Public Eye (South Africa)

KZN Museum celebrates 120 years

- Chanel George

The historic Kwazulu-natal Museum, which showcases South Africa’s cultural, historical and natural heritage will celebrate its 120th anniversar­y this year.

The museum is one of South Africa's oldest major regional museums and opened its doors to the public in November 1904.

Its impressive displays include an array of exhibits featuring insects, mammals, amphibians, birds and molluscs.

The museum hosts exhibition­s on paleontolo­gical finds, original rock art and stone tools dating back over a million years.

Viranna Frank, the museum's public relations and marketing manager told Public Eye that the museum boasts the largest collection of African mammals under one roof, presented in their natural habitat.

“Visitors can marvel at a well-preserved remnant of the last wild elephant in the province, a life-size model of a Tyrannosau­rus Rex and various re-creations such as a Drakensber­g cave, an 1860 night-time Pietermari­tzburg street scene, a submarine scene in the Marine Gallery and remnants of a shipwreck in the Portuguese Gallery,” said Frank.

She said one of the most loved displays at the KZN Museum is the Mammal Gallery.

“Visitors are drawn to its diverse collection of animals, showcasing a variety of species in impressive sizes. Another cherished section is the period rooms, particular­ly the Old PMB History exhibit. This area, with its carefully recreated historical settings, captivates visitors by transporti­ng them back in time,” said Frank.

According to Frank, the undisputed favourite among children is the Dinosaur Gallery, making it the top choice for young visitors.

“The KZN Museum has hundreds of items on display. However, what many people don’t know though is that there is even more in the museum's collection that you don't see,” she said.

Museums typically have extensive collection­s that include artefacts, specimens, artworks, documents and more. Many items in a museum's collection may not be on permanent display.

“This is due to factors such as preservati­on concerns, limited exhibit space or the rotating nature of exhibition­s,” said Frank.

Lynette Hundermark, who shared her memories of her experience­s at the KZN museum, said the museum was one of her favourite places to visit as a child.

“I never got bored of that place, especially the ocean section. I honestly can’t remember when was the last time I visited the museum, it was probably 37 years ago,” said Hundermark.

Kimberly Pillay, a Pietermari­tzburg resident, said her very first visit to the museum was when she was just six years old.

"I remember the smell of the dark wood that instantly hits you as soon as you enter along with the shark coin collector that you see at the welcome desk. As I walked through each exhibit, I remember feeling an overwhelmi­ng sense of joy and excitement along with the eagerness to learn and explore new things," Pillay said.

She said her favourite exhibit was the Music Gallery, as it was always so much fun to play the xylophones and drums.

"The scariest was walking through the dark hallway of "History Hall" and seeing the mannequins. That always gave me the chills," said Pillay.

She said the museum was and will always be an incredible experience for both the young and old.

"You're never too old to dig up dinosaur bones, take a selfie with the famous orangutan or play the xylophone. I am grateful for all my experience­s at the museum as it will always bring out the sixyear-old in me and my desire to explore the unexplored and learn about the unknown," said Pillay.

When Public Eye asked Frank about some of the most memorable moments at the museum over the 120 years, she listed a number of events that added to the vast history of the museum:

- The Mandela Centenary Exhibition in 2018 and having Sonwabile Ndamase, the original designer of the iconic Madiba shirt, open the exhibition. He donated a replica of the shirt Mandela wore to the 1997 ceremony where he received the Freedom of the City of Pietermari­tzburg. The Madiba shirt is on display in the Mandela Gallery.

- The Indian Gallery Exhibition was opened by the High Commission­er of India in Durban, the Honourable Anil Sharan who was joined by the MEC for Arts, Culture, Sports and Recreation in Kwazulu-natal, the Honourable, Ms Weziwe Thusi, the District Mayor of Umgungundl­ovu District Municipali­ty, Cllr Y. Bhamjee

and the Mayor of Msunduzi, Mike Tarr on November 16, 2010, exactly 150 years since the Truro (the ship from Madras carrying the first indentured Indian labourers) arrived on the shores of Port Natal in 1860 carrying 342 Indentured Indian labourers.

- Dr Midgley’s Discovery.

A new species of tarantula was discovered in Angola by local entomologi­st Dr John Midgley in 2016.

- During the 2010 Rugby World Cup, the museum displayed the 2010 World Cup gallery and the popular interactiv­e football pitch which was projected on the floor.

- The KZN Museum's first Night at the Museum hosted 1500 people.

- Dr Whitelaw’s Documentar­y –


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