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Spring in Amsterdam. Crowds gather around the "I Am Amsterdam" monument outside the Rijksmuseum.

Spring in Amsterdam. Crowds gather around the “I Am Amsterdam” monument outside the Rijksmuseum.

Amsterdam is beautiful in the Springtime! In May I had the wonderful privilege of cycling around the city to and from conference sessions at the Rijksmuseum. I was there to attend the 2+3D Photography – Practice and Prophecies 2017 conference. This is the second time that the Rijksmuseum has hosted the conference and already it has become the premier World event in terms of the digitisation of museum objects and heritage resources.

Amsterdam by bicycle. Biking is the best way to see Amsterdam. My Air BnB had a spare bike and I took the most of the opportunity to see the city.

I discovered that biking is the best way to see Amsterdam. My Air BnB had a spare bike and I took the most of the opportunity to see the city. Texting while riding seems to be common practice!

One thing about being involved in such a specialist field as the digitisation of museums and archives is that one can easily become isolated. It was wonderful, then, to rub shoulders with the leading institutions and personalities in the World. Apart from it being a thoroughly enriching experience, the conference both confirmed decisions we at Africa Media Online have made in the past and gave us clear direction for the future.

The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam has been one of the World's leading institutions in terms of the adopting of digitial technologies to grant access to their extensive collections.

The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam has been one of the World’s leading institutions in terms of the adopting of digital technologies to grant access to their extensive collections.

Firstly, the conference confirmed our decision a few years ago to move away from scanner technology to camera technology. It was clear, some years ago, that global investment in CMOS sensor technology was fast outstripping developments in CCD technology. It was also clear to me, that with my background as a professional photographer, that investing in the right cameras could not only give us significantly more versatility in terms of the variety of material that we are able to capture, but that they can also do so at the very highest standard complying to the new international digitisation standards that were emerging at that time. Initially we invested in full frame Canon and Nikon cameras, which we still use for a number of applications. More recently we have taken the significant leap of investing in Phase One medium format technology. After looking around at the major medium format systems we felt that Phase One was leading the pack in terms of innovation and the interplay of its hardware an software. Tahnee Cracchiola is Lead Photographer, Villa Imaging Studios at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, California, USA. After carefully looking at the technology available, she and her colleagues came to the same conclusions that we did in terms of investing in Phase One digital backs and Broncolor lights.

Cecile van der Harten, Head Image Department, Rijksmuseum, is the mover and shaker behind the 2+3D Photography: Practice and Prophecies conference. The 2017 conference was the second. The first was held in 2015.

Cecile van der Harten, Head Image Department, Rijksmuseum, is the mover and shaker behind the 2+3D Photography: Practice and Prophecies conference. The 2017 conference was the second. The first was held in 2015.

Secondly, the conference was a great encouragement to us to keep innovating. Chris Strasbaugh, Ditigal Library archivist and Curator in the Knowlton School of Architecture, Landscape Architecture, and City and Regional Planning at The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, USA presented a paper on a digitisation rig he built with electrical tubing and a lightweight camera. Digitisation presents so may unique challenges and it was wonderful to see how colleagues all over the World are meeting those challenges through innovation. It has encouraged us that we too can keep innovating as we have done in building our own digitisation rigs that really do work. On the workshop day at the end of the conference I had the privilege of seeing similar innovations that the Rijksmuseum have created at their digitisation centres which has sparked a whole string of ideas that bit by bit we are turning into reality.

Conference delegates also got to see the city by boat. Robert Erdmann, Senior Scientist, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands (centre) is seen here interacting with colleagues during a boat cruise around the canals of Amsterdam. Robert presented a paper on "Pushing the Boundaries of Image Processing and Visualization for Cultural Heritage at the 2+3D Photography - Practice and Prophecies conference held at the Rijksmuseum in May 2017.

Conference delegates also got to see the city by boat. Robert Erdmann, Senior Scientist, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands (centre) is seen here interacting with colleagues during a boat cruise around the canals of Amsterdam. Robert presented a paper on “Pushing the Boundaries of Image Processing and Visualization for Cultural Heritage at the 2+3D Photography – Practice and Prophecies conference held at the Rijksmuseum in May 2017.

Thirdly, the conference helped to affirm and fine-tune things that we are already doing. Martina Hoffmann, Senior Production Manager for Digitization at the National Library of the Netherlands in The Hague, The Netherlands presented an excellent paper on quality assurance workflows in mass digitisation projects. I was able to chat with her for some time about the large-scale digitisation projects we are undertaking at present.

Digital imaging specialist, Hans van Dormolen, founder of Hans van Dormolen Imaging & Preservation Imaging (HIP) presents his new innovation, a 3D imaging target for the capture of 3D objects, at the 2+3D Photography Practice and Prophecies at the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Digital imaging specialist, Hans van Dormolen, founder of Hans van Dormolen Imaging & Preservation Imaging (HIP) presents his new innovation, a 3D imaging target for the capture of 3D objects, at the 2+3D Photography Practice and Prophecies at the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Finally, the conference gave us some clear direction for the future. It was wonderful to get an insight into the innovations that are coming down the line in terms of colour management, photogrammetry and 3D imaging. Hans van Dormolen, who wrote the Metamorfoze standard, presented a new 3D target he has developed. Don Williams of Image Science Associates, who create the colour targets we use, conducted a workshop on colour management together with Roy Berns. And Robert Erdmann, resident Senior Scientist at the Rijksmuseum gave us a brief but startling glimpse into the future of visualization of cultural heritage.

Maciej Pawlikowski, Head of Digital Content Unit at University of Cambridge (left) speaks to Roy Berns, Professor, Center for Imaging Science, Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, New York during a workshop conducted by Roy and Don Williams (seated centre) of Image Science Associates, Williamson, New York, USA. The workshop at the 2+3D Photography - Practice and Prophecies conference at the Rijksmuseum was on FADGI and Metamorfoze compliance.

Maciej Pawlikowski, Head of Digital Content Unit at University of Cambridge (left) speaks to Roy Berns, Professor, Center for Imaging Science, Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, New York during a workshop conducted by Roy and Don Williams (seated centre) of Image Science Associates, Williamson, New York, USA. The workshop at the 2+3D Photography – Practice and Prophecies conference at the Rijksmuseum was on FADGI and Metamorfoze compliance.

If it had done nothing else, the conference certainly galvanised decision making at Africa Media Online. We have invested in a Phase One IQ 150 digital back as a workhorse alongside our IQ3 100 back. We have also invested in another Broncolor lighting system that will give us more flexibility when capturing museum collections. Both of those are being used 16 hours a day at the moment digitising fragile manuscripts of the ANC Archives at the University of Fort Hare. We have also increased our efforts in the documentation of all that we do and have invested in new colour targets to ensure quality assurance in all of our workflows. And we have been incorporating new innovations into our MEMAT archival digital repository system, innovations which we hope to unveil in the not too distant future.

Broncolor lights on a digitisation rig at the Rijksmuseum store at Lelystad in The Netherlands. The workshop, conducted by the Rijksmuseum's Rik Klein Gotink looked at systems for capturing large flat objects in sections and using software to accurately stitch the tiles together.

Broncolor lights on a digitisation rig at the Rijksmuseum store at Lelystad in The Netherlands. The workshop, conducted by the Rijksmuseum’s Rik Klein Gotink looked at systems for capturing large flat objects in sections and using software to accurately stitch the tiles together.

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Earlier this year we were presented with a significant challenge by Simon Vines of Community Mural Projects in Durban. Simon asked us to capture a Dereck Nxumalo painting at archival quality. Capturing paintings at a level that conforms to international digitisation standards is doable for us with our specialised equipment, we have done that on a number of occasions before. This project, however, presented some additional challenges. Dereck’s painting is 1.5 m high and 9 m long and Simon wanted it captured at 300 dpi!

Mco Hlabe, a digitisation assistant at Africa Media Online looks on as we capture a Dereck Nxumalo painting at the Natal Society of Arts (NSA) Gallery in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Africa Media Online was commissioned to capture the painting by Community Mural Projects in Durban. The 9 m long and 1.5 m high painting was captured in 33 overlapping tiles at 300 dpi and then stitched together to produce the finished digital file. The image was made with Africa Media Online's Alpa 12 FPS camera with a Rodenstock HR Digaron-S 60 mm f/4 lens and our Phase One IQ3 100 megapixel camera.

Mco Hlabe, a digitisation assistant at Africa Media Online looks on as we capture a Dereck Nxumalo painting at the Natal Society of Arts (NSA) Gallery in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Africa Media Online was commissioned to capture the painting by Community Mural Projects in Durban. The 9 m long and 1.5 m high painting was captured in 33 overlapping tiles at 300 dpi and then stitched together to produce the finished digital file. The image was made with Africa Media Online’s Alpa 12 FPS camera with a Rodenstock HR Digaron-S 60 mm f/4 lens and our Phase One IQ3 100 megapixel camera.

We had to do some thinking before taking on this project. We knew we had the camera for the job, our Alpa 12 FPS with our Rodenstock HR Digaron-S 60 mm f/4 and our Phase One 100 Megapixel digital back. That together with Capture One CH, Phase One’s specialist cultural heritage software meant that we knew we could capture the painting’s colours exactly as they are at this point in time. But the size of the painting meant we needed to make some adaptations to our capture rig. The bearing sliders we were using up to that point did not give us enough space to reach right across the breadth of the painting, so I went shopping around. Fortunately, the guys at Broadcast Lighting in Pinetown were able to fish out a discontinued mechanism that we managed to jury-rig and incorporate into our digitisation rig.

Our new bearing slider suspends our Alpa 12 FPS camera above a Dereck Nxumalo painting that we were digitising at the Natal Society of Arts (NSA) Gallery in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.

Our new bearing slider suspends our Alpa 12 FPS camera above a Dereck Nxumalo painting that we were digitising at the Natal Society of Arts (NSA) Gallery in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.

The next challenge was the challenge of space. With a painting this long, we imagined we needed a lot of space – not just for the painting but for the rig and lights etc. etc. The problem was solved when Simon managed to get the NSA Gallery on board who graciously allowed us to use their main space one morning. And so off we shot to Durban assembled the rig and got to work capturing the painting in 33 overlapping tiles.

Africa Media Online's Alpa 12 FPS camera with a Rodenstock HR Digaron-S 60 mm f/4 lens and our Phase One IQ3 100 megapixel camera suspended above a Dereck Nxumalo painting at the NSA Gallery in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.

Africa Media Online’s Alpa 12 FPS camera with a Rodenstock HR Digaron-S 60 mm f/4 lens and our Phase One IQ3 100 megapixel camera suspended above a Dereck Nxumalo painting at the NSA Gallery in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.

Next was the challenge was to stitch it all together. After much trial and error we managed to get Photoshop to produce an enormous stitched file. With each tile being 600 MB in size in its original 16-bit capture, the resulting stitched tiff file needed to be compressed with lossless LZW compress as it greatly exceeded the 4 GB limit that computer systems put on a single image file. This became our archival master compiled file. It preserved every crease and dent and nick of the original image.

One of 33 tiles that were captured and then stitched together to as part of the process of digitising a 9 m long by 1.5 m wide Dereck Nxumalo painting.

One of 33 tiles that were captured and then stitched together to as part of the process of digitising a 9 m long by 1.5 m wide Dereck Nxumalo painting.

Then, because the intended purpose is for reproduction at the size of the original, we then spent many hours retouching the image. Dereck Nxumalo had painted the image on multiple sheets of paper that had been glued together. The creases showed in our archival master just as they do in the original. For reproduction purposes, however, we needed to remove these and also fix the numerous chips in the original paint.

The output is a digital file of phenomenal detail which I believe does justice to the incredible talent of Dereck Nxumalo in producing such an exceptional work of art.

The image at less than 1% zoom in Photoshop

The image at less than 1% zoom in Photoshop.

The image at 1% zoom in Photoshop

The image at 1% zoom in Photoshop.

The image at 4% zoom in Photoshop.

The image at 4% zoom in Photoshop.

The image at 6% zoom in Photoshop.

The image at 6% zoom in Photoshop.

The image at 12% zoom in Photoshop.

The image at 12% zoom in Photoshop.

The image at 25% zoom in Photoshop.

The image at 25% zoom in Photoshop.

The image at 66% zoom in Photoshop

The image at 66% zoom in Photoshop

More About Dereck Nxumalo

Derrick Vusumuzi Nxumalo is a largely self-taught artist. He was born on the 12/12/1962 in Dumisa, Umzinto, KwaZulu-Natal and his education was at Phindavele High School achieving Std. 8. In 1985, Derrick went up to the Northern Transvaal to work on an Anglo American Corporation mine for 4 months, but returned home to Umzinto in KwaZulu-Natal. He started selling his paintings through the African Art Centre in 1985. In 1988 Derrick started working as a part-time artist.

Derrick has served his community over the past 12 years. As Chairperson for the School Governing Board (S.G.B.) for 12 years, on the Community Policy Forum 9C.P.F.) for 2 years, Community Development Project for 2 years and Ward Counsellor for the local Vulamehlo Municipality for 5 years and currently serving.

Exhibitions :
1988 Cape Town Triennial
1989 Elizabeth Gordon Gallery/100 Artists for Life
1992 Standard Bank Arts Festival – Art meets Science – flowers as images
1990 Oxford, England, Zabalaza Art Festival/Art from South Africa
1990 “Vulamehlo – Open Eyes – Durban Art Gallery/Alliance Francalse sponsor
1991 Italy, 11 Sud Del Mondo, L’Altra Contemporanea/The South of the World
1993 Linda Goodman, solo show
1994 Durban Art Gallery/” Artlstsinvlte Artists”
1996 The Arnolfi Gallery, London, U.K.
1997 Gallery on Tyrone, Johannesburg
1997 African Art Centre/Alliance Francaise sponsor, exhibited with Raphael Magwaza &
Njabulo Hlongwane
2000 Abelumbi, Untold Tales of Magic, Durban Art Gallery

Collections:
Anglo Vaal Corporation, Pietersburg
South African Breweries
University of Witwatersrand
University of Cape Town
Tatham Art Gallery, Pietermarltzburg
Durban Art Gallery
The Campbell Collections, Durban
Paul Mikula & Associates, Durban
Peter Rlche, Johannesburg
Bill Wright, New York, U.S.A.
David Elllot, London
Gavin Younge, Cape Town
Gencor Art Collection, Johannesburg
S.A. Reserve Bank Pretoria
The Carnegie Art Gallery, Newcastle, KwaZulu-Natal
HSBC Bank, Johannesburg

Representation:
The African Art Centre
94 Florida Road, Durban 0313123804/5
www.afriart.org.za

Simon Vines says that Derrick “is being supported by the Community Murals Project in this instance as we intend, in conjunction with the Phansi Museum, to promote his exciting vision for a future of Durban as an African city. Community Murals has been involved in many street and rural art projects in Durban and SA during the 1990′s and early 21st century. These embraced the period that our country changed to a democratic state, and the liberal outpouring of new art that accompanied it. This was an incredibly dynamic time in South Africa, hopefully one that we can aspire to again in the future.”

At the end of June, the Africa Media Online team was hard at work moving offices. We are still in Pietermaritzburg, but have moved up to the top of a hill overlooking the city to Hilltops Office Park in Clarendon. Apart from the view, what attracted me to the site was the ideal conditions for building a digital repository.

Block D, Hilltops Office Park in Clarendon, Pietermaritzburg is the new home for Africa Media Online.

Block D, Hilltops Office Park in Clarendon, Pietermaritzburg is the new home for Africa Media Online.

 

In January 2017 I was in The Netherlands at the Winterschool for Audiovisual Archiving held at the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision in Hilversum. It was a real privilege to interact with colleagues from all over Europe and lecturers from Europe and the US gaining an insight into what it takes to build a Trusted Digital Repository.

The fabulous mulitcoloured glass structure of Beeld en Geluid, The Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision. Every day the Institute digitally archives all of The Netherland's public television and radio stations as well as a number of private stations. In the bowels of the building over 10 Petabytes of data are stored on LTO6 tape which is backed up to a similar facility in another building about a mile away.

The fabulous mulitcoloured glass structure of Beeld en Geluid, The Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision. Every day the Institute digitally archives all of The Netherland’s public television and radio stations as well as a number of private stations. In the bowels of the building over 10 Petabytes of data are stored on LTO6 tape which is backed up to a similar facility in another building about a mile away.

 

Kara Van Malssen, a partner and senior consultant at AVPreserve, lecturing at The Winterschool for Digital Archiving 2017, which was held in the fabulous mulitcoloured glass structure of Beeld en Geluid, The Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision. Kara is flanked by the other two lecturers in the Winterschool, Peter Bubestinger-Steindl (far) a project lead and developer in the field of digital archiving and Erwin Verbruggen, who works in The Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision's department for research and development and headed up the Winterschool. Every day the Institute digitally archives all of The Netherland's public television and radio stations as well as a number of private stations. In the bowels of the building over 10 Petabytes of data are stored on LTO6 tape which is backed up to a similar facility in another building about a mile away.

Kara Van Malssen, a partner and senior consultant at AVPreserve, lecturing at The Winterschool for Audiovisual Archiving 2017, which was held in the mulitcoloured glass structure of Beeld en Geluid, The Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision. Kara is flanked by the other two lecturers in the Winterschool, Peter Bubestinger-Steindl (far), a project lead and developer in the field of digital archiving and Erwin Verbruggen (near), who works in The Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision’s department for research and development. Erwin headed up the Winterschool.

 

A Trusted Digital Repository is a term used to designate a digital repository that has everything in place to pass an independent audit and become accredited in terms of the International Standards Organisation standard ISO 16363. Gaining such accreditation is no small matter. The standard looks at the big picture of what is needed in order to sustain a digital repository for the long term. One not only needs a state of the art digital asset management system in place with documented processes to run such systems reliably in a manner that satisfies the independent auditors, but one also needs proven sustainability as an organisation including such elements as staff training and long-term financial plans that are regularly reviewed.

David Larsen, Managing Director of Africa Media Online participating in The Winterschool for Digital Archiving 2017 run by The Netherlands Institute of Sound and Vision. The School was held in the fabulous mulitcoloured glass structure of Beeld en Geluid, The Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision. Every day the Institute digitally archives all of The Netherland's public television and radio stations as well as a number of private stations. In the bowels of the building over 10 Petabytes of data are stored on LTO6 tape which is backed up to a similar facility in another building about a mile away.

Me participating in The Winterschool for Audiovisual Archiving 2017 run by The Netherlands Institute of Sound and Vision. It was a real privilege to attend the school and interact with so many others who are on the same journey to building trusted digital repositories. PHOTO: Sebastiaan ter Burg, Creative Commons BY

 

Participants in the Winterschool for Digital Archiving on a tour of the audio digitisation facility at Beeld en Geluid, The Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision. Every day the Institute digitally archives all of The Netherland's public television and radio stations as well as a number of private stations. In the bowels of the building over 10 Petabytes of data are stored on LTO6 tape which is backed up to a similar facility in another building about a mile away.

Participants in the Winterschool for Audiovisual Archiving on a tour of the audio digitisation facility at Beeld en Geluid, The Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision.

In the First World, organisations that tend to gain such accreditation tend to be large government institutions with long institutional memory and clear systems and processes that ensure that knowledge and capacity are passed down the generations. In many parts of the Majority World, however, such longevity of institutional memory in government institutions cannot be taken for granted. This provides an opportunity for private service providers, particularly those that have a broad footprint in the market, serving a range of sectors. Such organisation are often better placed to take on the critical role of digital preservation behalf of public institutions, businesses and community organisations. This is especially true of social enterprises that exist for a higher cause than simply bottom line profits. With our foundational purpose as “Africans telling Africa’s Story” we believe that we at Africa Media Online are well placed to be part of playing that role here in Africa. For this reason we are working hard toward the goal of gaining accreditation as a Trusted Digital Repository. There is certainly no quick way of accomplishing this – it is very much a journey.

 

Participants in The Winterschool for Digital Archiving 2017 run by The Netherlands Institute of Sound and Vision. The School was held in the fabulous mulitcoloured glass structure of Beeld en Geluid, The Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision. Every day the Institute digitally archives all of The Netherland's public television and radio stations as well as a number of private stations. In the bowels of the building over 10 Petabytes of data are stored on LTO6 tape which is backed up to a similar facility in another building about a mile away.

Participants in The Winterschool for Audiovisual Archiving 2017 run by The Netherlands Institute of Sound and Vision. The School was held in the Beeld en Geluid, The Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision. PHOTO: Sebastiaan ter Burg, Creative Commons BY

 

 

The fabulous mulitcoloured glass structure of Beeld en Geluid, The Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision. Every day the Institute digitally archives all of The Netherland's public television and radio stations as well as a number of private stations. In the bowels of the building over 10 Petabytes of data are stored on LTO6 tape which is backed up to a similar facility in another building about a mile away.

The interior of the fabulous mulitcoloured glass structure of Beeld en Geluid, The Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision.

An important next step in that journey, however, has been taken simply by moving offices and the opportunities it has presented us. What I saw at Hilltops, was not just a far more conducive working environment for our team, and a more pleasant environment for clients to come to, but also the ability to have an off-site server room in a secure environment. Our main office is now in one building and our server room in a physically removed separate building. We have put a lot of investment into the server room environment, sealing it to deal with dust, putting in airconditioning, and installing an alarm system. We have also just commissioned an automated fire-suppression system. We are also looking to extend our power backup system linking it to solar power generation.

 

The automated fire suppression system installed by FireDotCom in Africa Media Online's server room. The system has smoke detectors that will set off an alarm and then release fire suppressant gas into the server room when a fire is detected.

The automated fire suppression system installed by FireDotCom in Africa Media Online’s server room. The system has smoke detectors that will set off an alarm and then release fire suppressant gas into the server room when a fire is detected.

What is really exciting for me about having a physically removed server room, however, is that we can run offsite backups automatically. We have installed a fibre link from the server room to a secure Backup Room in our main office. What that means is that all backups are automatically off-site backups. Of course we will not leave it at that, as I plan to also have a whole set of backup tapes housed 20 km away in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands. Soon we will also be announcing another innovation in terms of secure backups which will be added to our system which we believe will be a first for a digital collection in Africa.

None of this comes cheap. We believe, however, that the investment will be worth it in the long-run, both in terms of caring for the collections that have been entrusted to us, and in terms of the long-term sustainability of what we hope will be, in the not too distant future, an ISO accredited Trusted Digital Repository.

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Earlier this year I had the privilege of digitising a fabulous collection from The Slave Lodge at Iziko Museums of Cape Town for the Google Cultural Institute. IsiShweshwe has come to be identified with high-brow indigenous South African fashion. The pattered cloth has been used for centuries in southern Africa at every level of society and a wide variety of applications. Yet the tradition of the cloth has its origins in East Asia and came to Africa via Europe as part of the colonial project. The story of isiShweshwe then, is the story of cultural cooption, adaptation and innovation – of remixing and remaking.

Ohorokweva onde (dress) worn by Hereo women. Windhoek, Namibia, 2005. Fabric: Chaka Chaka, producer unknown. Juliette Leeb-du Toit Collection, Iziko Soc Hist. 16

Ohorokweva onde (dress) worn by Hereo women. Windhoek, Namibia, 2005. Fabric: Chaka Chaka, producer unknown. Juliette Leeb-du Toit Collection, Iziko Soc Hist. 16

It was a privilege to be approached by the Google Cultural Institute to take on this task. We had worked together in the past when African Media Online became the only non-not-for-profit partner in the Google History Project (which says something about our status as a social enterprise) creating galleries of content to showcase significant moments in South African history. We had been in discussion over some years about various potential digitisation projects, but nothing had ever materialized until this.

Dress of Indian chintz, probably made at the Cape. Note the use of the indigo in some of the floral sprigs. Coromandel Coast, India, c.1775. The Indian method of applying designs on to cotton was complicated, and included the application of various coats of resist paste (in this case, beeswax) and mordants, alternated with dippings into madder red or indigo blue dyebaths, and a final  direct application of yellow dye where needed. Presented by Marianne Pfeiffer, Iziko Soc Hist. L67/153

Dress of Indian chintz, probably made at the Cape. Note the use of the indigo in some of the floral sprigs. Coromandel Coast, India, c.1775. The Indian method of applying designs on to cotton was complicated, and included the application of various coats of resist paste (in this case, beeswax) and mordants, alternated with dippings into madder red or indigo blue dyebaths, and a final direct application of yellow dye where needed. Presented by Marianne Pfeiffer, Iziko Soc Hist. L67/153

It was not an insignificant undertaking. I needed to be on-site in Cape Town. Fortunately I did not need to ship all my equipment as Cine Photo Tools, from whom we purchase our Broncolor lights, was just around the corner and was able to provide the lights, stands and backdrops I needed. It also involved quite a team of Iziko staff to organise ahead of time and assist with bringing the materials to me in the Slave Lodge. The Iziko staff also had to assist with metadata post shoot. Fortunately I knew Paul Tichmann from his time at the Luthuli Museum here in KZN and I knew Tessa Davids from her time at Western Cape Museum Services with whom we had worked to do a digitisation project some years ago. It also took a team from the Google Cultural Institute itself, particularly in getting the project going and when it came to getting the content online and curated online.

Jacket and trousers. Made and purchased in Johannesburg, Gauteng, 2009. Fabrics include Da Gama 'Three Leopards' and 'Six Star Toto.' Juliette Leeb-du Toit Collection, Iziko Soc Hist. 38

Jacket and trousers. Made and purchased in Johannesburg, Gauteng, 2009. Fabrics include Da Gama ‘Three Leopards’ and ‘Six Star Toto.’ Juliette Leeb-du Toit Collection, Iziko Soc Hist. 38

It also involved significant creativity to capture a range of materials in a way that would showcase the range and quality of the collection on the Google Arts & Culture digital platform. As it turned out it was not just the isiShweshwe collection, but we ended up capturing aspects of four distinct cultural collections. Fortunately I had help from photographer and digital curation student Sarah Schäfer who had been referred by Google. It was a pleasure to work with someone so enthusiastic.

Dress of Indian chintz on loan from Iziko Museums of Cape Town in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam as part of their Goede Hoop: South Africa and The Netherlands from 1600 exhibition. Soon after I captured the dress, it was shipped off to Amsterdam. It was wonderful to come across it while I was there in May at a conference at the Rijksmuseum.

Dress of Indian chintz on loan from Iziko Museums of Cape Town in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam as part of their Goede Hoop: South Africa and The Netherlands from 1600 exhibition. Soon after I captured the dress, it was shipped off to Amsterdam. It was wonderful to come across it while I was there in May at a conference at the Rijksmuseum.

