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Tribute to Prof Henry (Jatti) Bredenkamp

26/09/2023

A Pioneering Custodian of Heritage at Iziko Museums of South Africa

In the heart of Cape Town, where the past meets the present, at the beginnings of Iziko Museums of South Africa lead a guardian of knowledge, a beacon of wisdom, and a custodian of culture – Prof. Henry Bredekamp or “Jatti” as the Iziko family and many others knew him. With a saddened, but grateful, heart we pay tribute to a remarkable individual whose unwavering dedication to Iziko Museums has enriched our lives and illuminated the path to understanding our shared heritage for the benefit of all and subsequent generations.

Prof. Bredekamp’s journey as a scholar and museum professional has been one of extraordinary commitment and passion. With a heart full of curiosity and a mind full of intellect, he embarked on a lifelong mission to preserve, celebrate, and unravel the stories woven into the fabric of our shared history. His tenure at Iziko Museums of South Africa was nothing short of transformative.

As the first CEO of colour at Iziko Museums, Prof. Bredekamp lead the, almost 200-year-old, institution from 2003 to 2010. His first task was to spearhead the transformation of the museum from the “Southern Flagship Institution”, created through the Cultural Institutions Act of 1999, into the integrated heritage institution, that is, Iziko Museums of South Africa. Related to this transformation agenda, the Prof. succeeded at governance level by developing a holistic business plan centred around driving the transformation process according to national guidelines, achieving service excellence, building care for and interpretation of sites and collections, improving and broadening accessibility, unlocking the education potential of our collections while promoting heritage, and ensuring the financial viability of Iziko Museums.

Prof Henry (Jatti) Bredenkamp, at the opening of Ghoema and Glitter at the Castle of Good Hope, 2010 © Iziko/C. Beyer.

Several transformative exhibitions were opened during Jatti’s tenure, including the award winning ‘Democracy X – Marking the present; Re-presenting the past’ exhibition, which traced the long history of South Africa from the earliest signs of humanity to the present and was listed by the Royal Academy in London as one of the top fifteen exhibitions in the world. He opened the Slave Lodge Memory Centre in 2006 and the Iziko Social History Centre in 2009. Many partnerships were fostered by Prof. Bredekamp for Iziko Museums, most notably with UNESCO and The Swedish African Museum Programme, which resulted in regional and international collaborations for museological training related to human rights and slavery. As President of ICOM-South Africa, he worked to forge a closer professional relationship between the South African Museums Association and the South African national committee of the International Council of Museums (ICOM). In addition to these responsibilities he also served on other governing bodies, such as the Editorial Board of the Seoul-based International Journal of Intangible Heritage, the Castle Control Board, Groot Constantia Trust, the Genadendal Mission Museum Board of Trustees, the West Coast Fossil Park Board of Trustees, the Stockholm-based Hans Manneby Museums Development Fund, and as leader of the University of the Western Cape/DAC team of former Minister Pallo Jordan’s Afrikaans Taal Project based at UWC.

A generous soul, a fighting spirit, an advocate for human rights, a loving husband (Florrie was everything to him), a straightforward leader, unapologetic about his roots, and a lifelong, ardent activist for an all-embracing South African heritage“.

Ms Veliswa Baduza, former Executive Director of Operations – Iziko Museums

Bredekamp was a people’s person. He lacked any sense of ego or grandeur and would talk to all staff, asking about their families with great interest. He was like a father figure to many and everyone has their own personal story with and of him. His shoulder-bouncing-chuckle-of-a-laugh endeared him to so many at Iziko Museums. He was unashamedly an authentic person who cared about people.

Yet, Prof. Bredekamp’s contributions extend far beyond the walls of the museum. He was a tireless advocate for education, inspiring countless students, and researchers to delve into the museological realms of science, art, and culture. His mentorship left an indelible mark on the minds of those who had the privilege of learning from him, and his legacy lives on in the generations of scholars he nurtured.

Beyond his scholarly pursuits, Prof. Bredekamp embodied the spirit of community and collaboration. He was a bridge builder, forging connections between Iziko Museums and the wider world. His outreach efforts made heritage accessible to all, ensuring that knowledge was not confined to the hallowed halls of academia but was instead a gift shared with the masses.

Prof. Bredekamp’s research work illuminated dark corners of our history and enriched our understanding of culture and identity. He published extensively on the importance of museums and the difference they can make in transforming societies as well as on poignant topics such as Khoisan identity, human rights, and slavery. His strong links with museology has helped us recognise the beauty of diversity, the importance of preservation, and the enduring power of culture.

As we reflect on the legacy of Prof. Jatti Bredekamp at Iziko Museums, we are reminded that a life devoted to the pursuit of knowledge and the preservation of culture is a life well-lived. We honour his contributions, his unwavering commitment, and his enduring passion. His name will forever be etched in the annals of Iziko Museums of South Africa as a guardian of knowledge, a steward of heritage, and a beacon of inspiration for generations to come.”

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

May his memory be a source of inspiration for all who walk the galleries of our institution, and may his legacy continue to shine brightly, guiding us toward a future enriched by the treasures of our past.

Thank you, Jatti, for your profound and enduring impact on Iziko Museums of South Africa and the world of knowledge. You will be remembered, cherished, and celebrated always.

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