Woza eNanda Heritage Route


   

 

The Woza eNanda Heritage route outside Durban is a keystone socio-economic project aimed to deliver tourism-led economic development in the eNanda area. This route is now set to become one of KwaZulu-Natal’s flagship attractions with the addition of five new exhibitions to the route. The five exhibitions, commissioned by eThekwini Municipality and conceptualised, designed and built by Totem Media, tell an extraordinary story that goes to the heart of Indian, African traditional, Christian missionary and resistance cultures as they played out in South Africa over the last hundred years.   

 

Exhibitions: concept and content

At the beginning of the twentieth century, three remarkable men chose to settle in eNanda, on properties that bordered one another. Close by was the Inanda Seminary for Girls, founded some thirty years earlier by American Congregationalist missionaries. Mahatma Gandhi, Isaiah Shembe and John Langalibalele Dube were of a similar age: Shembe (1870-1935), Gandhi (1869-1948); and Dube (1871-1946). While Dube came from eNanda, Shembe grew up around Harrismith in the Drakensberg, and Gandhi in India. All of them chose to establish their respective settlements in eNanda, in close proximity to one another. While they each brought different and unique experiences to the place, they also shared important values and influenced each other in an amazing network of cross-pollination.

 

  

Dube, Gandhi, Shembe and the community of the Inanda Seminary were more than neighbours. They shared a deep spirituality, a lively social conscience, a commitment to hard work, a hunger for education, and an intense concern for the weakest and poorest in society. Even though it was impossible at that time to predict the profound influence these men, and the Seminary, would have on the religious, social and political landscape in South Africa, the seeds of democracy were scattered here, to slowly take root and spread. eNanda was a place that held the promise of a different kind of society; one where diversity is celebrated rather than feared, and where all people are free, equal and empowered to reach their full potential.

The five exhibitions are situated on three eNanda sites: Gandhi’s Phoenix Settlement, which he founded in 1904, the Ohlange Institute, established by John Dube in 1900, and the Inanda Seminary for Girls. 

The journey starts at Phoenix Settlement, where visitors are invited to revisit the legacy of these eNanda pioneers and to imagine the conversations and exchanges they might have had. The exhibition captures the extraordinary synchronicity of the thinking of Dube, Gandhi and Shembe on matters ranging from self-sufficiency to social justice to peaceful resistance, and, of course, the deep spirituality they shared. Also at Phoenix is an exhibition in Gandhi’s house, Sarvodaya, focusing on his South African years and how his thinking and political views changed over the time he spent in this country. The exhibition also follows the profound influence his philosophy of Satyagraha had on political movements all over the world, into the present. 

Ohlange Institute, founded by John Dube in 1900, houses two exhibitions. The first, in Dube’s first home, gives visitors a glimpse into the life of a man who was preacher, teacher, writer and leader, a man who all his life steadfastly held on to two ideals: to empower black South Africans to fully participate in mainstream political, economic and social life, and to preserve and celebrate traditional African culture. Dube’s legacy is encapsulated in the exhibition in the JL Dube Hall, where the early histories of the school and of the ANC are set out. The contributions of two other sons of Inanda who became fathers of the ANC, Pixley ka Seme and Richard Msimang, are also acknowledged in this exhibition. It was, of course, at this site that Nelson Mandela chose to cast his vote in 1994. 

The fifth exhibition is at the Inanda Seminary for Girls, in the historic Lucy Lindley Hall. The first school of its kind for African girls in southern Africa, it was founded by Daniel and Lucy Lindley, American Board missionaries based at eNanda, in 1869. One hundred and forty years later it is still producing fine South African women who ‘shine where they are’.   

 

Notes on the exhibition design 

An imagined conversation, a site specific place and three historic figures. The exhibit design at the Interpretation Centre at Phoenix is centred around four chairs on plinths – the empty chairs reflect the space in between, it echoes the  voices made apparent in the content of the exhibition panels. Three life-size figures of Dube, Shembe and Gandhi as two dimensional cut-outs face the representational chairs; the aligned but absent dialogue between the three figures is given the space to be connected by the visitor’s imagination and interpretation. 

The silhouette of the buildings that relate to the men forms an imagined skyline – a constructed backdrop reflective of the period. The exhibition panels are conceived to evoke protest banners, housing narratives of leaders fighting against injustice. The use of timber pine ply and bold colour is intended to evoke a palette and texture that speaks of the place and time and also to make the exhibit more accessible and in keeping with the contemporary vibrancy of the area. 

The exhibition design in Gandhi’s house, Sarvodaya, aims to find the spirit and ghost of the man in the space. His furniture is represented as flattened objects against the wall, the visitor sees in his study a desk, a chair and shelves and reads the space that he would have occupied, but these objects are avatars, they do not physically take space, a reminder of the absent-present famous resident. In the former living room a wall of woven translucent fabric hangs evocatively, hovering above the floor with a black and white image of Gandhi leading a passive resistance group. This ethereal image of Gandhi creates a poignant moment of contemplation in the exhibition. 

A room in Dube House is wallpapered with words, the room is like an explosion of text and the visitor is encapsulated in this bubble of writing, reflecting this aspect of the man, Dube, as writer. 

 The large freestanding three-dimensional panels in the JL Dube Hall at Ohlange act as a clear new insertion into the historic space where Mandela voted during the first free elections. They act as bold banners celebrating our hard-won freedom. 

The Lucy Lindley Exhibition front installation celebrates the creativity and ingenuity of the women of the school. The objects of gendered domestic education, from sewing machines to cooking pots, form a creative swirling mountain, reflecting the students who turned their education around and became successful leading and inspiring role models. Words and mottos that reflect the ethos of the school arc above arches like tattoos to the skin on the building, allowing the walls to tell the story.

Totem Media’s approach to exhibition development:

First and foremost, Totem Media believes that the exhibition environment needs to be a learning experience that is sensory, immersive, interactive and fun. The experience also needs to offer enough relevant information to spark a learning journey in the viewer. Totem Media does not think of the visitor as a passive receptacle for information, but rather as an active participant in the process of building knowledge. Totem creates opportunities for this participation. The spaces that Totem creates are spaces to think in. 

Some of Totem’s design principles:

  • Primacy of the archive: an exhibition should reflect the archive that lies at its heart
  • Design is underpinned by an educational methodology
  • The creation of critical histories, not promotional media, critical histories include marginalised voices to ensure that the representations of history have multiple voices in unresolved and challenging debates
  • Partnerships and the exchange of information strengthens the integrity of museum environment, helps to make crucial content choices and adds significant value to the design of museum narratives
  • Content leads, technology follows
  • Recognising that visitors engage with information on different levels. Totem takes care in creating exhibits that are meaningful, new and provocative for all
  • Information is not presented as absolute truth
  • Design must talk to the environment and engage the social context
  • Ownership of the museum or heritage prescient by the museum team is vital to its success.
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