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Monday, 11 November 2019

Copperbelt Museum (Part 2): The Future

By Andrew Mulenga

As mentioned in the last edition of “Mulling over Art”, the Copperbelt Museum, which was officially opened on Buteko Avenue in the Central Business District of Ndola in in 1978, has been earmarked for expansion for years.

Copperbelt Museum of Science and Technology
At the proposed new site on plot/stand number 2865 near the Mufulira Roundabout in Ndola, will be called the Copperbelt Museum of Science and Technology. It will comprise a large complex of several structures including a five star hotel with a 300-bed space capacity.

The facility will feature a Science gallery, Technology Gallery, Walk through Mine Experience Gallery, Outdoor exhibits, community interaction spaces, a food parlour that exclusively serves traditional foods and refreshments from the 10 provinces as well as a crafts market with handicraft personnel working on site.

According to the Copperbelt Museum Director, Victoria Chitungu the new museum is expected to host Zambia’s technical and cultural heritage and serve as a nature conservation site. The museum is set to give visitors hands on experience in both traditional and modern technology heritage as well as provide educational tours.   

Copperbelt Museum Science Centre building
designed by Ministry of Works and Supply
Speaking in an interview from her office in Ndola, Chitungu outlined the challenges of operating from the current constrained space, and gave thoughts around the importance of museums, highlighting the plans for the new museum.  

“When we moved here in the 1970s it was meant to be a temporal space, but to date we are still here, so it is almost impossible to expand. Everything that we want to do hinges on expansion. We have so many programmes on hold,” she explained.

Chitungu promptly went on to explain the importance of museums, even in a fast changing world, with emphasis that museums have more value now than ever before.

“The value of museums in today’s society is twofold. First, Museums give you a sense of pride in that they remind us about the positive side of our past. Second, Museums can give a country direction, they are reference points. If you have no reference of the past it is hard for you to make decisions for the future,” she contended.

Copperbelt Museum Traditional Food Parlour
designed by Ministry of Works and Supply
In reference to the current museum, Chitungu bemoaned the dwindling number of walk-in visitors and researchers and appealed to the public to take an interest in learning more about their heritage especially when the opportunity was at their doorstep. She complained that although Zambian museums charge very little, they still do not get enough visitors because perhaps the culture of visiting museums has not been inculcated into Zambian society.

“We also need to see more schools visiting museums. Why not use the (current) space as a classroom outside the classroom. In fact, if the education structure of learning was attached to museums, I think we would be doing much better,” she said “In most countries, museums are directly attached to universities and other learning institutions, but in Zambia this is not the case. I think this needs to change”.

Indigenous Knowledge Centre
She reasoned that it seems that museums are places where people go to pass time, but what they do not know is that museums can also be seen as a sanctuary as they are not political or religious spaces.
“We want members of the public to use the space for their own exhibitions, like bankers, they can come here and display a history of banking in Zambia and so on,” she said.

Although it happened 13 years before Chitungu’s tenure, a notable example of such an intervention is the Lechwe Trust Collection exhibition in 2006. With much fanfare at the grand opening, Lechwe Trust pitched a huge marquee (tent) blocking the traffic along Buteko Avenue in what ended up to be a remarkably successful exhibition of  modern and contemporary Zambian art.

The Museum Hotel
The said event was officiated by the Bank of Zambia Regional Deputy Governor. Such high profile individuals and spectacle, Chitungu stressed, are important for bringing awareness and to attract the public to museums.

“Let us say if people who are high up in society like the Bank of Zambia Governor or even His Excellency the President, if they visit the museums, it raises the profile of the institutions, it puts value on them,” she suggested.

And sifting through a 10-page document that was presented at a stakeholder and investors meeting organised by the Copperbelt Investment Expo on June 12, Chitungu seemed confident that on her teams part they had already set the ball rolling.

 “This year I asked the Ministry of Tourism to help us with the construction of toilets because the artists (craftsmen) have no problem working in the open. We just need two toilets for women and two for men, just in case the project takes longer to kick off, these are not expensive,” she said. “When it comes to the new museum, we want to look at technology in broader terms, for instance, what technology goes into the weaving of baskets or the making of clay pots”.

The new site is near Levy Mwanawasa Stadium
along the Ndola-Kitwe dual carriage way
“We also want something that will reflect all the provinces and we will be doing workshops to preserve these indigenous skills. We want crafts that are unique and specific to the various provinces. This will also curb the influx of crafts and curios from neighbouring countries even from far-flung places like Kenya”

A visit to the proposed site with Chitungu revealed that truly, there was adequate space for craftsmen to take up activities even before the first brick of the museum buildings are laid. It is under the enjoyable shade of a large Mukuyu tree near the location of the suggested ecological park that is also the source of the Kansenshi stream.

The site for the proposed ecological
garden is also the Kansenshi Stream
Speaking of the ecological park, Chitungu asserted that when the Museum is operational, an ecologist will be employed permanently and visitors will have the opportunity to learn about the environment, ecosystems, biodiversity and conservation. The park will comprise herbal plants, reptiles, fish species, antelope and traditional resting spaces called “Insaka” in Bemba.

“It is now the Ministry of Tourism’s baby, since the ministry is now talking about diversification, diversification does not get better than this,” said Chitungu.

