PE residents force anti-apartheid museum to close

Port Elizabeth – Residents have forced the closure of a museum honouring anti-apartheid heroes, accusing the authorities of building "a house for dead people" while they live in squalor.

Once a tourist magnet, The Red Location Museum in New Brighton outside the southern city of Port Elizabeth houses hundreds of "memory boxes" containing the life stories of anti-apartheid activists, including former president Nelson Mandela.

The modernity of the R22m building, which won several international architectural awards, stands in total contrast to the plastic and corrugated iron structures which serve as houses for the neighbouring community.

The museum closed nine months ago in the face of threats by residents to assault visitors and efforts to reopen it have been met with violent protests.

Its website says only that it "is closed due to community protests", in what is one of the oldest townships of Port Elizabeth.

The building has now been stripped by people helping themselves to electrical wiring, water pipes, power sockets, fencing and wooden fittings for their shacks.

Like many of the poor around South Africa, the New Brighton residents feel they have not benefited enough from the end of apartheid and the rise to power of Mandela's ANC.

"We raised this issue from the beginning - in 2005 when they started building this museum," community leader Thembisile Klaas told AFP.

"Why build a house for dead people when us the living do not have a roof over our heads?

"We are living in shacks which get flooded each time it rains... and yet the municipality spends millions of rands building a museum."

Community leaders say they have demanded houses for years but have only received empty promises from the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality.

'Getting worse'

Some security guards hired to patrol the perimeter of the building - which was also used as a research facility by historians - have abandoned their posts in fear for their lives.

"The conditions are getting worse. The fencing has been cut in several places and there is no lighting," said one guard.

"Even the covers of the drains outside have been pilfered. It is dangerous, you don't know when you will be attacked," he said.

"The building used to be very busy and we used to mingle with international tourists here but now it's a ghost."

Deputy Mayor Chippa Ngcolomba said the housing problem was being addressed but complained that the issue was being used as a "political football".

"We have put in place a number of security interventions to make sure the museum is safeguarded," Ngcolomba said.

"We are still investigating the situation so as to come up with a long-term solution."

Port Elizabeth was a hotbed of the anti-apartheid struggle where ANC leaders such as Govan Mbeki once lived.

Chris du Preez, the museum's acting assistant director, says no artefacts or documents were stolen or damaged during the looting.

The museum's “memory boxes” - 12, unmarked, rusted, room-sized containers measuring 6m by 6m and 12m tall - were inspired by the boxes migrant workers used to hold their prized possessions when separated from their families. Each offers a different vision of the struggle in South Africa.

Large portraits of apartheid activists are also on exhibit, along with photographs of migrants labouring in mines and others depicting the horrors of apartheid such as black people being whipped by police.

"We are lucky that the thieves have not yet laid their hands on important and valuable documents, files and other materials inside or on display inside museum," he said.

"They have been stealing things which form part of the building structure and not the records, files and other items kept inside," said Du Preez.

The museum won the 2006 Lubetkin Prize awarded by the Royal Institute of British Architects as the best new building outside the EU.

Its open space design and saw-tooth roofs are seen as a reference to the port city's industrial activity and strong trade union history.

City authorities could not say when the museum would re-open, while community activists said it would not happen until they had decent houses.

John Bass 2014-07-31 05:24:39 PM
And who did all these residents vote for in the last election ? You get the government you deserve.
WaMagoshi Tshwana 2014-07-31 05:26:28 PM
Sad but true...lets face it
Martin Sharky Sember 2014-07-31 05:28:10 PM
Good for them. How can you honor and worship a legacy that has not borne its intention by even the most longest stretch. The struggle by the poor has not ended, but in fact become even more pressing and urgent. Too much money is stolen by officials and spent on luxuries like this and things like soccer stadiums and homes for incompetent presidents. If you want a monument to the struggle heroes, uplift the poor and marginalized. An educated, successful and employed nation is a true monument. Statues and memories don't mean squat when you're cold and hungry. Good for them,. keep the damn thing closed, and do it in m ore and more.
Charles A. 2014-07-31 05:34:27 PM
common sense I'd say.
Vincent Nkomotje 2014-07-31 05:35:51 PM
they have a good point
Bradly Minnaar 2014-07-31 05:47:09 PM
Hopefully the beginning of the end for the useless anc
Willem Louw 2014-07-31 05:48:25 PM
These people have a point. Why spend millions on museums and renaming stuff when the people live in squalor? Those are all 2ndary issues
SheilanDerek de Beer 2014-07-31 05:53:33 PM
Ja Nee.... 22 m down the drain , but moenie worry nie , we will all vote ANC again , come the next elections..!!!
Vince Muller 2014-07-31 05:53:38 PM
Haha... and I agree fully... and what about the name changes... did anyone ever mention how much that costs???? wonder how many houses could have been given to the poor...
Erleen Durrheim West 2014-07-31 06:00:21 PM
I do not understand what the point is of destroying a building which cost millions to built and was bringing tourism and income to the region. A little like closing the gate after the bull has bolted! Why not demonstrate and make your point BEFORE the money is spent on building the museum..what does destroying it now solve??