Dead Monuments: The Case of the Red Location Museum in Mandela Bay Metro, South Africa

By Gavin Younge.

Published by The International Journal of the Constructed Environment

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Published online: March 29, 2017 $US5.00

In 2005, and after a twelve-year consultative process, an esteemed architectural practice inaugurated a new museum commemorating the lives of several anti-apartheid stalwarts, among them Nelson Mandela. This museum, the Red Location Museum, is recognized as a site of national struggle and is situated in Port Elizabeth’s oldest black township, New Brighton. Designed to challenge conventional museum design, the Red Location’s design is highly participatory. Twelve tall, rusted memory boxes contain the multiple threads of different personal histories. On entering any of these boxes, the visitor is confronted by a wealth of personal memoires and artefacts relating to the struggle for dignity during the apartheid years. In addition, there is an art gallery, a library, a music archive, and an on-going community-centred heritage programme. Despite the prominence, both nationally and internationally, of this anti-apartheid institution, local residents (the museum is built in a black township) forced the closure of the entire museum complex and have prevented museum staff, and members of the public, from entering any of the buildings. By way of explanation, a community leader asked, “Why build a house for dead people when us, the living, do not have a roof over our heads.” This paper, built on first-hand interviews with residents and city councillors conducted at the end of 2014, links the closure of the museum to “capture” politics and the wave of service delivery protests that have reportedly increased during President Zuma’s administration.

Keywords: Anti-apartheid Museums, Lubetkin Prize, South African Struggle Heroes, Defiance Campaign, Capture Politics, Nelson Mandela Bay Metro, South African History, Reconstruction and Development Programme (RPD), Noero Wolff Architects

The International Journal of the Constructed Environment, Volume 8, Issue 3, pp.1-14. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Published online: March 29, 2017 (Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.290MB)).

Prof. Gavin Younge

Emeritus Professsor, Michaelis School of Fine Art, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa