Robben Island Museum audit outcomes and turnaround strategy

Arts and Culture

12 February 2013
Chairperson: Ms T Sunduza (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

Robben Island Museum briefing
Robben Island Museum (RIM) had formulated a Turnaround Strategy, after a serious of qualified and disclaimer audits up to 2009, and the RIM Council Chairperson and staff gave an update to the Committee on the progress, successes and challenges to date. The guiding principles and legislation were outlined, and it was noted that the Council of 13 members (two of whom had later resigned) would hold office until March 2016. The Audit Committee was appointed from 2009 to 2012, and Ernst and Young were acting under a three year contract as internal officers. The Chief Executive Officer and Chief Financial Officer had been in place from, respectively, 2010 and January 2011, and other appointments were being made to key positions. The Council was mainly concerned with ensuring alignment of the strategy, structure and budget, as this was one of the major reasons for difficulties in the past. There was a greater focus on Integrated Conservation Management, with a new plan due shortly to be presented to UNESCO. Financial and human resources procedures, monitoring and reporting were in place. Labour relations had been stabilized, the RIM had achieved two unqualified audits over the last two years, was stabilizing ferry operations and continuing to address the audit findings and strengthen financial controls. Challenges included large expenditure on staff, mismatch in posts, two labour strikes in 2011 and the need to review the business model, as well as external challenges around environmental risks, lack of maintenance by the Department of Public Works, and skills shortages in events and hospitality, performance and customer care. The action plan outlined the steps to address many of these issues, including formation and formalization of partnerships.

Members congratulated the RIM on the improvement in the audit findings, and said that there had been improvements, but identified a number of shortcomings still. They questioned the strikes, which had sparked negative press reports, and noted in addition that RIM needed to build its relationship with the media. They called for more details on several staffing issues, and more specifics of how RIM intended to address the skills shortages. Members urged RIM to ensure that all those formerly detained on the Island must have their stories told and their history recorded, not only those who were the most famous, and urged that women also be specifically named. Members noted the comments about the difficulties with the refurbishment, but the Chairperson also pointed out that RIM should attempt to find alternative solutions, particularly since it had, in the past, had its own workshop to attend to maintenance, and that it should attempt to resuscitate this instead of relying upon excessively expensive private contracts. Members asked about the attempts to broaden fundraising activities, local tourism and improve the ferry, and for more specifics on the spending on consultants, protection of assets, the need to address poaching and environmental challenges, and details of training, and exactly what changes the turnaround hoped to achieve. The Chairperson called for more details on partnership and attempts to raise foreign funding.

Meeting report

Chairperson’s opening remarks
The Chairperson noted the apologies but expressed her concern that several ANC members were absent. She was unhappy that this was sending the wrong message to South Africa, and noted that their attendance was crucial to addressing the issues before the Committee.

Robben Island Museum briefing on turnaround strategy progress
Mr Sibusiso Buthelezi, Chairperson, Robben Island Museum Council introduced the delegation. He noted that the delegation was present to brief the Committee on the turnaround strategy that the Robben Island Museum (RIM) had put in place, following a poor audit report, although he did note that this audit report revealed no instances of fraud or corruption.

Mr Buthelezi gave a history of the RIM, and noted that it was a declared cultural institution under the Cultural Institutions Act of 1998. Some of the policies and documents that guided the management of RIM included an integrated conservation management plan, the King Code of Good Corporate Governance, strategies and service delivery outcomes of the Department of Arts and Culture, and UNESCO mission reports. It was currently busy with the second Integrated Conservation Management Plan for 2013 to 2018, which intended to prioritise conservation of RIM as a multi-layered cultural landscape. This was due to be submitted to UNESCO later in the month. He noted that RIM must comply with a number of pieces of legislation, more fully described in the presentation (see attached document).

In relation to governance, Mr Buthelezi noted that the Council exercised oversight, and the current Council of 13 members was appointed in March 2010, although two members had since had to resign due to other commitments. Mr Buthelezi was appointed as Chairperson of the Council in September 2012. The current Council’s term of office had been extended to March 2016. A new audit committee had been appointed in 2009 to serve for three years. Ernst and Young were acting as internal auditors, under a three year contract from August 2010.

The Chief Executive Officer, Mr Sibongisene Mkhize, had been in his post from 2010, and Mr Mphume Llale, the Chief Financial Officer, had been appointed from January 2011. RIM was busy making appointments to other posts (see attached presentation for details).

