GALLERY | Inside Red Location Museum: What a disgrace!

A pungent smell of mould hits your nostrils immediately you enter the historical Red Location Museum.
And then you see it – artifacts that reflect a vibrant history and the people who shaped it lying in ruin inside the galleries of the New Brighton museum.
Some of the more expensive artworks – like that of famed artist Lizo Pemba – are gathering dust on the rusted walls of the 12 unmarked exhibition galleries.
Others sculpted by Mzimasi Gotyana are crammed inside cracked wooden crates that have been piled into the corner of a storage area at the back of the museum.
Also inside the crates is a historical treasure trove of pamphlets, posters, banners and leaflets reflecting the struggles against apartheid.
The museum, which has won countless awards for its design, has been closed since October 13 2013 due to housing problems in nearby streets.
Weekend Post managed to gain entry this week into the museum, where signs of decay are clearly visible.
Mould is growing in corners, with water marks streaking down from the sky-high roof.
Litter, dust and cigarette butts can be seen strewn across the extensive concrete flooring as you walk through the 8m- high glass door entrance.
Six months before its forced closure, 71,000 people had visited the tourism magnet.
Weekend Post was joined by retired Red Location Museum marketing manager Annette du Plessis and Block 40 committee member Thando Msikinya, who lives adjacent to the museum precinct, which includes an art gallery and digital library that are also closed.
“This breaks my heart so much,” Du Plessis, who left the municipality in February 2018, said.
“It is painful and shocking witnessing the worsening situation, especially internally.
“My concerns should have been heeded years ago by those in charge, that the internal situation regarding theft and vandalism had to be made public.
“I strongly feel that further losses and damages could have been prevented through public awareness and engagement.”
Du Plessis said it seemed a lot of the historical and priceless artifacts had been stolen.
“They are very valuable, they tell the story of the struggles,” she said.
Lighting from the exhibitions has also been looted, with doors, windows and display cabinets left shattered.
Montages and timelines meant to immortalise South Africa’s anti-apartheid heroes and detail the history of the township are curling from age.
A mosaic showing freedom fighters is also missing dozens of tiles.
Electrical wiring, power sockets, speakers, air-conditioners, telephones, television sets, fridges, printers and computers have also all been stolen, according to internal municipal e-mails dated May 30 2016.
An e-mail also shows that aged pots, buckets, dishes, paraffin lamps and a washing line were stolen from the Archive of Memory exhibition.
The municipality forks out R39,776 a month for operational expenses such as water, electricity and refuse and sewage removal, according to municipal spokesperson Mthubanzi Mniki.
An additional R191,418 is spent on the salaries of the nine staff members.
“But the staff members employed at the museum have been reassigned to other museums or municipal facilities,” Mniki said.
The upper part of the museum houses a handful of offices which have been ransacked, with a number of outside windows smashed.
The R22m facility opened its doors in 2006 with much fanfare as a tribute to the struggle against apartheid.
The township saw one of the first public acts of defiance against apartheid and gave birth to the first Umkhonto weSizwe cell.
On the outside of the museum, copper pipes have been ripped out and almost all of the palisade fencing is missing.
Children play next to the graffiti-adorned walls close to the art gallery.
“It is easy to get inside if you want us to show you,” one of them shouts.
Inside the gallery some of the rooms are filled with art equipment that has never been used.
Msikinya said it was a sad but necessary situation until residents’ housing demands were met.
“The museum will stay closed until then,” he said.
The issue over housing goes back to the opening of the museum when residents felt aggrieved at their own living conditions.
They felt that by ploughing millions of rands into a tourist attraction in the midst of devastating poverty, the government was insensitive to their needs.
Although some houses were built, it was not nearly enough.
And then came an even bigger bone of contention – the houses built by the government in the area years before began to crumble.
It would fall on the government to fix them. Only, most of them were structurally unsound and would have to be demolished and rebuilt.
But by then, the state had reduced its standard size for an RDP house from 48m² to 40m².
It would have to demolish the bigger crumbling homes and, as dictated by law, replace them with smaller new ones.
After much convincing some families agreed to this plan. Others would not budge.
But Msikinya said residents had recently agreed to move to a nearby open field if RDP houses are built there.
“Then more houses can be built from the area we moved from,” he said.
“This was a plan we agreed to but [human settlements political head] Andile Mfunda did not like it.”
Mniki said there were constant engagements with residents, with Mfunda and sports, recreation, arts and culture political head Lehlohonono Mfana reaching an understanding recently with the community.
“It will not be long before the municipality starts working on what needs to be refurbished,” Mniki said.
“The two councillors have an understanding with the people about some of their demands that are within the municipal mandate, like provision of serviced sites and services, and repositioning of people to those sites.
“The municipal officials will move to the site as from Monday to start that work.”
On the precinct’s buildings being left to go to rack and ruin, he said they had deteriorated due to a lack of maintenance.
“The non-presence of staff at the buildings has hampered operational oversight of site-based management.
“Since the closure of the precinct, incidents of theft and vandalism have occurred and security have been deployed on a day and night basis.”
The loss to tourism and the facility’s educational value was hard to quantify, he said.
Asked about the safety of the artifacts, Mniki said most were packed into crates while some were left on display.
“The community also prevented the removal of any assets until all the issues they raised were resolved,” he said...

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