In the end the hard work all paid off. The four collections have been curated in four exhibits as part of the wider We Wear Culture project. And the client was thrilled. When she received the pictures Agata Wieczorowska, Cultural Institute Coordinator, Google Cultural Institute said: “I absolutely loved the pictures! From the artistic point of view, the pictures are amazing and the artifacts themselves are really unique!” So that was a plus for both our work and for Iziko’s work in collecting and curating the material. And our Phase One IQ3 100 digital sensor with XF Camera and Broncolor lights produced outstanding results. Agata was blown away by how much detail was in the full size images. And the wonderful thing is that you can take a look yourself and zoom right in to that fine detail (by clicking on the links below, and then as you scroll through by double clicking on the images):

Fabric, Fashion and Identity – The Story of IsiShweshwe
Kalahari Skin Bags
Tobacco Bags from the Eastern Cape
Beadwork from Southern Africa

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In January 2017 I spent an afternoon at the Rijksmuseum with Duncan Bull, Cecile van der Harten and Peter Gorgels. A South African who has lived in The Netherlands for some decades, Duncan is heading up the curation of the Robert Jacob Gordon Collection as part of the Goede Hoop: South Africa and The Netherlands from 1600 exhibition that opened on February 17. Cecile is the Head of the Image Department at the Rijksmuseum and gave me a personal tour of the museum’s digitization facilities. And Peter manages the Rijksmuseum’s digital communication.

I was invited to meet with Duncan and Cecile because Africa Media Online had digitized the document collection of the Robert Jacob Gordon Collection for The Brenthurst Library in Johannesburg. Robert Jacob Gordon was the last Dutch governor of the Cape Colony and The Brenthurst Library have his writings as part of their collection whilst the Rijksmuseum hold his sketches, maps and paintings. Digitising the collections held at both institutions enabled the possibility of presenting the complete collection for the first time.

A print screen of the front page of Rijksmuseum's Robert Jacob Gordon Collection website showing one of the Brenthurst Library's Gordon Collection manuscripts that Africa Media Online digitised

A print screen of the front page of Rijksmuseum’s Robert Jacob Gordon Collection website showing one of the Brenthurst Library’s Gordon Collection manuscripts that Africa Media Online digitised

Duncan emailed me recently to alert me to the fact that they have just launched the Robert Jacob Gordon Collection website that brings together both the manuscript and the artworks collections. They really have done a beautiful job of enabling one to get a close look at items in the collection. If you click on the Writings and Drawings section you can get a really close up view of the materials from the Brenthurst Library that we digitised. When he received the images Duncan emailed to say, “Thank you very much indeed for the excellent work you did scanning the Brenthurst MSS. They are exactly what we wanted, and are an enormous help.” And his colleague, Geoffrey Badenhorst, also of South African extraction, emailed to say, “It must have been an immense task to digitalising all the manuscripts. We are ever so pleased with the result.” That response was certainly very satisfying, meeting the expectations of an institution World-reknowned for its exacting standards in the digitisation area.

I spent time with Cecile looking at the technology the Rijksmuseum is using to capture artifacts and rare manuscripts. It confirmed to me that we have pursued the right course in shifting across from scanners to medium format digital cameras. They too use Broncolor lights but went the Hasselblad camera and digital back at a time when Phase One had not started to develop systems specifically for the digitisation of heritage collections. Staff Photographer Henni van Beek showed me the specialised copy table that they had manufactured for the digitisation of rare books and I got to see a number of their studios digitising various types of artifacts. The image department is at the heart of the Rijksmuseum’s open access strategy. By 2020 they hope to have digitised 1.1 million artworks!

Cecile van der Harten Head of the Image Department at the Rijksmuseum (left) in one of the studios with Staff Photographer Henni van Beek demonstrating the capture of a rare manuscript

Cecile van der Harten Head of the Image Department at the Rijksmuseum (left) in one of the studios with Staff Photographer Henni van Beek (at the computer on the right) with their setup to capture rare manuscripts

Peter Gorgels has overseen the development of the Rijksmuseum’s award-winning website. “We only have 8,000 artworks on display at the museum, yet we have 1.1 million artworks in storage. So digitization is a way to create accessibility,” he said.

Peter and his department created the concept of the Rijksstudio where over 100,000 images of artworks from the museum are made available in high resolution (2,500 pixels x 2,500 pixels) for download and for re-use. “In the past, we were really high-brow and stuffy”, Peter said. The museum spent some years doing a complete renovation and so had a lot of time to digitise their collections. “When we reopened we wanted to make our collections really accessible.”

“The collections belongs to everyone,” he said, “The artworks become ambassadors for the museum. Making them open access is in line with the mission of the museum.” The artworks are all out-of-copyright works and the museum runs an open access policy where they believe that the public have the right to access the artworks and create derivative works.

“In the first year that we launched Rijksstudio use of the images was restricted to private use. We then discovered that the profit from selling images was very little. So then we decided to open it up completely fitting in with the thinking of Creative Commons and Wikkicommons. We found the line between commercial and non-commercial is very thin so in the end we went for simplicity. It is actually hard work to make money from licensing and so it was easier just to make it all open.” Peter and his team run a competition every year called the Rijksstudio Award where designers are encouraged to make creative derivative works inspired by works presented on the Rijksstudio. “That people can recreate and use the artworks for commercial use makes them relevant for now. We do, however, ask for credit and people are not allowed to use Rijksmuseum logo because brand value is very high. The value of the digital images, on the other hand, is low.”

Even the architecture of the revamped Rijksmuseum speaks of openness, accessibility and simplicity, values they have carried through to all of their interactions with the public, including their online presence. This area including their coffee shop and bookshop is open to the public without a ticket

Even the architecture of the revamped Rijksmuseum speaks of openness, accessibility and simplicity, values they have carried through to all of their interactions with the public, including their online presence. This area including their coffee shop and bookshop is open to the public without a ticket

Within the Rijksstudio website, users can curate their own collections, much like on Pinterest and share them across social media. Users can even upload the derivative works they may have created. Certainly, the strategy seems to have worked. “The number of visitors greatly increased,” said Peter. He admits, however, “It is hard to tell if people who are coming to the website also come through the door. The average number of visitors per day since we reopened has doubled.”

“A lot of people are afraid to make their collections available online thinking that people won’t come back to the museum, but the opposite has happened. Seeing the real art is different to seeing it online. A museum visit is also a social thing.”

“When we launched it there was an immediate success that we did not expect. Now after four years later we are still being invited to give lectures to other museums and institutions around the world. This has grown our global brand significantly.”

The Rijksmuseum does have significant public funding, a vast collection and a strong global brand which together has created a “perfect storm” of bringing vast numbers of visitors through their doors. They are also situated in a city with other globally significant museums. Amazingly, the strategy of the relaunched Rijksmuseum has had an amazing impact on the whole city. “The number of tourists in Amsterdam as a whole has increased and housing prices have gone up dramatically. It has been acknowledged that the new golden age of Amsterdam started with the launch of the new Rijksmuseum.” Visitor numbers at the Van Gogh Museum in the same area of the city have also doubled.

