First national museum for Lesotho

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museumBy Tsitsi Matope

MASERU — The Construction of Lesotho’s first national museum and art gallery will start next year in a landmark development expected to strengthen the protection of the historical and natural artefacts.

In an interview the Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Tourism, Environment and Culture, Thato Mohasoa, on Tuesday said preparations for the construction were at an advanced stage.  Lesotho is the only country in the southern Africa region without a national museum and other cultural infrastructure such as art galleries, cultural centres, theatre and film studios, craft centres and amphitheatres.

“The proposed national museum and art gallery will help us deal with losses of the very fibre of our heritage. For years, we have been losing many of our artefacts through vandalism and illegal export.”

Mohasoa said lack of proper facilities also meant artistes and artisans’ depended on foreign agents to market their works causing, at times, misinterpretation.

“Lack of facilities to display their works, has also caused some artistes to migrate to South Africa where some, sadly, have fallen prey to unscrupulous dealers who exploited them.”

He further explained that currently, some museums abroad hosted collections from Lesotho, some of which were illegally acquired.

“The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (1970), of which Lesotho is a member, champions the return of fraudulently acquired or stolen collections while also taking steps to strengthen the protection of our artefacts and other products.

“We should indeed double our efforts at repatriating those taken away from us and establish a facility for them here at home. The construction of the national museum and art gallery is therefore, a step in the right direction”, he said.

The museum will be located near the old parliament building and the project is currently projected to cost an initial M15 million for the structure.

“We recently held a meeting with various stakeholders to share the current developments and also highlight the importance of this facility.

“The participants also had the opportunity to contribute towards the building and utilisation of the museum,” he added.

Mohasoa said the museum would focus on conservation, exhibition, interpretation, research, promotion and marketing the country’s cultural heritage to both local and international visitors.

“Operations at the national museum and art gallery would include collection of all natural and manmade objects that reflect both the natural and cultural heritage of the Basotho people and also to document all specimens and objects collected.”

Mohasoa further explained that exhibitions for public awareness would also serve as informal education forums.

He said the national art gallery section would be responsible for the displays and protection of all forms of art.

“This is going to be a place where contemporary art would be exhibited both for sale and for viewing. We want to see a unique museum which will represent the entire character of the Basotho nation. It must also house artefacts of our past, present and imaginings of the future.”

DNT Architects designed the-state-of-the-art museum plan which would comprise the basement, ground and first floors.

These would house the display area, gallery, auditorium, offices, storage facilities, boardroom, photographic library and the laboratory conservation, among other facilities.

“The design would merge the cultural Basotho hat (Mokorotlo), inspired by the Qiloane Mountain and other cultural and plant features, such as the spiral aloe.” The Basotho hat represents the circle that symbolises the unbroken ring, completeness, unity, togetherness, connectedness and safety.

Mohasoa explained that the spiral design in the centre of the amphitheatre resembles the spiral aloe, a national and also protected plant species.

The walls of the museum will also be adorned with rock art set against the natural sandstone walls.

In terms of management, he highlighted that his ministry will, in consultation with other stakeholders, look into available options for running museums.

“We are going to determine the best Public Private Partnership model to ensure efficient running of the museum,” Mohasoa said.

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