The strategic principles guiding the turnaround were then outlined. At the outset, it was necessary to ensure alignment of the strategy, structure and budget. Resources would be allocated, under the Integrated Conservation Management Plan, with a focus on heritage conservation. Institutional performance and employee performance would be linked, and monitored on a continuous basis. There would be quarterly reporting on performance to the Council and Department of Arts and Culture, and annual reporting to Parliament.

Mr Buthelezi set out more specifics of the strategic objectives as contained in the strategic and conservation plans, stressing that during the 2013 to 2018 period, various projects and services would be delivered, that Robben Island would be developed, maintained as a world heritage site and symbol of human rights and development, in compliance with appropriate financial, operational and reporting criteria, and the RIM would be established as a university of life.

Mr Sibongisene Mkhize, Chief Executive Officer, RIM, outlined the organisational structure, which was divided into eight departments, with 202 permanent staff. The visitor figures were outlined (see attached peresentation) but it was envisaged that a more reliable ferry system, events and conferencing and a visitor management plan would help to increase the number of visitors to the island. Mr Mkhize listed the achievements as the relatively stable labour relations, the fact that audit opinions had been unqualified in 2010/11 and 2011/12, stabilization of ferry operations and strengthening of corporate governance and financial controls over the last two years. Challenges included the large expenditure on staff in 2010/11 financial year, which was more than the subsidy from the Department of Arts and Culture (DAC), a mismatch between responsibilities and staff, which had led to the need for disciplinary action, two strikes in 2011/12, and the fact that the business model needed to be reviewed. In addition, the RIM was still struggling to overcome the legacy of non-alignment between strategy, structure and budget and to address the lack of a fundraising strategy. External challenges related to the Island and its environment, the fact that it was dependent on Department of Public Works for maintenance, and inadequate management of events and hospitality and performance and customer care.

Finally the action plan for the future was outlined, noting that this would encompass a review of the organizational structure, development of a performance management system, including new job profiles and performance contracts, new agreements with the unions, establishment of a project management unit and a plan to address island maintenance. Identified shortcomings in management, the conservation area, ferry operations and events and hospitality were to be addressed by new frameworks and models. A strategy was being developed to enhance fundraising capacity, formal partnerships with various other agencies and local government were being entered into and there were ongoing discussions to clarify the role of ex political prisoners (EPP).

Mr Mkhize then outlined the key strategic priorities for the next three years (see attached presentation). He also outlined the progress of actions taken to address and correct audit findings, noting again that after a long history of qualified or disclaimer reports, the audits for 2010/11 and 2011/12 had been unqualified. Stricter and more specific controls were in place (see attached presentation).

The Chairperson noted various negative press reports, particularly in relation to the trade union crises on Robben Island. She added that if government wanted to build a united South Africa, all role players would need to stand together to protect the country’s heritage. Politically, Robben Island was the place where several of the problems facing the nation were centred or epitomised, and, in view of its specific historical focus and significance, there were people who wanted to claim the RIM for themselves.

Ms H van Schalkwyk (DA) requested more details of what had led to the labour strikes on the Island.

Ms M Morutoa (ANC) asked whether the decline in visitor figures had been caused by the strikes.

The Chairperson asked for more details on the RIM staff complement, the RIM’s labour union issues, and the skills shortage. She also requested details of the number of disabled people. She asked what exactly was causing the high level of sickness and absenteeism from work.

Ms L Moss (ANC) also congratulated RIM on the most recent audit results, and for more recent positive media appearances but stated there was no excuse for skills shortages. She highlighted that although RIM claimed it was prepared to give training in maritime skills, it had failed to stipulate who must be trained and in what maritime vocations. The report also failed to identify which partners were to be used for training – whether from the Navy, the Defence Force, Police or another organ of the state.

Mr Mphume Llale, Chief Financial Officer, RIM, commented that gender equity was being addressed. Historically, there had been abuse of sick leave, but RIM was now addressing the sick-leave policy. He noted that the numbers of contract employees had not yet been analysed properly, so that RIM had in the past been focusing on short period contracts which were tailored to meet peak season demands for tourism.

Mr Llale confirmed that the lack of skills was being attended to by RIM generating partnerships with the Universities of Western Cape, Cape Town, and Stellenbosch, who had the capacity to do the research required.