The splash page of the Rijksmuseum website showcasing the new "Goede Hoop: South Africa and the Netherlands from 1600" exhibition. The Rijksmuseum website is purposefully picture driven with large pictures that show close detail

The splash page of the Rijksmuseum website showcasing the new “Goede Hoop: South Africa and the Netherlands from 1600″ exhibition. The Rijksmuseum website is purposefully picture driven with large pictures that show close detail

While this strategy has been a wonderful success for the Rijksmuseum and for Amsterdam as a whole, it does not necessarily translate directly to smaller institutions that need to create income streams to survive. At the CEPIC Congress last year I heard Jeff Cowton of the Wordsworth Trust Museum in the UK speak alongside Sandra Powlette of the British Library about their need to license material as a small museum acknowledging their differing circumstance to a large publically funded institution such as the British Library. As Cecile van der Harten said to me at the Rijksmuseum when I asked her about them giving away the high-resolution images of their artworks, “Of course, we can afford it!”

Here is an interview with Peter covering much of what we spoke about when I visited him.

In the first half of 2016, Africa Media Online took delivery of our first InoTec Scamax machine. As an organization we specialize in helping historic or archival organizations build digital collections. In our work, we have often come across collections where there is a large volume of material (read kilometers of shelving in some cases). Normally such volume would be captured using a high-speed form-feed scanner. But the collections we work with are historic and archival and so by their nature they contain a mix of material including fragile material, such as old letters and telegrams that risk being damaged if sent through a form-feed scanner. While there are many form-feed scanners on the market, many of which can do hundreds of pages a minute, few are gentle enough to allow us to be confident to use with irreplaceable archival materials. For over a decade now clients have entrusted rare, fragile and often irreplaceable material to our care. We have been determined not to betray that trust and have invested in systems that ensure we do not damage materials as far as it depends on us. So we avoided looking at high-speed scanners not believing any were up to the task of dealing with the materials we need to deal with.

Africa Media Online team members, Nkanyiso Ngcobo and Francis Ntsikithi work as a team on the Inotec Scamax machine. The machine operates differently to the standard form feed scanners. It is belt driven, which makes it very gentle on aged paper

Africa Media Online team members, Nkanyiso Ngcobo and Francis Ntsikithi work as a team on the Inotec Scamax machine. The machine operates differently to the standard form feed scanners. It is belt driven, which makes it very gentle on aged paper

That changed, however, when Grant Stott of First Coast Technologies introduced me to the Scamax machine at an ICADLA Conference at Wits. Scamax is manufactured by German company InoTec and true to the German reputation for high-quality engineering, the Scamax machines are not only incredibly robust and therefore long-lasting, but they use a unique belt-driven technology that is wonderfully gentle on pages. It is also surprisingly versatile managing the widely mixed materials in terms of paper quality and size that is par for the course in an archival collection. I did my homework, researching a number of leading high-speed systems, but I kept coming back to the Scamax as the only real contender for the kind of work we do.

Scamax has a reputation of being the “Rolls Royce” of form-feed scanners and it carries a price tag to match, so we have had to wait a number of years for a project to come along that was large enough to merit the investment. That project arrived for us when a further phase of the digitization of the ANC Archives at the University of Fort Hare in Alice was approved. Our team has been on-site in Alice for over a year now and is digitizing over 2,500 pages a day. In high-speed scanning terms, that is not huge volume, but we are not simply dealing with plain paper, but with a complex archive of very mixed materials. So that is a really good pace.

Africa Media Online team member, Steven Ntsikithi, prepares a folder of items dividing various items into one of three workflows - rare and fragile manuscripts are captured by an overhead camera, bound manuscripts by a v-cradle capture device, and plain paper by the Scamax machine

Africa Media Online team member, Steven Ntsikithi, prepares a folder of items dividing various items into one of three workflows – rare and fragile manuscripts are captured by an overhead camera, bound manuscripts by a v-cradle capture device, and plain paper by the Scamax machine

Preparing the collection for digitization has been no small task. When we started the project no one really knew the number of pages in the archive because the collection had only been itemized down to the folder level and not the item level. To prepare it for digestion, however, we had to undertake the enormous task of creating an inventory of the archive down to the item level, assigning an accession number to each item, removing duplicates in the process, and then arranging each folder into items that will go through the Scamax machine, bound items that need to go through a V-Cradle capture device, and very fragile or unusual items that need to be captured by an overhead camera. In undertaking this task over the past year we have discovered that what we thought would be an archive of 840,000 pages is actually an archive of over 1.9 million pages!

By the time the project ends we expect to have captured over 1.4 million archival pages on the Scamax machine so its robustness and gentleness will have been fully put to the test. With close to 450,000 pages captured to date – so far, so good!

Kingswood College is the first school in Africa to benefit from Africa Media Online’s 100 Megapixel Phase One digital camera. The Africa Media Online team was on site at Kingswood College in Grahamstown for two weeks in June 2016 to capture over 4,700 photographic prints, paintings and building plans. A significant number of the photographic prints were framed prints hanging on the walls of the school. Kingswood provided a team of assistants to remove the pictures from the walls all around the school and transport them to the museum where they were captured using our Alpa 12 FPS technical camera together with the Phase One IQ3 100 digital sensor.

The team loading framed prints onto the table beneath our digitization rig in the Kingswood College Museum

The team loading framed prints onto the table beneath our digitization rig in the Kingswood College Museum

Kingswood College suffered a fire in one of its main buildings some years ago and so are highly aware of the risk of losing the irreplaceable historic record contained in the historic photographs spread around the school and gathered in the school Museum. If you lose such history, a significant element of the value of the perceived value of such an institution is lost which has significant implications for the marketability of the school to say nothing of the intrinsic value of preserving the record of the thousands of scholars and staff that have passed through the school gates since its founding in 1894. With this in mind, Kingswood College’s Business Manager, Steve Gardner, was insistent from the start of the process of looking at the digitisation of the school’s heritage, that the digitisation of the school’s photographs and the building plans were of the highest priority.

The Alpa 12 FPS camera with a Rodenstock lens and Phase One IQ3 100 digital back suspended on our digitization rig above a framed print

The Alpa 12 FPS camera with a Rodenstock lens and Phase One IQ3 100 digital back suspended on our digitization rig above a framed print

The Phase One digital back with the Alpa camera made the rapid capture of large paintings, plans, framed photographs and loose photographic prints all possible. We had given ourselves two weeks to have the task done and although we had to work to midnight on the final evening, we managed to capture every framed print in the school along with all their plans, all the large paintings of their headmasters and over 1,000 loose prints. In fact over 1,000 loose prints were all captured in the last 12 hours. That just would not have been possible if we were still operating on the scanner technology that we used to work with.

