South African Cultural Observatory

Quantifying the State of South African Museums from a Supply Side Perspective

BY 02.04.20

Museums have a long, and sometimes controversial, history in South Africa. Cultural institutions, like museums, can be powerful in telling the “authorised” version of our histories, in shaping national identity and in building social cohesion, as well as contributing to education and research through their collection, archiving and conservation of artefacts. 

The study was undertaken to provide a succinct supply side overview of museums in South Africa, and some of the important issues and debates in the sector. 

The main contribution of the report is an audit of public and private museums, and analysis of their spatial distribution using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mapping techniques. Data on population density is combined with the mapping of museums in order to comment on issues of equity (in terms of the spatial distribution of museums by province) and access. A total of 327 museums were identified and mapped.

The spatial analysis compared the provincial spread of museums to population size. The Western Cape has the largest proportion of museums (25%), followed by the Eastern Cape (18%) and KwaZulu-Natal (18%). Gauteng has the largest population, but only 11% of museums. These patterns can be explained in two ways: The pre-democracy history of the area; and the size of the metropolitan areas in the province. For example, the Western Cape has a long colonial-era history, as well as one of the largest metropolitan areas. Similarly, the Eastern Cape has been the site of colonial era conflicts (such as the Anglo-Boer War, and frontier wars between English and Afrikaans groups with Xhosa tribes) as well as hosting 2 metropolitan areas (Nelson Mandela Bay, and Buffalo City). It also has a rich cultural history in the fight against apartheid and was home to many struggle icons. Outside of the metropolitan areas, clustering occurs around some smaller towns and cities, which are associated with other cultural institutions, such as universities, festivals, and/or colonial-era cultural and industrial history: Makhanda, Pietermaritzburg, Kimberley, Stellenbosch and Graaff-Reinet. Implications are that, if the establishment of new museums is considered, locating them in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and other provinces would facilitate both access and an even spatial distribution.

The report also addresses issues relating to how museums of the future may operate in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and the benefits and challenges in digitising archives and artefacts. A list of policies and associations related to how museums function in South Africa is provided, as well as a quantitative analysis of museum financing from national government over time.

In order to provide some deeper context, a few selected case studies were examined, including national and regional museums: Robben Island Museum (Western Cape), Ditsong Museums of Cultural History (Gauteng), National Museum Bloemfontein (Free State), and The Red Location Museum (Eastern Cape).

Finally, some policy suggestions are made, based on the findings. These included considerations of how museums could diversity their funding streams to promote financial sustainability, while maintaining access (free entry) for South Africans if at all possible.  Building on a recommendation in the Revised White Paper on Arts and Culture (2018), it is also suggested that all museums should be required to report on multiple indicators that could be used in efficiency studies. Such a monitoring and evaluation system, examining the relationship between inputs and outputs, should be flexible enough to take into account the very different characteristics and goals of a wide variety of museum types and locations.

This report focused on providing a supply side perspective and mapping of South African museums. In future research, it would be useful to consider the demand side in more detail.

Read more: www.southafricanculturalobservatory.org.za/download/473

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