Lwandle Migrant Labour Museum

The Lwandle Migrant Labour Museum is located 40 kilometres outside the city of Cape Town, in the Helderberg Basin (Lwandle is isiXhosa for “sea”). The Lwandle Migrant Labour Museum is devoted to the history of migrant labour, single sex hostels and the control of black workers during the apartheid era. The museum located in a former hostel reminds of the horrible living conditions that the migrant labour system imposed. The community museum was initiated by two residents Charmian Plummer and Bongani Mgijima. On 1 May 2000 the museum was opened and on 25 February 2012 the museum was proclaimed a province-aided museum by the Government of the Western Cape Province.

Historian Leslie Witz and architect and academic Noëleen Murray have published interesting articles and a book about the birth of the LMLM and its early years (see bibliography below). We, two Swiss history students, were fortunate to interview Masa Soko, curator of the museum, who gave us a private tour through the museum via Skype that we would like to share with you here:

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

The concept of community museums was new to us and we were very interested in learning more about how the museum functions as a venue for people to come together and how facebook brings that community spirit to the wider world. Social Media is a new opportunity and space for productions of histories and commemoration. Historian Ciraj Rassool discussed the potentials and drawbacks of Social Media in the production of histories in South Africa in a TV interview in 2013. Museums have to open up to technological developments and abandon solely being local and visual. One of us became a member of the We Love Lwande Migrant Labour Museum (WLLMLM) Group and analysed the photos, posts and announcements within the group. The museum is no longer a confined space it continues living virally and in public and intellectual discourse. The WLLMLM-group was founded fifteen years after the end of apartheid. Administrators (founder of the group Noëleen Murray, museum curator Masa Soko, historian Leslie Witz and former curator Bonganni Mgijima) choose what becomes part of WLLMLM. They have an author function, but they are by no means the only ones contributing to the group page. We asked Masa Soko why they decided to open up a group and not a site:

“A group is more personal. People should post-up, voice-up, post anything that has to do with museums. It should be intimate.”

This facebook group does much more than informing potential visitors on a museum webpage. The group is a platform for discussions and inputs and forms the museum. There are exchanges between the group and the museum and they influence one another. The group is much less institutional and formal than the museum. There was also an instance where a Facebook post triggered so much discussion that the outcome of that is now becoming part of a new museum display.

Yet the fb-group by no means serves as a substitute to a visit to the museum, but helps the museum to broaden its horizons and keep in touch with former visitors and people interested in the museum. We are looking forward to visiting the museum hopefully in the near future and look forward to learning more about your interesting activities on facebook.


Select Bibliography

Bongani Mgijima, Vusi Buthelezi, “Mapping museum-community relations in Lwandle”, Journal of Southern African Studies 32:4 (2006), 795–806.

Leslie Witz, Noëleen Murray, “Camp Lwandle: Rehabilitating a migrant labour hostel at the seaside”, Social Dynamics: A journal of African studies 39:1 (2013), 51–74.

Leslie Witz, Noëleen Murray, Hostels, Homes, Museum: Memorialising migrant labour pasts in Lwandle, South Africa (Cape Town: UCT Press, 2014).

Research on the Museum and its History: http://lwandle.com/?page_id=23 (20/09/2016).