New book charts course for museums

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Museums Lesotho author Stephen Gill (2)

Museums Lesotho author Stephen Gill

Mohalenyane Phakela

THE Morija Museum and Archives (MMA), in collaboration with the Royal Archives and Museum on Monday launched a book which explores the evolution and structure of museums in the country at Alliance Française in Maseru.

Written by Morija Museum curator, Stephen Gill, Museums Lesotho: Building Upon the Legacy, also seeks to outline how different museums, archives and heritage sites in the country could be coordinated. 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.

Gill told the Weekender on the sidelines of the launch ceremony that the book came about following meetings he held with government officials and other stakeholders over the past two years. The book was also meant to formulate ideas for the operations of the National Museum in Lesotho, which is currently under construction and scheduled to be completed in 2017. The museum, which is meant to protect historical and natural artefacts, will be located near the old parliament building in Maseru.

“We had several meetings with various stakeholders regarding the national museum that is about to emerge in the heart of Maseru. The meetings inspired me to dig deeper into the history of museums and develop my own ideas regarding the future of the sector,” Gill said.

“Since I had ample time on my hands and was familiar with museum work, I researched extensively on Lesotho’s history and the role of museums in other countries.

“Since the end of last year, I was digging deeper into the history of museums and combined the findings with the minutes of the meetings I held to give people a clear perspective on the growth and development of museums and related heritage institutions in Lesotho starting from the 19th century until the present day.”

He noted that while museums were now associated with the collection of cultural, scientific or artistic artefacts, they were originally conceived as institutions dedicated to the preservation of oral culture.

“It is not improper, therefore that, museums today should focus on both collections and living traditions as this does greater justice to the larger mandate before us,” said Gill.

The book, he said, also outlined the characteristics of a well-structured museum to ensure effective planning and management amid limited resources.

“The book also explores the different ideas that have existed with regard to a National Museum in Lesotho over the past half century, ranging from a single large highly centralised institution in Maseru, to a broader de-centralised network of institutions across the country, both public and private, which are collectively tasked with managing Lesotho’s rich cultural and natural heritage,” Gill said.

Royal Archives and Museum deputy chairperson, Professor ‘Matšeliso Moshoeshoe-Chadzingwa, said the underlying message of the book was the development of a framework to protect historical and natural artefacts.

“Stephen’s book illustrates a strong foundation upon which to foresee a viable national museum and art gallery in the country. It is highly significant that the publication coincides with the construction of the National Museum and Art Gallery whose sod-turning was officiated by Prime Minister (Pakalitha Mosisili) in November,” said Professor Moshoeshoe-Chadzingwa.

“Currently, there are privately-owned cultural heritage bodies at different stages of development and varied orientation in Lesotho. There is need for a cordial relationship between the national umbrella body, or mother of all museums, with adjunct private cultural establishments in Lesotho. It is high time a state-owned body existed.”

She added: “The launch of this book should make us aware that we are lagging behind. It should, however, inspire us to act, be positive and achieve more.”

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