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Eva Bredsdorff – Senior Museum Curator, Powysland Museum, Wales visits South Africa

Eva Bredsdorff, Senior Museum Curator at Powysland Museum in Wales visited South Africa on an ICOM UK - British Council Global Travel Grant.  This is the blog post from Eva's visit.

As curator of Powysland Museum in Welshpool I am planning an exhibition for 2019 called ‘From Wales to South Africa: Conflict & War’, looking at the 1879 Zulu War and the Anglo-Boer War from 1899 to 1901. Both of these wars are closely connected to regiments in Powys. The Zulu War with the Borderers Regiment from Brecon and the Anglo-Boer War with the Montgomeryshire Yeomanry.

In order to understand these two wars better and place them in a historical and geographical context I decided to visit the relevant areas and places of interest in South Africa. My research has been generously supported by an ICOM UK - British Council Global Travel Grant and additional a Jonathan Ruffer curatorial grant from the Art Fund, for which I am most grateful.

I arrived in Johannesburg on the morning of the 8th of February and in the afternoon I met with Allan Sinclair, curator of military art, aviation and public relations at the National Museum of Military History. He showed me the displays dealing with the Anglo-Boer War, but also interestingly explained that the museum’s main focus was on the two World Wars. He also introduced me to Phindile G. Madida, the museum’s principal information officer. The following day I travelled to Bloemfontein to meet Johan van Zyl, Museum Human Science Manager of the War Museum of the Boer Republics, who gave me a guided tour of the museum, which does not blame or accuse any of the parties, but rather looks at the reasons for the war, the consequences and most importantly the human stories within the war.

Next stop was Ladysmith where I visited the All Saints Anglican Church and the Siege Museum commemorating the 118 days during which the Boers besieged the British citizens of the town. The curator Luke Makhubo was most welcoming and keen to be part of the project and again the balanced view of the displays were interesting. From Ladysmith I went to Dundee to meet with Pam McFadden, the curator of the Talana Museum, Battlefield and Heritage Park, which included a local history museum containing exhibitions on both the Zulu and the Anglo-Boer Wars. We spent over one and a half hour discussing not just the Powysland Museum project, but also the background and set-up of the Talana Museum, the other exhibitions and museums under her jurisdiction as well as the different funding situations in South Africa and Great Britain and it was fascinating to compare the museum issues in Wales and South Africa.

On my way across the battlefields I visited Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift – two of the most famous battles during the Zulu War. Both places have an interesting visitor centre attached which explains the military manoeuvres of the two armies as well as some displays with battlefield finds and contemporary photographs. At the Mtonjaneni Zulu Historical Museum I met the owner Nico Harris, who had bought his collection from a local family to avoid it being confiscated by the state and stored away in boxes. I was allowed to spend time on my own in the museum which mostly had displays on Zulu arts and crafts and finds from the various battlefields.

I feel that this trip to South Africa has been successful in all its objectives. I have visited some of the major museums relating to the Zulu and the Anglo-Boer Wars and studied their interpretation of these wars, I have made contact with colleagues in these museums and will continue to develop these partnerships by exchanging information and resources and finally I have come away with knowledge and ideas for the proposed exhibition ‘From Wales to South Africa: Conflict & War’ which will hopefully make it an interesting exhibition for British visitors – and maybe entice some of my  South African colleagues to come and visit so I can repay them the generosity and hospitality, they have all shown me.