Going to another place in time is the stuff of movies and science fiction novels, unless, of course, you consider that museums offer the life and breath of years past, making time travel a near reality. Telling the story of thousands of years of history is no easy task, but it has been accomplished in Bulembu with the creation and opening of The Bulembu Museum.
When the Havelock Mine was fully operational, the old cableway building was the epicenter of transportation of its most precious product. After Bulembu was deserted, it sat empty, collecting dust as the wind swept through, carrying with it whispers from memories past before there was nothing left, save for a few relics. But the cableway is coming back to life and will soon be a focal point in Bulembu.
Bob Forrester, the museum curator, began working on gathering artifacts for the museum not long after David Millin birthed the museum idea in 2005. Had they not done so, many core items might have been sold for scrap. Now those same objects play a pivotal role in telling thousands of years of stories on the geology, colonial history, mining history and transition from colonialism to independence for Bulembu and Swaziland.
The ground level will be the general history of Swaziland with geology describing “bushmen in general” and then “bushmen in Swaziland” before going on to black people coming into Southern Africa around 400 AD, the Ingunia people coming to Swaziland, then the white people coming to Swaziland, before finishing up about Bulembu specifically. There will also be information about the Boer war, colonialism, and the missionaries who came to Swaziland, moving from the 1920’s up to current time.
“We’ll keep the industrial look and feel of the cableway,” Forrester explained. “We’ll also have a lot of old artifacts and photos around.”
The second level will be devoted entirely to Bulembu. It will explore everything about Bulembu’s history.
“I think preserving and presenting Bulembu’s unique history is important and interesting,” he said and noted that his biggest challenge in this project was the coordination of all the items and finding their proper place within the museum. As for his favorite display in the museum: “The huge 4.5 meter long map that meticulously shows the maze of underground tunnels. The map was used and updated every year from 1937 to 1990. That’s amazing and would never happen now.”
The museum will be opened by the Swaziland National Museum, who is the official custodians of Swaziland’s art, history and culture. The Bulembu Museum will be affiliated with the National Museum. The grand opening is slated for some time in September.
Visiting Bulembu is now more than exploring a new culture and land. It now affords you the opportunity to take a step back into days gone by, learning of the heritage that shaped Bulembu and Swaziland into being what they are today. The voices of the past are anxious to tell their stories.
By: Theresia Whitfield