Chitungu announced that the project was also available for Private Public Partnership (PPP) and that that it was a bankable project on which investors, other than the line ministries should come on board. She emphasised that the site is along a touristic route, that incorporates the Levy Mwanawasa stadium and the new Ndola Airport along the Ndola-Kitwe dual carriageway and that it was the fastest growing side of the city.

Acting director Victoria Chitungu (seated)
with Assistant Admin Officer Martha Ikabongo-Kaira
According to a document made available by Chitungu and signed by former Director, Charity Salasini, the designs for the new museum were produced by the Buildings Department of the Ministry of Works and Supply, between April and October 2015.

They are based on a Conceptual Frame dated March 2015, derived from a Feasibility Study Report of October 2006, which was conducted by a team of Museum Experts.

In April 2015, a team of experts from the Ministry of Works and Supply, Buildings Department Headquarters also conducted a Feasibility Study and the new site was officially granted by the Ndola City Council.

It was later appealed that the National Museums Board consider and approve the project in order to set the pace for the commencement of the development of the Museum.

The new museum project sounds and looks brilliant; it is surely the way to go. One has to agree with Chitungu that it is on a site with great potential, surrounded by shopping malls, neighbourhoods, learning institutions, suburbs, hotels and an international stadium.
However, at this stage we can only trust and obey that the project will be undertaken in our lifetimes.  
Nevertheless, apart from the indigenous technology or knowledge systems often described as witchcraft, Zambia has a very rich heritage in terms of science and technology; hopefully it will be adequately documented in the new museum.

Take for instance the seemingly unendorsed Zambian Space Project, considered comedic by a British ITN News crew (1964) and some unenlightened Zambians; it is something that should not be forgotten. If not for the boldness of its pioneer Mukuka Nkoloso, it is a statement of fact; a Zambian did have the ambition of flying to the moon and Mars competing with the USSR and the USA in the 1960s.

In fact Nkoloso may also be read as a champion of women empowerment in that his intention was to send not a man but a young woman Martha Mwamba into space—well along with a cat.

Whether he will be recognized as an oddball or eccentric, one thing for sure is that he was a nonconformist. At present, he has inspired a generation of Zambian creative practitioners whom in recent times have continuously referenced him in their work.

Among them is the award winning writer and academic Namwali Serpell who wrote of the Zambian Space Programme for the New Yorker in 2017 as well as this year in her book entitled “'The Old Drift”. Mwenya Kabwe, an academic and playwright, while teaching at the Wits University in South Africa created a theatrical piece titled Astronautus Afrikanus, inspred by Nkoloso. Artist, Stary Mwaba’s 2014/15 exhibition’s ‘Going To Mars’ at the Lusaka National Museum and “Life on Mars” with KfW Stiftung at Künstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin, Germany were both inspired by Nkoloso.

While still on Nkoloso, it is worth noting that his visions put him in the spotlight even years after his attempted moon mission. One such example of his recognition is a newspaper article published as far away as Blytheville, Arkansas, (USA) in 1970. The “Courier News” a local newspaper, ran a story titled “Support Your Witch Doctor, Zambian Says” by a Kenneth L. Whiting. Whiting wrote: “Nkoloso recently submitted a report suggesting witchcraft as an antidote to Christianity, which has debased Africa’s medical skills. He also blamed British colonial rule for using missionaries and the Bible to outflank witchcraft.”

Other aspects of Zambia’s technological advancement was the electric vehicle manufactured by ZESCO, a show car at first, it could later be seen doing service rounds in the late 1980s. It is only now that the in the so-called developed countries electric vehicles are catching on, when apparently Zambians had been doing it in the 1980s. If it did not end up on a pile of scrap metal, the ZESCO Electric car or at least its blueprints should be displayed at the new museum.

Zambia’s rich automotive engineering heritage, which also includes the assembly of Land Rovers, Peugeots and Fiats, should also be featured. What’s more, the Fiat plant once produced a car with two steering wheels that could drive both ways. Zambian engineers at Phillips Electrical experimented with solar energy,—which is only now becoming popular—in the early 1980s.

As farfetched as it may sound, last year, Sela Kasepa a 21-year-old Zambian Harvard undergraduate in the field of “Computer-Aided Machine Design” organised and entered some Zambian high-school learners into an international robotics competition, the first Global annual student robotics Olympiad in the USA. She certainly deserves a spot in the new museum, she is a pioneer and she is also from the Copperbelt in ChaChaCha, Kitwe.

All the above mentioned and many more deserve their own corner to be remembered and studied in the museum in any which way they can, whether through photographs, videos and sound as modern museums do.

Then there is the issue of modern and contemporary Zambian art, which seems to be overlooked in the new museum project. Yes, the craftsmen have been considered and the designs show what looks like a huge mural, but the Conceptual Frame of the museum does not appear to incorporate a section specific to modern and contemporary Zambian art. Not even the ecological park that would look great with a few stone sculptures by talented artists appears to be on the cards. It is as if museum authorities cannot distinguish between handicrafts and contemporary art.

The Copperbelt has produced innumerable Zambian artists. Work by all these artists can be rotated in a particular gallery with the latest works by upcoming artists. Especially that the province does not have a decent gallery space. A section of this new museum would be ideal as a space for a Copperbelt Museum of Contemporary art that tackles technological themes.


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