Looking back, moving forward: An overview of 2012/13

  • Posted: Jun 14, 2013

Chief Executive Officer of Iziko Museums of South Africa, Ms Rooksana Omar reviewed the Museum’s progressoverthe past financial year. The CEO looks at the highlights, challenges and aspirations of this museum that is being guided into a world in which, as the International Council of Museums (ICOM) vision states, “the significance of natural and cultural heritage is universally valued.” Recognised by many as a pioneer within the heritage sector,Omar says: “Our achievements in the past year clearly show that Iziko is a critical component of empowerment, development and democracy in South Africa.”

During Heritage Month in 2012, Iziko Museums was renamed as Iziko Museums of South Africa by the Minster of Arts and Culture, Paul Mashatile, MP. This renaming acknowledges and reinforces the fact that our museums – like the anthem, the flag, national icons and insignia – are an integral part of who South Africans are as a nation. It clearly charts the way forward and defines the role our museums must play in the shaping of our democracy. As a national museum, our mandate is: to conserve, preserve and interpret the cultural, natural and artistic heritage that is part of the national estate, to make our knowledge and collections accessible and to showcase our tangible and intangible heritage for all South Africans and future generations. Our new name Iziko Museums of South Africa presents an opportunity for the “re-imagining”of a South African museum institution that embraces everyone in our commonality and diversity, in which all people can see themselves.

As ‘African Museums of Excellence’, we have distinguished ourselves by embracing innovative and sometimes radical approaches to museum work, as well as new directions in public engagement and education.

Under the leadership of our Council, the Iziko Strategic Plan and Annual Performance Plan 2012/13–2016/17 have been further refined and provide a road map for transformation, excellence, sustainability and governance. The strategy is articulated across four programme areas:

Iziko Strategic Programme One: Enhancing the museum experience: access and audience development

Development and execution of a thematic plan for permanent and temporary exhibitions at 11 Iziko museums responding to the needs of our diverse collections.

The Iziko museums have a central role to play in making connections between people. Our collections hold heritage assets of the South African nation that both record our rich history and tell our stories. Embracing our interconnectedness and that of our collections mediates and permeates every aspect of what we do. Iziko works proactively with communities, our partners (local, national, continental and international) and colleagues towards enriching the understanding of our African heritage by connecting and creating dialogue on Science, Natural and Social History, Art and Education to bring a deeper and richer understanding of our South “Africaness” and humanness. In 2012/2013, Iziko hosted a total of 23 special exhibitions that reflected on the diverse history of our country and also gave voice to intertwined art, social and natural history narratives.

In keeping with the imperative to transform our institutions, Iziko has taken up the challenge of rethinking the thematic framework and developing a plan for the development of all our museums, with the overt aim of informing both permanent and temporary exhibitions going forward.

Enriching and enabling education and public programmes

Our extensive education programmes are specifically geared to creating awareness of the role of museums in society, improving general knowledge, and nurturing an appreciation of our heritage.

In 2012/2013, our schools programme benefited more than 57,211 learners from diverse backgrounds and the Iziko Mobile Museum travelled to various schools, malls and communities, reaching and sharing stories with 23,898 people across South Africa. The Planetarium revealed the wonderful world of astronomy to 41,150 visitors and 36,681 learners. In keeping with our special needs initiatives, we conducted sessions in collaboration with the Meaningful Access Project, and 637 persons with special needs participated.    

Iziko hosted public programmes that were both fun and educational on many of the key commemorative days, attracting more than 28,860 participants.

Iziko celebrates the entire month of September as Heritage Month every year, exploring a thought-provoking programme of exhibitions and discussions linked to the Department of Arts and Culture (DAC) theme, which was ‘Celebrating Heroes and Heroines of the Liberation Struggle in South Africa’. More than 17,288 visitors, young and old were attracted to our museums during the year’s programme between 23 and 29 September 2012.

The annual Iziko Summer School 2013 invited a diverse audience of 526 attendees to be “inspired, connected and engaged”. As part of our educational and skills development programme, exhibitions were displayed in the Annexe, while teacher enrichment sessions were presented and resources developed to enhance classroom practice.  

Social responsibility initiatives

Though not stated overtly in Iziko’s Strategic Plan, social responsibility initiatives are interwoven in the culture of making our museums accessible to a wider audience. Through these initiatives, we welcome those who are still, to a degree, trying to overcome the legacy of exclusion entrenched under apartheid.

Like many local museums, Iziko is increasingly faced with financial constraints, and thus must balance the need for access, with the need to ensure sustainability. In this regard, a decision was made to implement a refined and more diversified ‘integrity’ pricing strategy. This strategy will not only continue to offer free entry for all on commemorative days, but also incentivises visitors with discounted rates via: family tickets; annual memberships; half-price entries during school holidays; and free entry for children 5 and under.

