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Nelson Mandela Museum, Umtata, Qunu, Mvezo, Eastern Cape, SA



In this project there has been an important shift from a traditional museum housing the gifts of Nelson Mandela to developing three inter-related sites - in Umtata, Qunu and Mvezo - that serve collectively as the museum. This is a changing concept of museum as storage space for dormant objects to museum as cultural working spaces for communities. Facilities are being used to activate the memories, histories and traditions of a community through their contemporary everyday practices. Cultural spaces such as these are not being separated out from the urgent need in South Africa to provide basic infrastructure to rural communities.


Using the road and journey as a linear thread was key to the overall spatial structure of the museum, and the manner in which it would relate to existing rural patterns. The N2-highway, is a major through fare between East London, Umtata and Durban. All local traffic moves relative to this busy road. Although it bisects the major areas of the village it also ties them together, so that the road forms a thread of people moving between Umtata and the other museum sites. The possibility was presented of developing drop-off points from which routes into the villages and these new cultural spaces could be woven.


The concerns of local communities were assessed through meetings held between the architects, representatives of DACST, and groups of people organised by QDF. The meetings sought to identify the expectations held of the museum as well as the communities most urgent needs. Jobs remained the overwhelming concern in an area with few employment opportunities and poverty; these were short-term jobs related to construction and long-term jobs related to tourism. Building had to be suited to the skills of local people, giving as many people as possible work especially women who had previously been excluded from such jobs. One of the important benefits was trade skills enhancement within the communities: local skills like traditional fencing and lattice weaving were utilised, and existing stone building skills were enhanced.

Water was another major concern. Water was still carried in containers by women and children from nearby rivers or from distant solar-powered bore holes. An effort is currently underway to supply water to a series of standpipes to be positioned in different localities. It was recognised that the future supply of water to the area presented interesting opportunities to the project. Firstly, as a powerful organising device for the rural fabric in which museum facilities could draw together the widely dispersed village. Secondarily, as provision of shared water supply and shaded washing facilities in new public communal areas. These would form part of the route through areas the museum was seeking to develop. Water wastage could be limited and women required to transport less water to their homes.


Other cultural facilities with shading, information and benches could be placed at other locations along village paths. It is anticipated that these spaces will be used by members of the community as everyday gathering places. They would provide the first of many visible points along the route for future visitors to the villages. These spaces would indicate that visitors are moving in a public realm that is distinguishable from that of the people living nearby. The route would also encompass potential commercial and historical sites that the community could decide to develop. The whole project serves in this way as a reminder of the legacy of Nelson Mandela, telling the story of his struggle and life while engaging the local community and encouraging development in the area.

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