Robben Island Museum status report
Arts and Culture
08 May 2018
Chairperson: Ms X Tom (ANC)
The Committee was told about a letter which had been received from ex-political prisoners of Robben Island, in which a range of issues had been raised regarding the museum on the island. The Department of Arts and Culture (DAC) was directed to respond to the letter immediately, and to ensure that all future letters requiring the Department’s attention should be handled as a matter of urgency.
The Chairperson bemoaned the fact that the DAC had been the headlines for the wrong reasons quite frequently. It was a pity, because the entities were supposed to do the work of the DAC and discharge the mandate of the Department. However, there was a lot of in-fighting within the councils and the boards. The boards were fighting among themselves as well as with management, and management was fighting with the staff. The Committee was disheartened, as it had put in a lot of effort but there was nothing to show for it. There were entities that were performing well, but what amazed the Committee were the instances where entities seemed to be operating well, but that underneath there was a lot happening that was wrong. The DAD had to find a way of dealing with the entities, because 80% of its budget went to them.
The Department stressed that the Robben Island Museum was a World Heritage Site, and that it should be preserved and maintained as such, so the DAC had a great responsibility. The Museum’s essence came from being born as a prison during the apartheid regime. High quality research needed to be conducted. The interpretation and sustainable use of the heritage site had to be ensured, and this should be done alongside key stakeholders. Partnerships were an effective way of stretching the rand. Tourism was the lifeblood of Robben Island Museum, and it should be maintained. With a digital platform that provided information to the public, a tour guide may not even be necessary.
The Museum stated that 13 ex-political prisoners had been placed in a training programme at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology in order to improve their skills as the front-line tour guides, and nine had passed. A Member commented that former prisoners were able to provide visitors with a much more convincing narrative that general tour guides.
The Museum said that its archives were located at the University of the Western Cape, and it was concerned that they were vulnerable to the Cape’s inclement weather and the possibility of rioting on the campus. A new environment within the University was required.
The Chairperson congratulated the Museum on receiving an unqualified audit from the Auditor-General, but said the Department should strive for a clean audit.
Chairperson’s concern over entities’ performance
The Chairperson said that the start and finish impressions were the most important parts of any race. This was the last annual performance plan (APP) that was going to be debated in the five-year term, so it was important to look back and pause for a minute, to evaluate the work that the Portfolio Committee had done since 2014. When it had started, a decision had been made to focus on entities, as 80% of the budget was allocated to entities. By now, in 2018, the Committee should be reporting on the effect it had had in overseeing the entities.
A lot more needed to be done around entities. If one looked at City Press every Sunday, they were making headlines for all the wrong reasons. It was a pity, because the entities were supposed to be the arms of the Department of Arts and Culture (DAC). They were supposed to do the work of the DAC and discharge the mandate of the Department. However, there was a lot of in-fighting within the councils and the boards. The boards were fighting among themselves as well as with management, and management was fighting with the staff. The Portfolio Committee was disheartened, as it had put in a lot of effort but there was nothing to show for it. There were entities that were performing well, but what amazed the Committee were the instances where entities seemed to be operating well, but that underneath there was a lot happening that was wrong. The Department had to find a way of dealing with entities, because the bulk of the budget went to them.
The Committee had been given a document that the DAC was using for the induction of entities that the Committee had been asking for since 2014, when it had come in and looked at how the entities were operating. It had asked the Department to tell the Committee how it inducted the councils. The Department had given the Committee the document sometime this year as a recommendation that it was going to put forward to the House on Thursday. The Department had been asked to take a step back and review the document to see if it was enough for what the Department wanted to achieve. The Department had been told that this was a matter of urgency.
Robben Island Museum: Ex-political prisoners’ concerns
The Chairperson said that the DAC would be presenting an overview of Robben Island Museum, but before that she wished to refer to a letter she had received from former political prisoners, in which certain issues related to the museum had been raised. She had advised them to raise their concerns with the Director General, Mr Vusumzi Mkize.