Our Broncolor lights were set at 45% to the glass. This together with the high ceiling in the Museum meant we were able to avoid reflections

Our Broncolor lights were set at 45% to the glass. This together with the high ceiling in the Museum meant we were able to avoid reflections

We were somewhat concerned about the quality we would be able to achieve having to shoot the framed prints through the frames. It just was not economically viable for Kingswood College to have thousands of photographs, mostly with associated printed names, unmounted. So the decision was made to simply capture them as they are. With that in mind, as we began to capture, what was thrilling was to see the quality of capture that we were able to achieve, even through the glass of the frames. Having our Broncolor lights at the right angle and the height of the museum ceiling meant we got almost no reflection in the glass. The camera captures in full 16-bit per colour channel and the specially designed Rodenstock lenses meant there is no need to correct for lens distortion at all. It was only when there was dust or moisture behind the glass that we could not get brilliant quality out of an image. Even in those cases, however, we were often able to unmount the images and reshoot it. For the vast majority, though, we were able to simply clean the outside of the glass and shoot them as they were.

Timothy Zuma and I with Kingswood College Archivist, Shirley Fletcher and her team of assistants at a tea Shirley organized for us to say thank you on the last day of capture

Timothy Zuma and I with Kingswood College Archivist, Shirley Fletcher and her team of assistants at a tea Shirley organized for us to say thank you on the last day of capture

As with most projects, the capture of the images was the smaller part of the task. The greater task, which has taken many months, has been the capture of all the associated metadata with each image. For thousands of images it meant capturing literally every name of every person in a team photograph or a photograph of the school staff or school band. Although we harnessed Optical Character Recognition (OCR) where we could, it was still a mammoth undertaking, one which we have only completed recently. Yet for a school like Kingswood College, that wants to engage their past pupils, it is absolutely essential, because it means an old boy or old girl can go on to the school’s digital archive, search for their name and every image with them in it will be returned in the search results – a powerful means of engaging interest from past pupils. And it is the engagement of past pupils that is so often the key to future developments in any school.

In May 2016 I was in Johannesburg to pick up the first 100 Megapixel digital camera back in Africa from Brett May, Phase One’s representative here in Africa. We had purchased the Phase One XF camera with the IQ3 80 Megapixel back toward the end of 2015 and less than a month later Phase One announced the launch of the IQ3 100 Megapixel back. Phase One had a backlog of orders for the IQ3 80 Megapixel and so when delivering our XF camera, they delivered it with a stand in IQ2 80 Megapixel back. So we had not even received the back we had ordered by the time the new back was announced. Not to be outdone, I got in touch with Brett to enquire what would it take to take delivery of a IQ3 100 Megapixel rather than the 80 Megapixel we ordered. Brett worked hard to get a good deal on the upgrade for us and so in May we did the swap, the IQ2 80 Megapixel for the first IQ3 100 Megapixel in Africa.

Opening the box - the Phase One IQ 100 Megapixel digital back arrives at our offices in Pietermaritzburg.

Opening the box – the Phase One IQ 100 Megapixel digital back arrives at our offices in Pietermaritzburg. A first in Africa!

So what can 100 Megapixels contribute to the service we can provide at Africa Media Online? Well, a single shot from the camera in 16 bit produces a 600 MB file. That is almost the size of a CD per shot. And this is on a medium format camera system which already significantly outplays 35mm camera systems in the capture of fine detail. Our use of the camera so far, in a range of projects, has given us a taste of the incredible detail that can be captured. It has to be seen to be believed really and we hope to showcase what it can do in future posts. We now have the capacity to fully conform to Metamorfoze Strict and FADGI 4-Star standards, two standards for colour accurate digital capture of heritage resources. In the case of Metamorfoze, we can now capture at Metamorfoze strict at significantly larger than 2AO size. The camera also takes the new CMOS technology to a level that has never been seen before in a commercially available camera. CMOS technology has some significant advantages over the older CCD technology, particularly in allowing less noise at higher ISO. The back also allows of an industry leading 15-stops of dynamic range.

In terms of serving our clients in capturing natural and cultural heritage collections, two further significant features are, firstly, unlike 35 mm equivalents, the back captures in full 16-bit per colour channel giving incredible subtlety in colour rendering, and secondly, the latest firmware update enables an electronic shutter on the camera which means that captures can be made without any moving parts. That is highly significant for the capture of very fine detail in natural and cultural heritage collections such as when focus stacking. The camera has been used in many and varied projects over the past 9 months and still it amazes me every time I zoom into the fine detail of a heritage object or a natural history specimen.

The 80th South African Museums Association (SAMA) Conference took place in Pretoria from November 1 – 3, 2016. It was a privilege to be there and witness the commitment and dedication of so many museums professionals to their profession and their community. At the banquet on the final evening, all surviving Presidents of SAMA were invited to attend and be part of blowing out the candles on the 80th birthday cake in celebration of a significant achievement.

Here is a gallery of pictures that were taken at the conference which you are free to download free of charge for your own use or for use by your museum: SAMA National Conference 2016.

Cutting the SAMA 80th Birthday cake. South African Museums Association (SAMA) National Conference 2016 was held at Diep in Die Berg in the East of Pretoria from November 1-3, 2016 and included visits to Freedom Park, Fort Schanskop, Maropeng and the Cullinan Diamond Tour. The event also marked the 80th anniversary of SAMA and all surviving past presidents were invited to the banquet on the closing night as part of the celebration.

Cutting the SAMA 80th Birthday cake. South African Museums Association (SAMA) National Conference 2016 was held at Diep in Die Berg in the East of Pretoria from November 1-3, 2016 and included visits to Freedom Park, Fort Schanskop, Maropeng and the Cullinan Diamond Tour. The event also marked the 80th anniversary of SAMA and all surviving past presidents were invited to the banquet on the closing night as part of the celebration.

One paper presented at the conference that really struck a cord with me was by Bonginkosi “Rock” Zuma who argued eloquently that South Africa should aim at being an intercultural society rather than a multicultural society. This is the right kind of thinking for nation building – forging new identities in the wake of dealing with the inequalities of the past and seeking to build a united society where we are on the road to realising the ideals contained in the Freedom Charter. There was significant discussion at the conference about the role of Museums in this nation building, helping our people to deal with the past and move on into the future as a united people. Certainly, museums, along with the Media, are powerful institutions in this process if the mandate is taken seriously.

On the “Day of Reconciliation,” (December 16) I was listening to a debate on SAfm. It was a discussion about race relations in South Africa. The question was asked by one caller: “Where are the White people who are reaching out to their Black neighbours?” He went on to say he personally knows of no one, and he does not see any examples in the media. I thought to myself, how tragic. It is tragic on two accounts. Firstly because it is true, so many in South Africa can live their whole lives without having a positive interaction with a White person. And secondly, because those White people who do reach out to others are indeed hidden.