Mr Llale noted that there had been two labour strikes. The first related to employees’ dissatisfaction with a certain senior manager, despite the fact that this was his fourth month in the job. The message had to be conveyed that workers had no say over management. The second strike related to a breakdown in wage negotiations. The strike had lasted three weeks, during which, with some difficulty, visitor numbers were still maintained. Workers had sought a 30% increase, which was completely at odds with the incremental inflation-related increases. They had caused chaos, including stopping boats from launching, and had toyi-toyed outside offices and museums, going so far as to invade the RIM offices, showing little respect for RIM management.

In relation to the training, Mr Llale noted that South African Police Services (SAPS) was working with RIM, as well as the Department of Tourism, although the relationship needed to be improved. Currently, RIM did not have capacity to deal with events management and marketing, and was trying to develop this capacity.

The Chairperson thought it was unfortunate that many of the imprisoned were not as well known or publicised as Nelson Mandela and Robert Sobukwe. She suggested that the Portfolio Committee should be given a full list of everyone, including the women, who had been detained on Robben Island.

Mr Buthelezi responded that there had been over 2000 political prisoners on Robben Island and the RIM’s visitor improvement plan had already identified that the museum history needed to reflects the experience and background of all former prisoners on the island. RIM would now document and develop biographies of all the prisoners, not just the most well known.

Mr Mkhize repeated that the issue of contract employment had been problematic but would be resolved when RIM implemented its plans for fixed-term employment for peak season personnel.

Another delegate from RIM added that the RIM was aware that there were many important people formerly on Robben Island, and RIM recognised the need to work closely with heritage role players to create a full understanding of the Museum and the numerous stories of numerous heroes. RIM aimed to improve the “people experience” so that visitors could better feel the space around the prison, the physical challenges endured by the prisoners, share their emotional losses and believed they were being given a world class heritage experience.

The Chairperson noted that the planned target of two papers or reports was not achieved, and asked why. She noted the comment that some of the RIM buildings needed refurbishing but pointed out that no further details on these had been given, only the jetty. She commented that visitors were not able to purchase anything – such as souvenirs – on the island, and asked whether this would not be an ideal way to create employment opportunities, broaden the economic activity of the island and maybe even solve some fundraising issues. Finally, she asked for more detail on environmental threats and how this was being addressed through education.

Mr Llale reiterated concerns around the Department of Public Works (DPW) around refurbishing buildings, but noted that since ownership was both private and parastatal, there were some complexities. Negotiations were under way for alternatives, and the Victoria & Alfred (V&A) Waterfront holdings had expressed their willingness to contribute to maintenance. He added that RIM needed to finalise arrangements with Department of Arts and Culture because, despite the fact that RIM had a maintenance budget comprising about 15% of total budget, maintenance never took place, and RIM must ensure these funds remained available to RIM, so that it could still implement urgent maintenance work.

Ms van Schalkwyk asked whether a more reliable ferry system, and one that capacitated a conferencing facility, would be instrumental in increasing the number of visitors to the island.

Mr Llale noted the suggestions for more economic activity on the Island and said that these, together with other options such as sleep-over facilities, would be considered during a review of all existing relationships and opportunities. He assured Ms Van Schalkwyk that RIM was on track with progressive marketing.

Ms van Schalkwyk was pleased to note the unqualified audit. She asked if RIM had any strategies to protect its valuable assets in the event of damage, such as through video-cataloging of assets found on the island.

Mr Llale noted that the Museum had some collections on the mainland, and some on the Island. RIM was developing its strategy for digital asset capturing, such as the movie “Long Walk to Freedom”, which had replicated many RIM assets on the Island. There were measures in place to ensure protection. However, this was a challenge, because Robben Island was seen as a “people experience”, and because it was cognizant of the time limitations within which the information on the former inmates must be captured.

Ms Morutoa asked for clarification on the partnerships, and expressed her surprise that the Department of Tourism was not listed, as she thought it would be able to assist in its difficulties. She thought that improving fundraising would resolve many of RIM’s challenges

Ms Moss noted that tourism had dropped globally, yet the RIM strategy failed to outline ways in which RIM planned to attract local tourists. Many South Africans needed to be reminded of their background, as especially youngsters had lost track of their heritage. She felt that Robben Island could play an important role in youth becoming aware of their heritage, motivating them to become leaders. RIM could even inspire the current leaders.