Mr Mkhize confirmed that he had received the letter and that the Department had immediately contacted the relevant entities to make sure that they provided relevant information as soon as possible, although some could do that only as late as yesterday. The information had to be consolidated, but maybe it could forward what it had so that the matter could be addressed at the meeting. He had had a meeting with the Minister, who had met with the Board, as well as the staff of Robben Island. There had been feedback from the Board which would be provided by the Minister to the Portfolio Committee.
The Deputy Director-General who had been directly involved with the matter would give feedback on the former political prisoners’ issues.
Ms Kelebogile Sethubelo, DDG: DAC, said that it was not the first letter received by the Department of Arts and Culture regarding the concerns of the former prisoners. The Department had initially engaged the Robben Island Museum and met with the management to discuss the issues. The Council of Robben Island had created a structure within the Board, of partnership stakeholders where issues of political prisoners were raised. There was an organization called the Ex-Political Prisoners Association (EPPA) which dealt with matters like this, and the Department thought that this matter should have gone through that structure. However, this looked like a matter that did not affect the staff of the EPPA, which had created a bit of a challenge. The Department had responded to all the issues raised by the concerned ex-political prisoners, and a report had been submitted to the Portfolio Committee. The Museum had also responded, and they would touch on the matter when they were giving their presentation. The DAC had taken these matters seriously, as it was not the first time that the Department had received a concern of this nature.
The Chairperson asked when the structure had been created.
Ms Sethubelo responded that the structure had been created last year.
Mr Mkhize clarified that the structure had been created in 2017, but the first meeting had taken place only in February this year.
Mr T Makondo (ANC) said that the Committee had requested the Department to give an overview relating to Robben Island, and the response to that could not just be the one sentence the DDG had given. The Committee wanted to establish if the Department understood the issues at Robben Island. It believed that the Department did not have a hands-on approach to these entities. The Robben Island delegation was present, and they would present, but the Committee also wanted to understand what the issues were about. What had the Department done, and was it satisfied that those issues were being dealt with?
Mr Mkhize said the Department was aware of the issues raised in the letter. He had engaged with Mr Mava Dada, Chief Executive Officer (CEO): Robben Island Museum, and following their discussion he could categorise them into two specific areas:
- The deteriorating infrastructure and challenges of maintenance;
- The manner in which the maintenance had to be managed between Robben Island and the Department of Public Works (DPW), and the responsibility that the DPW had for these matters.
He said a third component could be added, which related to the availability of resources that could assist in making sure that Robben Island continued to operate. This posed a serious risk, and involved the Board, as well as the procurement process of the Board. He had asked Mr Dada to provide a breakdown of all the challenges so that he could engage with both the Director-General of the National Treasury and the Chief Procurement Officer on the issue of procurement. There had been challenges in ensuring South African content when one wanted to purchase or procure, and cost escalations in relation to this had been a problem. There was a problem with the number of boards available that were fully operational. He committed himself to engage with his counterparts, which involved the DPW to see what could be done to resolve the maintenance problems, based on the proposals made. One of the proposals was that Robben Island should take responsibility directly for management and maintenance, without the assistance of the DPW.
Ms V Tsolile (ANC) said that apparently the Department did not want to learn. When one has a strategy and sees that it is not working, then one has to change the strategy. When a person writes one a letter, one should revert back to them and ask more questions so that the person could explain what they were saying. One has to acknowledge and listen to the person and then let the person know that an investigation would be done. One should not have to rely on what Robben Island says – one has to go personally to Robben Island and investigate. Robben Island would tell you what they wanted you to hear. It was high time that the Department changed its strategy.
Mr Makondo asked how long it took for the South African government to respond to people who made enquiries. He would like an answer. The responses that he was getting at this meeting did not sit well with him. He referred to the incident of the letter where no response had been given to the ex-political prisoners. How many unknown persons were writing to the DAC and were receiving no response? He also wondered how many people who did not receive a response knew that they could write to either the Minister or the Portfolio Committee. If the Government was not a responsive public service, then it would be doing the public a serious disservice.
The Chairperson said the reason she had asked the ex-political prisoners to write to the Department first, and not the Portfolio Committee, was because she was banking on the fact that the DAC would have the answers without wanting the Committee to intervene. She felt that the Department was delegating its responsibilities to the Committee, and this was totally unacceptable. According to the Deputy Director-General, some of the matters raised were being dealt with. The ex-political prisoners knew this, yet they were still raising questions. This meant that the Department should sit with them to find out what other matters would be raised. She did not know that the Committee had to go this far in telling the Department how to do its job.
