Showpiece Bay museum stands closed

Shaun Gillham

PORT Elizabeth's award-winning, multi- million-rand Red Location Museum has been closed for four months because residents there are up in arms over lack of housing delivery by the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality.

What should have been a socio-economic showpiece aimed at turning an impoverished, historic area in New Brighton into a vibrant economically sustainable precinct, is quickly crumbling into a shattered dream.

There is no sign the museum will be opening again in the near future.

A Red Location community member, who did not want to be named said the museum had been closed because of housing issues in the area.

"We used to hold public meetings in there, so the whole community is affected," he said.

The resident pointed out that while he and others lived in shacks in the area, the protesters came from RDP homes, but were using the museum as leverage to force the municipality to meet their demand.

"I understand the general concerns around housing and other issues, but I do not see what this has to do with the museum. I do not agree with what they are doing – they are basically holding the municipality to ransom ," he said.

The R22-million facility opened its doors to the public on Valentine's Day in 2006 and ironically questions over the closure of the museum will, for the first time since its sudden closure on October 18 last year, be tabled at a Nelson Mandela Bay city council meeting on February 14.

The centre has long been a bone of contention for some New Brighton residents, who since before its construction have protested that the land should have been used for housing.

Former Port Elizabeth mayor Nceba Faku, who played a leading role in the conceptualisation of the museum as a vehicle to promote and develop the Bay in the early 2000s, said the closure was "very concerning". He said, however, that he would like more time to establish the facts around the closure before commenting.

The closure is causing embarrassment to the city's tourism sector as scores of foreign visitors want to visit the complex.

Paul Miedema of Calabash Tours described the closure as disappointing. "The museum is one of the key attractions in the township. The fact that it has been closed is simply lost opportunities, for us and the metro."

Allan Zinn, head of the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University's Centre for the Advancement of Non-racialism and Democracy (Canrad), called for "harmony between the community members and the museum authorities.

"I certainly think that the issue needs to be resolved as soon as possible," he said, adding that not only was the venue perfect for Canrad interactions, but for many others.

DA councillor Andrew Whitfield said the centre, which had been funded by the National Treasury, had been closed since late October.

He said there had been no warning or notice anywhere to inform tourists that the museum had been closed, including on Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism's website.

Despite repeated requests for information, comment and explanations around the closure, the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality has yet to respond to The Herald.

Municipal spokesman Kupido Baron, however, confirmed the closure and said it was due to threats from community members living in the vicinity of the centre.