The Education and Public Programmes Department (EPP) of Iziko offers support to institutions and organisations that request assistance regarding transport to our sites, reduction in entry fees, free entry to our museums or use of venues and facilities for educational purposes at a reduced cost.

The total value of entrance fee andeducational concessions for the reporting period comes to more than R850,000.

Wherever possible, Iziko facilitates internships across various departments and areas of expertise. Many of these diverse intern programmes are part of ongoing institutional relationships with academic institutions. Iziko provided work experience opportunities to a total of 52 individuals during the reporting period. As a result of the internships provided, a number of incumbents secured permanent employment.

Iziko Strategic Programme Two: Collections and Research: Development and preservation of collections as lasting national resources reflecting our African heritage.

Collection management and conservation

The preservation of Iziko’s extensive collections is a crucial and ongoing operational requirement to ensure our collections are maintained and to avoid damage or loss of irreplaceable artefacts and artworks. With the assistance of the Department of Arts and Culture (DAC) we continue to make progress in this regard.

Manage and grow collections in line with strategic priorities and address unethical collection practices

Iziko strives to grow collections that can reflect a fully representative national history, working creatively with limited acquisition resources, specifically to acquire collections that broadly reflect the rich heritage of those who were deliberately marginalised by colonialism and apartheid.

During the past year we have been fortunate to receive a number of notable presentations which will enhance and add to our collections and other acquisitions made over the 2012/13 period.

Repatriation and reburial of unethically collected human remains in line with museum policies

Iziko has inherited South Africa’s largest collection of human remains (approximately 1,400 people), many of whom were taken illegally and used unethically for ’scientific‘ research. Learning from this painful past, museums like Iziko are innovatively seeking ways to return not only the physical remains of people illegally collected in the last century, but also to restore the humanity of these people and the dignity of their descendants. The reburial of Klaas and Trooi Pienaar – who were repatriated from Austria – is yet another step in a long process of righting the wrongs of the past.

Iziko is the first South African museum to have a formal policy on the dignified care and return of human remains. This policy governs, among other things, the acquisition, documentation, storage, research and return of human remains in its collection. Members of Iziko staff have been advising the Department of Arts and Culture (DAC) on the process of repatriation of human remains in the absence of a national policy. Iziko will be one of the stakeholders involved in assisting DAC to draft this important policy.

Digitisation of collections

New technologies of the 21st century world generate new ideas, behaviour and cultural forms, changing the way we communicate, understand and identify. Museums are fundamentally affected by the pace and intensity with which technology is developing, and South African museums must reflect upon and adapt our ways of working to find ways of integrating technology effectively, informed not only by international museums best practice, but also the realities and needs of our own local context.The process of digitisation of our collections through both documentation of the collections using state-of-the-art digital photographic media, and the scanning and digitally archiving metadata, is thus an ongoing and challenging process which Iziko has committed to. Our outputs reflect our steady progress in this regard.

Iziko also increasingly makes use of digital and online media to ensure the impact of our collections extend beyond the local, to national and international audiences. Significantly, in late 2012 the second phase of the development of the Iziko website as a knowledge resource was launched and a service provider appointed via the required tender process to run this major three-year project.

Improve research capacity, productivity and relevance in Iziko

Research is an essential aspect of our practice, and provides the foundation for all our work. Ongoing research in art, social and natural history, informed by our collections, assists with development and production of Iziko’s exhibitions, as well as academic and popular publications. 

Iziko also plays a critical role in facilitating and providing a context for academic research by postgraduate students.

Iziko Strategic Programme Three: Corporate Advancement

Financial sustainability: Improve financial sustainability and income generation

Museums globally are confronted with substantial funding challenges and are implementing new strategies to ensure survival. What has become clear is that a different approach to sustainability in the context of the heritage sector is required. While Iziko currently out-performs many other heritage institutions in generating its own income, which averages around a quarter of the annual budget, this is certainly not sufficient to fund our programmes. Iziko has been proactive in seeking solutions, and a detailed situational analysis has resulted in a turnaround strategy for sustainability that will inform the revision of our business model and value proposition.


During 2012/13, various existing and ongoing partnerships continued to contribute in diverse ways to the successful delivery of our strategic objectives. The ongoing relationship with the Department of Public Works (DPW), the French Consulate, National Heritage Council (NHC), the National Research Fund (NRF), the University of Cape Town (UCT), the University of the Western Cape (UWC), the University of Stellenbosch, and the Culture, Arts, Tourism, Hospitality and Sport Sector Education and Training Authority (CATHSSETA) have been particularly important to our delivery over the past year.

