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Lack Of Funding Leaves Cape Town Museums In A Chronic State Of Neglect And Disrepair

Cape Town’s museums, keepers of the city’s heritage, are in a chronic state of neglect and disrepair due to a lack of funding aggravated by the Covid-19 lockdown, according to the Simon van der Stel Foundation.

The foundation, the oldest conservation lobby group in the Cape, wrote an urgent letter to the Iziko Museums outlining serious concerns on the state of several museums, including the Castle of Good Hope.

The foundation said it was concerned about the continued lack of maintenance of the buildings of Iziko Museums, particularly Rust en Vreugd, Koopmans de Wet House, Bo-Kaap Museum, The Old Town House (Michaelis Collection) and Bertram House.

Foundation chairperson Matthys Pretorius said: “Even before the Covid-19 lockdown, we have noticed that these buildings are in urgent need of maintenance. In previous correspondence, we have already expressed our concern about the indefinite closure of The Old Town House and lack of maintenance at the Castle. We are aware of a leaking roof and rising damp at Koopmans de Wet House.

“The general shoddy appearance of Rust en Vreugd and its garden is also evident. The same situation applies for the Bo-Kaap Museum.”

Pretorius said they were concerned about the general appearance of the buildings, security at these premises and the maintenance of the contents and displays that are housed in them.

In response to Pretorius’s letter, the Iziko Museum said it received a grant from the Department of Arts and Culture and must generate a substantial percentage of the annual budget required to manage 11 museums.

It also admitted that it simply did not have the funding to employ more staff or implement all the maintenance projects needed.

Speaking to the Cape Argus, Pretorius said museums played a crucial role in preserving and safeguarding the history of the country.

“It seems as though they (Iziko) are not interested in these heritage issues because had they been interested, they would have made more money available for maintenance. It’s shocking and they are passing the buck to other departments.”

Iziko chief executive Rooksana Omar said that Iziko Museums, including the Bo-Kaap Museum, required additional financial resources to meet their infrastructure requirements.

“Loss of income from donations, gate revenue, programmes and events are a challenge that faces museums across the globe,” she said.

“The financial impact of Covid-19 and the closure of the museums due to the national lockdown has had a significant impact not only on the heritage, tourism and attraction sectors but to the country and world at large.”

The SA Museums Association said that the country was in a fragile state and budget cuts were having a significant impact on museums.

“There is a lack of funding for the upkeep of buildings. The main problem is that it’s very expensive to maintain because they are old buildings.

“You would need a lot of money to maintain the museums. What we also should remember is that the country’s fiscus is in a terrible position,” said Helen Vollgraans, the president of the association.

Calvin Gilfillan, the chief executive of the Castle of Good Hope, an entity controlled by both Iziko Museums and the Department of Military Veterans and Defence, said that it experienced financial difficulty.

“With the current budget cuts we experienced and tourists subsidising almost 90% of our income, the Department of Military and Defence gave us a subsidy to support us during the lockdown, which assisted,” said Gilfillan.

Cultural Affairs and Sport MEC Anroux Marais’s spokesperson, Stacy McLean, said: “MEC Marais believes any space or entity holding heritage should be safeguarded, protected and preserved for the generations to come as it is important for the memorialisation and acknowledgement of early practice, and communities and their roles and contribution to our democratic society as experienced today.”

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