Telling Stories of Pain and Hope: Museums in South Africa and Ireland - Book Launch
written by Ayanda Ngcobo
(ARROWSA Local Authorities Portfolio leader and Museum Officer Bergtheil Local History Museum Durban)
The book, Telling Stories of Pain and Hope: Museums in South Africa and Ireland, was launched on 9 February 2023 at Bergtheil Museum in Westville. The book is authored by Dr Mary Lange, Independent arts, culture and heritage researcher, ARROWSA management and CCMS, UKZN Honorary Lecturer and Prof. Emeritus Ruth Teer-Tomaselli of the Centre for Communication, Media and Society (CCMS), University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) and published by the University of South Africa (UNISA) Press.
The book launch was beautifully opened by performances by a group from ARROWSA Bechet, alumni and South Roots International youth that was captured in three videos and followed by a performance by ARROWSA alumnae, Monique Mukendi.
The MC for the evening was Mrs. Mohau Qalaza, Senior Curator of the Durban Local History Museums and based at the Bergtheil Museum.
Dr Nthoesane, representing UNISA Press, was the first speaker and his remarks on the book were centered on how it will set the stage for generations to bring life to what is kept in museums.
Dr Lange, of ARROWSA management and CCMS,UKZN, in her talk focused on museums and storytelling and where it is used as a sources on the lifestyles, belief systems and moral and values of people in the past and forms part of experiential learning. The spiritual wellbeing of the individuals telling traumatic stories in museums and their connection to themselves, others and with the environment were some of the key points in her address. The book explores how individuals, or their descendants, who have suffered traumatic experiences, tell these stories which include conflict and forced removals and how doing this impacts their spiritual wellbeing. Some of the museums which are covered in the book include the District Six Museum in Cape Town, Ncome and Blood River sites in Dundee, KwaZulu-Natal.
Prof Emeritus Teer-Tomaselli, of CCMS, UKZN, focused on the spaces and places where traumatic events took place and why the sites need to be commemorated. She also explained how the book explores how these sites remain sustainable and what happens if storytellers move on. Her talk also discussed briefly how structures have meanings and stories to tell. Teer-Tomaselli referred to places like the Constitutional Hill describing how it urges one to imagine the spirits that are there. She also referred to the Bloody Sunday massacre that took place in Derry, Northern Ireland.
The first respondent was Dr Mlungisi Ngubane, the director of uMsunduzi and Ncome Museums. He started his discussion on issues of social cohesion and referred to the Ncome and Voortrekker reconciliation bridge. He emphasised how healing is still an ongoing process and the process of healing is needed for pain to go away. He referred to stories narrated at KwaMuhle Museum in Durban and referred to the movement against historical statues and museums that were created to address past imbalances. Ngubane stressed the need for museums to move away from being dumping sites but should rather be places that make people talk. People need to talk about what they see in museums. Overall, he emphasised how South Africa has not healed, histories like that of the 16 December 1838 war over land between amaZulu and the Voortrekkers are still painful and people have not healed. Ngubane reiterated on how the book addresses a contemporary need in museums.
The second respondent, Prof. Emeritus Donal McCracken pointed out how museums deliver a message and deal with controversial subjects. He drew on examples from Northern Ireland and South Africa to offer a discussion about stories of trauma that form part of museums. This includes civil wars in both Northern Ireland and South Africa.
The main programme ended with closing remarks from Mrs. Innocentia Swanepoel who reiterated that the book is an important contribution to museum studies.
The book launch was well attended and attracted academics, museum professionals, local media and stakeholders from arts, culture and heritage spaces. ARROWSA management and ARROWSA Bechet learners were also represented at the launch.
Copies of the books are available through Unisa Press. See https://www.unisa.ac.za/sites/corporate/default/Unisa-Press/Books/History-and-Political-Africa/Telling-Stories-of-Pain-and-Hope