The Chairperson said the DG knew that if he did not respond to the matters raised, then the Department would be on the front page of the City Press. The Committee was looking for a day when they could visit Robben Island. It would spend the whole day there to speak to everyone, starting with the “Aunty” who made the tea and working its way to all the persons on the island.
Mr Sibusiso Buthelezi, Chairperson: Robben Island Museum said everyone at the meeting needed to look at the ex-political prisoners not only as ex-political prisoners, but as employees too. Their noise was disproportionate to the number of people on Robben Island. Out of 250 employees, the ex-political prisoners were 18. For the various reasons, they were not the sharpest knives in the tool shed. The feedback received from Robben Island visitors included mention of them being drunk on a working shift, and also reducing the narrative to their own experiences. This impacted on Robben Island and its place as a World Heritage Site. Out of respect, Robben Island Museum had placed the ex-political prisoners through a training program at Cape Peninsula University of Technology. Some of them had had to receive written warnings in order to go to training. The positive aspect was that out of the training programme, some of them had been retained, and would be with a crew who were also going through this training.
The Chairperson said that there would be no engagement on the issue, because there were still more questions than answers.
DAC Overview of Robben Island Museum
Mr Mkhize said that the preservation of the heritage site was essential. Robben Island Museum was considered a world heritage site, so the DAC had a great responsibility. The Museum’s essence came from being born as a prison during the apartheid regime. High quality research needed to be conducted. The interpretation and sustainable use of the heritage site had to be ensured, and this should be done alongside key stakeholders. Partnerships were an effective way of stretching the rand. Partnerships assisted in complementing the Department’s efforts. Research was the backbone of any development. Tourism was the lifeblood of Robben Island and it should be maintained. With a digital platform that provided information to the public, a tour guide may not even be necessary.
He spoke about universal access to Robben Island. He said that he understood that the Robben Island Museum was in a remote area and that transporting people on a boat was expensive, so access to the museum was another area that needed to be looked at. Maintenance of the museum was important and if this was not maintained, then it ran the risk of being declassified.
The Chairperson said that for the Portfolio Committee, the story of the DAC blaming the Department of Public Works was tiring, and had been exhausted.
Mr Mkhize said that he had had a meeting with the Director-General of the DPW, and that he had noted the Committee’s concerns and would find a solution to the matter. The meeting with the DG of the DPW ensured a commitment between the two parties to ensure that they would work together to provide solutions to the concerns raised.
The Chairperson said that she would like to congratulate Robben Island Museum on receiving an unqualified audit from the Auditor-General. The Department should strive for a clean audit, and she believed that this was something that could happen. It should meet the targets that it set as a Department.
Robben Island Museum presentation
Mr Mava opened his presentation by saying that he hoped the pertinent matters had been dealt with. He said the Council consisted of nine members and that their term would be expiring in July 2019. The Integrated Conservation Management Plan was the strategy document and that he would like the Committee to note, as this was a transition year.
He had summarised 11 important points from the APP. These included the performance delivery environment, where an achievement of 69% had been achieved, and the strategic research agenda. The most important thing here was the stories of the ex-political prisoners. There was a shortage of resources and time, so covering all nine provinces was proving to be difficult. The priority here was the main tourist attraction, which was the island itself, as well as the Nelson Mandela Gateway.
The archives being kept at the University of the Western Cape needed to be placed on the first floor of the institution, as their current position was a vulnerable environment that may result in damage to the archives. They were open to being exposed to bad weather and rioting. However, construction taking place was creating a delay in the archives being moved to a safer place. The archives would not be moved away from the university. The Department was continuing to look for a suitable environment for the archives.
Robben Island Museum was looking for other sources of revenue. The main revenue came from the ticket itself, but with the unpredictability of the weather and the problems with the boats, it was difficult to plan. The baseline of the budget had been put together when Robben Island Museum was a national monument, but this had never been adjusted when it became a World Heritage site.
