western Cape, the Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport has produced a document titled "Discussion Paper: Towards a New Western Cape Provincial Museum Policy". This document has been approved as a Green Paper. It is aligned with the constitutional mandates of the Provincial Government in that it speaks to the exclusive provincial legislative mandate of "museums other than national museums". The public has until 30 June 2011 to make formal submissions in this regard. Once comments have been received and these have been considered, a Museum Policy (as a White Paper) will be drafted and a further round of consultations will follow. This policy document will inform the drafting of the new provincial museum legislation that will replace the outdated museum ordinances on the statute.