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In Tribute to Dr Michael Albert Cluver:

17/11/2023

Palaeontologist, Museum Director, Builder

Dr Michael Albert Cluver was the last Director of the South African Museum before amalgamation, a past president of the Palaeontological Society of South Africa and a respected museum scientist. Iziko Museums of South Africa pays a final tribute to a leader whose loyalty and dedication to the Palaeosciences, museology and the Iziko South African Museum paved the way for significant change in the national museum sector and its infrastructure.  

Dr Cluver, Image Sourced via: Palaeontological Society of Southern Africa via Facebook.

A doctoral graduate from the University of Stellenbosch in 1970, Mike started his career at the ISAM in 1966 as a Research Officer and, due to his obvious leadership qualities, by 1973 he was made Head of the Palaeontology Department. By 1985, following just over a decade of being Deputy Director, Mike took up the position of Director of the Iziko South African Museum (ISAM) until amalgamation and the formation of the Southern Flagship Institution (now Iziko Museums of South Africa). The transition to Iziko Museums saw Dr Cluver serve the new institution first as Acting CEO until 2000, before retiring from the post of Director of Property Services, in December 2007.  

Mike Cluver played an immensely important role in providing leadership in the process of bringing together constituent museums into the Southern Flagship Institution that was to become Iziko Museums of South Africa. He had a collegial style of leadership, not dominating but listening to colleagues and helping to make things happen.

Dr Hamish Robertson, former Director:

Research and Exhibitions – Iziko Museums

Dr Cluver’s journey as a scientist and museum professional has been one of incredible collaboration, innovation and passion. Mike worked extensively with renowned visiting palaeontologists, forming collaborations that would have a significant impact on our understanding of Karoo Palaeontology and growth of the ISAM collections. In addition to a significant body of scientific peer-reviewed publications, he published the popular book “Fossil Reptiles of the South African Karoo” and in post-retirement he authored “Karoo Fossils: South Africa’s First Land Animals” in English and Afrikaans.

Perhaps equally as significant as his contribution to science, was his role in the growth and improvement of the infrastructure of the ISAM. During the construction of Block C in the 1980s, Dr Cluver worked extensively with the Director of the ISAM, Dr Tom Barry, in the planning stages and subsequent construction. 

Dr Michael Cluver’s farewell and celebration of 20 years of the Whale Well, December 2007.

Due to Dr Barry’s failing health, Dr Cluver then took full responsibility for this project that included the construction of the Planetarium dome and acquisition of the then state-of-the-art equipment and its installation. This must have been a steep learning curve but much fun since Dr Cluver was known to be a keen amateur astronomer who even built his own telescope; no doubt something that sowed the seeds for his daughter Michelle’s future career. Later in his career and around his retirement and beyond, Mike Cluver was also one of the visionaries for the state-of-the-art Courtyard Project and Iziko Social History Centre. The results of his innovative ideas, or openness to entertain these, are scattered throughout the cutting-edge laboratories, world-class climate-controlled collections stores and we would argue that, by virtue of relation, he could claim the thunder from another Cluver, who was a driving force behind Iziko’s 3D immersive research and education planetarium.

Dr Mike Cluver, Launch of the Iziko Planetarium and Digital Dome, 2017 © Iziko/N. Pamplin.

Mike Cluver’s legacy is apparent throughout the concrete-laden structures of Iziko Museums for all to see and benefit from. May his memory inspire all who work within the galleries, laboratories, libraries and collections stores of Iziko Museums, positioning our continent to pursue competitive scientific endeavour towards the benefit of those who come after us,”                                                                    

Dr Bongani Ndhlovu, Acting CEO of Iziko Museums of South Africa.

In addition to his contributions to Iziko Museums, Dr Cluver was a fellow of the Royal Society South Africa, and held memberships of the Paleontological Society South Africa, the South African Museum Association, the Owl Club and the City Civil Service Club. Mike was a people’s person who was as comfortable in workwear as he was in a bowtie, with an uncanny smile and look of wonderous curiosity in his eye. He was a typical museum worker!   

Thank you, Mike, for your thoughtful impact on Iziko Museums of South Africa and the world of museology. You will be fondly remembered and celebrated always. Iziko Museums holds Estelle, Anthony, Michelle, Penelope and Dr Cluver’s family in our thoughts during this time of bereavement.  

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