Mr Llale responded that RIM, in order to attract local tourists, would be focusing on schools, and trying to ensure that every pupil visited Robben Island at least once during their twelve years at school. This strategy spoke to how RIM would play a role in developing the next leadership of our country.

Another RIM official added that the challenge of budget constraints, caused by very modest increases over the last three years, had forced RIM to focus more on raising funds than on its heritage obligations. It now believed that the strategy to increase local tourism would have a significant impact, not only during the low season, but also because of the targeted concessions being offered to schools and NGOs. RIM’s most successful visiting times were the discounted 9am tours, which attracted mostly locals. It was also intending to develop concessions with the “big 6” tourist destinations such as Table Mountain and Kirstenbosch, which would also benefit the domestic tourism market greatly.

Ms Moss closed by commenting on poaching, and suggested that the Portfolio Committees on Arts and Culture and Environmental Affairs perhaps needed to sit together to resolve the environmental challenges to the Island, which was essentially a critical resource for the next generation.

Mr Llale said the environmental issues, such as the decline in the number of penguins and marine poaching, were already being attended to by universities conducting studies, and RIM expected to get indicators from the researchers in the near future. He commented that there would always be tensions between humans and nature, but this was being monitored.

Ms D Msweli (IFP) asked about the consultation costs throughout the RIM project, the implications for the management plan in areas which had been prioritised, and what specific training was envisaged for the 150 young people mentioned in the presentation.

Mr Llale said that RIM would be appointing a training manager in the near future and this would not only be for technical jobs such as training female skippers, but also for academic jobs for heritage scholars, who would be learning skills of museum management, and labour related jobs such as conflict resolution.
In answer to the question on consultancies, he said that RIM had reduced spending on consultants by 50%. RIM had had to use IT consultants, for example, to fill its skills gap in IT.

Mr P Ntshiqela (DA) asked whether RIM was adhering to the recommendations made by the Auditor-General. He noted that the report had not indicated the exact changes that the Turnaround Strategy was intended to achieve, and wanted RIM to specify more clearly what was changed and how it was changed.

The Chairperson commented that RIM should forge stronger relationships with the media, and call on it ‘not to rubbish the image of South Africa’. She suggested that the media should be encouraged to visit the RIM and help to build positive relationships.

A member of the media asked to speak and noted that the Department of Tourism’s task team had recently produced a promotional video for all heritage sites across South Africa, yet Robben Island was not included. She asked how and why this had happened and suggested that RIM needed to ensure that it took full advantage of such opportunities.

The Chairperson asked what partnering was happening with the National Heritage Foundation. She asked what it was also doing to nurture relations with other countries. She commented that RIM’s turnaround strategy did not include timeframes, and nothing was mentioned about any plans for securing foreign funding from countries such as China and the U.S.A.

Mr Buthelezi made some closing comments. He noted that all the heritage institutions had expressed concerns about the Department of Public Works, and suggested that perhaps the whole issue regarding maintenance by that department needed somehow to be escalated.

Mr Buthelezi added that another matter not covered in the RIM report was the Psychological Report on the Support for the RIM narrators, who retold former prisoners’ stories daily and needed to be debriefed in order to cope with the emotional stress.

Mr Buthelezi noted that whilst the Department of Tourism, the Western Cape Government and the City of Cape Town did not own this island, this did not imply that they should be exempt from supporting it.

The Chairperson responded that the RIM had suggested, in its report, that it knew where the bottlenecks were, and anticipated improvement in communications. She noted that the accountability lay not with DPW, but with RIM and it was not entirely correct that RIM seek to shift the blame. In the past, there had been a fully functional workshop that had performed the maintenance on the Island very well, and she questioned why this could not be resuscitated. She noted the high costs of R215 million for five years of a maintenance contract, which she thought was excessive, and although some of this would be funded from partnering institutions, she urged RIM to reduce these ridiculously high costs and aim to become self sufficient for maintenance, once the existing contracts had expired.

She commented that whilst there were substantial changes apparent from the last time that RIM appeared, the RIM was not yet performing fully to the Committee’s satisfaction. She urged the RIM to study the Committee’s recommendations, and said that partnerships should be forged that were workable, and where the partners did not seek to dictate all the terms. RIM was an institution belonging to the whole of South Africa, not just the role players and stakeholders in its management. She urged that, with cooperation from family members, the history and hidden truths about all former prisoners on the Island must be exposed, as people with conscience should speak the truth on the history of the nation.

The meeting was adjourned.


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