The valuable contribution and longstanding commitment of our three existing friends organisations: the Friends of the Iziko South African National Gallery; Friends of the Michaelis Collection; and Friends of the Iziko South African Museum; and their contribution to the growth of collections, conservation and public programmes of the museums they support, merits thanks and acknowledgement.

More than 42 partnerships, plus a further 32 relationships specifically linked to education and public programmes, were realised.

Increased diverse audiences

A key strategic objective is to ensure an increased and diverse audience, specifically from communities who previously lacked access to heritage resources. Our aim is to grow a new generation of museum-goers and entrench an appreciation of the importance of culture as the lifeblood of our nation and essential part of our humanity among youth. Iziko seeks to position our museums as South African museums for all, and to change the perception of exclusivity that is a legacy of apartheid. 

Iziko implements a diversified pricing strategy that allows free access, at certain times, to ensure that those who can least afford entrance fees are still able to visit our museums. In 2012/13, 28,098 visitors benefited from our free commemorative day concessions; and 68,596 youths visited our museums at no charge.

Iziko received a total of 528,008 visitors during 2012/13. This represents a 1,91% decrease in visitor numbers compared to 538,308 visitors in 2011/12. The slight decline can be ascribed to a number of factors: Fewer high profile temporary exhibitions due to financial constraints; a drop in tourist numbers; reduced marketing and communication budgets; and no budget for advertising. However, Iziko’s online footprint has grown substantially during the past year, with increased traffic to Iziko’s corporate and content based websites, Facebook and Twitter.

Iziko Strategic Programme Four: Sound governance and efficient corporate services

Human resource management

Iziko annually invests in the education, training and the development of staff members. In 2012/13 395 training opportunities were offered to 178 staff members. Iziko also funded tertiary education for staff members from designated groups.

Financial management

Iziko has sustained its record of unqualified audit over more than a decade and received a clean audit in 2011/12.

We have proactively addressed the challenge of implementing the Accounting Standards Board‘s Standard of Generally Recognised Accounting Practice on Heritage Assets (GRAP 103), to ensure ongoing compliance with all audit requirements.

Information and communication technology

Iziko implemented virtualisation of its IT infrastructure with an online centralised storage and backup system. Moving the workload from 13 physical servers to a virtualised environment that consists of two virtual servers assists with driving down costs, increase IT efficiencies and improve application availability.

Facilities management

The Department of Arts and Culture (DAC) and the Department of Public Works (DPW) made the upgrade a space in the Iziko South African Museum possible, creating what is now one of the very few climate controlled spaces in South Africa that comply with international standards.

The major capital project, known as the ‘Courtyard Project’ is funded by DAC and implemented by DPW. This three-year project involves renovation of the research block at ISAM by closing in the courtyard area and the renovation and upgrade of office and laboratory facilities; the addition of two extra floors to provide conference facilities and executive offices; alterations to the administration and education block; and the creation of a new atrium off the Whale Well. The aim of the project is three-fold: to increase the storage space for growing collections; provide much-needed research and office facilities; and most importantly improve visitor access and provide an interactive museum experience, aligned with international trends.

Iziko has been proactive in efforts to upgrade security in recent years and DAC has assisted Iziko by funding the installation of CCTV cameras and a fibre optic network.

A request was submitted to DAC to fund the development of a five-year Maintenance and Conservation Plan for all Iziko sites. R9,51 million was allocated and constitutes a major contribution towards conserving our precious heritage buildings for future generations.

Risk management

Over the past year, risks were mitigated effectively, and the number of risks were reduced by 25,93%. Iziko is also one of the few heritage institutions implementing a Disaster Management Plan.

In review, what we have been able to achieve over the past year, within the current economic climate, is commendable – if not phenomenal. As stated by Professor Ciraj Rassool, our Council Chairperson, “The achievements of the last year have been significant. However, they must be understood against the backdrop of considerable challenges as a result of limited resources to effectively staff this large institution and to implement core functions of research, education and conservation of collections, and to meet multiple expectations of government and our public.”

Our museum is the perpetual ‘open university’, which combines pleasure and learning like no other institution in the 21st century. Iziko embraces the challenges of ongoing innovation required to ensure that our museum remains one of the greatest merits of a democratic societyand that we continue to grow as sustainable and viable heritage institutions in the future. The best thing about museums is perhaps this: they are constantly transforming themselves – and so is Iziko Museums of South Africa.

Rooksana Omar

Chief Executive Officer, Iziko Museums of South Africa

blog comments powered by Disqus