Ms Tsoleli said Robben Island Museum was deteriorating before everyone’s eyes. The ex-political prisoners should be used because the way that the prisoners narrated the story left the impression that they knew what they were talking about. She asked about what the ex-political prisoners’ organisation had done in 2017, and also wanted to know in what month the meeting had been held. She asked if there had been an induction. How was the organisation established, and who was appointed to be the representatives? Were those who wrote the letter involved in the organization?
Mr Makonda said that he was tempted to ask Mr Mhize about his meeting with the Director-General of Public Works, because since the Portfolio Committee convened in 2014, the story of the DPW being blamed had been overused by the Department. He asked why Mr Mava had outsourced a person for an internal audit of the museum, as it should have the capacity to audit itself. He was worried about the Department’s targets, and requested a report on performance for the third quarter of the year. How was the museum attending to the ex-political prisoners’ issues? How was it dealing with the ex-political prisoners who had fallen by the wayside? How many had succeeded in the training programme? He had also visited Robben Island Museum, and there was a big difference between a tour being conducted by a former prisoner and a one being conducted by a guide who had not been a prisoner.
The Chairperson said that the institution needed to have a programme to assist its employees. The issue of infrastructure was frustrating. She asked Mr Mhikze if he had been to Robben Island lately.
The DG replied that he had been there.
She asked what he had seen there. The situation at Robben Island was bad, and that she agreed with Mr Makonda that she wished she was a fly on the wall during the meeting between Mr Mkhize and the Director-General of Public Works. The Committee was not seeing any results at Robben Island Museum, and she asked what had happened to the arrangement with the Department of Correctional Services, because she had read that a Correctional Services member was taking ex-political prisoners to Robben Island to deal with some of the renovations that needed to be done. She had thought that this was a good initiative, but had not heard anything since. She asked about the relationship Robben Island Museum had with South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA). She personally had an issue with the promises that the DAC had made to the Eastern Cape which they had failed to keep.
Mr Buthelezi said that if the entity had more money it would be moving at a faster pace. The sad part was that the money it got for restoration work was received through fund-raising. The little amount of money it received from the DAC was unknown until the last week of March. What could be done with money in the last days of a financial year -- and anyway, this money was not enough. The money received by the museum could not be used, and because it traveled first to the DPW and the entities they appointed and only then reached Robben Island, less than 40% finds its way to the island.
Mr Dada said that the ex-political prisoners would be stationed at a particular house where, after the narratives had been done, there would be a talk room in which they could share their stories. He did not want to have two categories of employees, but his office was always open if any employees wanted to talk. The Sobukwe House tour was conducted by the general tour guides.
Mr Buthelezi explained that the reference groups were structured around periods of imprisonment.
Mr Dada said that 13 ex-political prisoners had been trained in the programme, and nine of them had passed.
Mr Pascall Taruvinga, Chief Heritage Officer: Robben Island Museum, spoke about the compliance issue with SAHRA, and how they had been singled out by SAHRA for non-compliance on a local broadcasting station. Robben Island Museum had created a compliance framework, and there were no projects that could proceed without compliance and a permit from SAHRA or a permit from the Department of Environmental Affairs.
He had learned something in South Africa, and that was that a big project could not be planned near a festive season, as two months were lost to the festive season. This was how communication on the matter of permits had gone astray with SAHRA. The museum had the permits now.
The Chairperson said that when the DAC presented, time frames would be needed because the Committee was meant to measure and evaluate the work done by the Department. If time frames were not provided, then the Committee could not determine whether it had had reached the targets they had set for themselves.
Mr Makondo asked again about the targets for the third quarter.
Mr Dada said that for the fourth quarter, 73% had been achieved, 15% partially achieved, and 12% not achieved, although some of these targets had since been achieved.
The Chairperson said the Department had decreased its targets, and this would be looked at by the Committee.
Ms Tsoleli said that the meeting should end here because there was a “marital problem” between the Department of Arts and Culture and the Department of Public Works. She said that a site visit by everyone needed to prioritised.
The meeting was adjourned.
Tom, Ms XS
Bilankulu, Ms NK
Grootboom, Mr GA
Makondo, Mr T
Rabotapi, Mr MW
Tsoleli, Ms SP
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