Presented by Leslie Witz and Noeleen Murray
University of the Western Cape and University of the Witwatersrand
Noëleen Murray and Leslie Witz are academics at the University of the Witwatersrand and the University of the Western Cape (UWC) in South Africa. As an architect and historian, respectively, they were recruited to the board of the Lwandle Migrant Labour Museum by its founders, Bongani Mgijima and Charmian Plummer, and became intensely involved in a set of hands-on collaborations with other board members, museum staff, residents and the appointed professionals in the making of the museum. They are the co-authours of Hostels, Homes Museum: memoralising Migrant Labour Pasts in Lwandle, South Africa.
Noëleen Murray is the A.W. Mellon Foundation Chair in Critical Architecture and Urbanism and Director of the City Institute, University of the Witwatersrand, Her research over many years offers a reading of architecture and urban planning under and after apartheid in which she considers conjunctions between architectural modernism and apartheid modernity. Noëleen is principal editor of Desire Lines: Space, Memory and Identity in the Post-apartheid City and co-editor, with Premesh Lalu, of Becoming UWC: Reflections, Pathways and Unmaking of Apartheid’s Legacy.
Leslie Witz is a professor in the History Department at UWC and in 2014/15 was the UWC / University of Minnesota ICGC Mellon Research Chair. His major research centres on how different histories are created and represented in the public domain through memorials, museums, festivals and tourism. He is the author of: Write Your Own History; Apartheid’s Festival: Contesting South Africa’s National Pasts, and co-author, with Ciraj Rassool and Paul Faber, of South African Family Stories: Reflections on an Experiment in Exhibition Making. Leslie, together with colleagues Ciraj Rassool and Gary Minkley, is publishing a book that reflects on public history in South Africa since the 1990s entitled Unsettled History: Making South African Public Pasts
Abstract: Narratives of urban development in South Africa often become trapped in a set of binaries around generalizable material extremes: rural/urban, formal /informal, visible/ invisible, planned/providential. Between these poles of categorization and description, post apartheid urban policy has been scripted as a process to be managed.
Beyond the structures and strictures of governance, concepts derived from Henri Lefebvre’s The Production of Space have been commonly cited as theoretical instruction to demonstrate and locate experience within understandings of space and its materiality. His well-known triad of the ‘perceived, conceived and lived’ dimensions of space are all too familiar in current writing in urban studies and this has to a certain extent enabled new readings of city space. In this paper we are interested in what possibilities the notion of a triad offers for rethinking established binaries of urban planning. We want to experiment with the idea of triad in another way, as an interference or a disturbance in what has become the vocabulary of urban studies.
We take two sets of events that have all the hallmarks of the binary: the development of a gated community outside of the town of Somerset West called ‘Somerset Lakes’ and the evictions literally a few hundred metres away in a transient urban settlement called Siyanyanzela (translated from isiXhosa ‘we are forcing’). Instead of setting up the comparative parallel of urban experience we invoke a disruption through a narrative of a small community museum in close proximity to Somerset Lakes and Siyanyanzela.
We have written about this museum at the sea eLwandle (translated from isiXhosa ‘at the sea’) previously in our 2014 book entitled Hostels, Homes, Museum: Memorialising Migrant Labour Pasts in Lwandle, South Africa. In this paper we are beginning to think about how the urban present of removals and gated communities, might extend the story of the museum (since our book), as well as asking how the story of the museum, might in turn complicate urban development narratives. In our writing about the museum and Lwandle we tried to move away from a deindividuated, ahistorical, standardised discourse of urban migration, and attempted to disentangle the museum and development. Our thinking deliberately foregrounded the uncertain, the tragic, the discontinuous, the troubled and precarious aspects of the museum in the making. We wonder paradoxically whether tragedy and uncertainty can complete the triad?