A model railway car at the Botswana national museum in the capital Gaborone

From : Mmegi.bw

By : ABEL ABEDNICO MABUSE

25 May 2012

Museums around the world are faced with serious challenges of grappling with the demands of our perpetually changing environment.

The Botswana National Museum (BNM) is organising a seminar aimed at increasing public awareness on its relevance, achievements, challenges and inspirations in our changing society.  This seminar shall be held on May 30 at 0900 hrs in the Botswana National Museum Little Theatre to commemorate the International Museums’ Day. The theme of this year’s celebrations is: “Museums in a Changing World. New Challenges. New Inspirations.”  The theme provides an excellent opportunity for researchers and curators at the Botswana National Museum to engage the public and articulate pertinent issues affecting museum and heritage services.  This seminar is anticipated to reflect how the Botswana National Museum has thrived to remain relevant to societal demands by addressing important issues in our daily lives.  Elsewhere around the world, museums are mandated to address issues like climatic change, poverty alleviation, HIV/AIDS and sustainable development among others.  These challenges require museums to reflect modern day issues in their daily operations.  These are not the only challenges, of course.  As an example, while the majority of elderly Batswana perceive the Botswana National Museum as a place where old and peculiar objects are stored, the younger generation remembers the institution through the famous Pitse ya Naga Education Programme.

The disparity between these two generations suggests the dynamism of the institution with regard to addressing its mandate to the society over time. As we celebrate this year’s International Museums’ Day, we need to critically look at how technological changes have affected the museum and heritage services in Botswana. We need to accept the fact that the world has changed significantly since inception of the institution in 1968.  Segametsi  Radise, Chief Curator of Museum Education, will address the issue of the institution’s plan to revamp its galleries and reception area.  The refurbishment is intended to offer the Botswana National Museum a modern architectural faade.  The refurbishment of these galleries necessitates review and redesign of the permanent exhibition, which has been open to the public for the last 30 years or so.  With regard to this year’s theme, this change is long overdue.  When the Botswana National Museum was established in 1967 through an Act of Parliament, the major focus of the institution reflected on nation-building.  The six galleries displaying various aspects of Botswana’s diverse cultures offer an evolutionary perspective detailing where Batswana come from.  This nation-building theme offered by the permanent exhibition (which used to be a major exercise and concern of all Batswana) has been surpassed by development in the last 20 years.  We anticipate that the public engage museum professionals on issues of the relevance of displays of stuffed lions, as an example, in a society that is now challenged with issues such as global warming, HIV/AIDS, poverty and droughts.  As technologies change, new societal needs arise. New ideas replace the old order. This obviously means that as an institution that exists to mirror society, the Botswana National Museum is required to be an ever-dynamic institution. I have opined with my colleagues on various occasions on the relevance of the Pitse ya Naga Education Programme in the modern day. I have strongly argued that this programme played an important role in selling the mandate of the department to schools in general. And I have also pointed out that the dawn of Botswana Television (Btv) and advanced telecommunication services like the Internet have rendered this excellent programme obsolete. The paradigm shift does not mean that the programme did not serve its mandate but simply tells us that the method that was used to relay the message is now more expensive, unpopular and therefore unsustainable.  The questions of what needs to be done to resuscitate or revamp educational programmes such as Motswedi wa Ditso, Pitse ya Naga and others require our active involvement in the upcoming seminar.  The services offered by the museum are meant to benefit the society at large.

Chief Curator of Archaeology and Monuments Phillip Segadika will be giving a paper, addressing how Facebook is being utilised to address heritage issues.  This paper highlights technological shifts from conventional methods of discussing heritage issues such as the Zebras Voice publication, Motswedi wa Ditso, Pitse ya Naga and others.

Facebooking of heritage has become popular among Batswana.  As an example, the youth of Botswana discuss their origins, culture and promote their languages through groups named after their popular leaders, villages or other aspects of cultural significance. In fact, I am a member of various groups started by the youth of major villages of Bukalanga where I selflessly share my views on issues of sustainable development of Botswana’s pristine heritage resources. Through such social networks, technology simply allows the museum institution and its professionals to reach the society at large. And it is free of charge, of course. All you need is an average phone and connection to the Internet. Bingo! You can now share pictures of those memorable explorations to Tsodilo, Gcwihaba Caves and the Makgadikgadi Pans with friends in Pate Island in Kenya, Xaixai in Ngamiland or Kavimba in the Chobe River just at the click of a button. And they say a picture is worth 1,000 words.

Another important topic to be discussed on the day involves the role of the Botswana National Museum in addressing climate change. We are all aware of various summits held in the past to address global warming. These summits have made resolutions after resolutions.  But what remains increasingly painful to humanity is our inability to successfully address this issue.  Like I pointed out earlier, problems and challenges affecting society need to be reflected in its museums. Gabadirwe (1995), a geologist of note who served in the Botswana National Museum until recently, sums up the need for this seminar to highlight climate change in a spectacular manner.  He points out that palaeoclimatologists have successfully highlighted that there has been climatic changes throughout geological history.  Some of these changes have unfortunately resulted in extinction of various living organisms, alteration of cultural landscapes, desertification of the environment and drying up of major water bodies.

My presentation focuses on how climatic changes have affected the Makgadikgadi landscape and its heritage resources.  This paper will be done in honour of Mohutsiwa Gabadirwe’s long service in the Botswana National Museum and the spectacular manner he introduced the Gcwihaba landscape to me in 2006.  I will also be highlighting the major changes that have occurred in the Makgadikgadi region, noting its formation and ultimate desiccation about 20,000 years ago.  My paper will showcase how these changes have affected heritage. Apart from my soft spot for the heritage of the Makgadikgadi region, one of the highlights of my life in 2010 has nothing to do with the World Cup in South Africa. That year, I got an opportunity to explore the Makgadikgadi Pans with the Director of Environmental Affairs, Steve Monna, during the formulation of the Makgadikgadi Pans Framework Management Plan. The most memorable thing was the drive along the meanders of the Boteti River as it deposited water into Lake Xau for the first time in 30 years.  I knew that this was climatic change.