Bonginkosi "Rock" Zuma receiving an award at the SAMA Conference banquet from Riana Mulder.

Bonginkosi “Rock” Zuma receiving an award at the SAMA Conference banquet from Riana Mulder.

I suspect that what Bonginkosi was saying plays a significant role in why the caller had never experienced a really positive interaction with a White person in South Africa. Apart from the overtly racist White South Africans, who are given high visibility in the media, whenever they are exposed, in my experience the vast majority of White South Africans, particularly middle and upper-class English-speaking White South Africans, are happy to pursue the vision of a multicultural society where different groups exist side by side, interacting at the points of necessity, such as in the marketplace, as long as the interaction does not require us to change in any way. We are happy for people of other race groups or cultures to be included in our social swirl as long as the person went to the “right” school or tertiary institution, earns the “right” level of income, and knows how to conform to the social mores of our clique. In other words, you can become one of us if you have what we have and behave like we do. If you are not part of our circle the best of us will interact with you as poor souls who need a leg up in some way, and the worst of us will simply use you as means to the goal of accumulating as much wealth as we can to increase our standing among our peers in our social class!

His T-Shirt says it all! Mlungisi Shangase from the Durban Local History Museums at the end of a tour of Freedom Park as part of the South African Museums Association (SAMA) National Conference 2016 was held at Diep in Die Berg in the East of Pretoria from November 1-3, 2016.

The T-Shirt says it all! Mlungisi Shangase from the Durban Local History Museums at the end of a tour of Freedom Park as part of the South African Museums Association (SAMA) National Conference 2016 was held at Diep in Die Berg in the East of Pretoria from November 1-3, 2016.

Of course as with the middle class the World over, for this group, this is less a matter of race than a matter of class.  In fact, quite often, someone of the same race group, who is not of the same class, is even less acceptable than someone from another race group who is of a different class. The latter can become a curiosity, the former has no redeeming attributes! Upwardly mobile South Africans of all races understand this. I meet as many White South Africans making great sacrifices to get their children into leading private schools (the more expensive the more status) as I do Black South Africans. Belonging in the global middle class is about being associated with institutions of prestige and immersion into the “acceptable culture” those institutions nurture. Wealth alone and the right address will not buy you acceptability, and with acceptability, the wealth of opportunities that come with it!

Fort Schanskop beside the Voortrekker Monument was the venue for one of the outings at the SAMA Conference 2017. The fort was built as part of a series of forts to defend Pretoria after the Jameson Raid. For centuries now, South Africa has been a contested space, particularly over access to land and mineral resources. Greed has lain at the heart of most of South Africa's historic conflicts, and it is no less so today.

Fort Schanskop beside the Voortrekker Monument was the venue for one of the outings at the SAMA Conference 2017. The fort was built as part of a series of forts to defend Pretoria after the Jameson Raid. For centuries now, South Africa has been a contested space, particularly over access to land and mineral resources. Greed has lain at the heart of most of South Africa’s historic conflicts, and it is no less so today.

So perhaps we need to push Bonginkosi’s interculturalism further and speak about interclassism. I hardly have to be a prophet to predict that the vision of an intercultural and interclass society where members of different cultures and class groups interact as equals and are willing to change and grow toward one another, sharing resources and opportunities and forging a new identity that is shared to a greater or lesser extend, will be perceived as greatly threatening to middle and upper class South Africans of any colour. For many such privileged people in this country, if talk goes in that direction, they will leave… because they can… and because they honestly believe it has been their hard work and skill that has enabled them to accumulate the wealth they have. They tend to overlook the fact that for many of them the looting and plundering of colonialism, apartheid (and to a not insignificant degree in the post-apartheid era) has set them up for the privilege they enjoy.

You do not have to study news reports on the new political elite for long to discover that protecting wealth and privilege is not behaviour unique to Whites. Of course, those who are “in” are not “in” on the basis of their school tie, but on the basis of their struggle credentials. As with any elite, the World over, they too can be seen to change the rules to maintain their privilege and power.

One of the groups of young people from all over South Africa and other parts of the World with whom we played "The Power Game" as part of a programme called the Frontier Year Project.

One of the groups of young people from all over South Africa and other parts of the World with whom we played “The Power Game” as part of a programme called the Frontier Year Project.

African Enterprise once developed a game that we used to play with students we were teaching. The “Power Game” was a trading game where participants traded imaginary resources. After the first round, they were divided into three groups according to the number of resources accumulated, Group 1 being those who had accumulated most, Group 2, those who had accumulated less and Group 3 those who had accumulated the least. Another round was played and the groups reshuffled again based on the results. Then in Round 3, Group 1 was given the ability to change the rules of the game. Without fail, every year that we played the game, we saw the same patterns emerging no matter the background or culture of the students. Group 1 would change the rules to maintain their position of privilege and power. Group 2 would seek to club together to get one of their number to succeed in breaking into Group 1 to bring reform to the rules. Of course, when that person got there they could not change the rules and more often than not they were coopted into the “winning” attitude of Group 1. And Group 3… well Group 3 gave up, or began to protest and refuse to engage in the game. Welcome to the inherent power relations within the global economy, and the South African economy in particular. Only, here in South Africa, it is accentuated because the groups are arranged along racial lines. No wonder 23 years after the end of apartheid nothing much has changed. And on the whole Group 1 will see no need for change and will wonder what Group 3 – students, the poor and the workers – are going on about!

Children from Mseki Primary School in Guguletu township in Cape Town on a "rights of passage" weekend in the mountains above Kleinmond. My wife, Rosanne, taught at the school for three years. The majority of children had no fathers and this "rights of passage" weekend was part of a number of interventions. We still maintain contact with some of her pupils 20 years on.

Children from Mseki Primary School in Guguletu township in Cape Town on a “rights of passage” weekend in the mountains above Kleinmond. My wife, Rosanne, taught at the school for three years. The majority of children had no fathers and this “rights of passage” weekend was part of a number of interventions. We still maintain contact with some of her pupils 20 years on.

That is not the end of the story, however. Every now and then, while playing the Power Game with students, we came across a student who had made it into Group 1 who fought hard to change things. Mostly they quickly found themselves sidelined and dropped into Group 2 and even Group 3, but on occasion, they made an impact in some way or another.

This brings me to the second reason the SAfm caller’s testimony of not knowing of one case in his life or in the media where a White person reached out to a Black person is tragic, is because all over this country there are many who are doing so, often at great cost to themselves. And this is not just about White people reaching out to Black people but people of any colour not being content to keep the life of privilege to themselves, but being willing to sacrifice to see others uplifted.

Shareholder in Africa Media Online, Rouen Bruni, is a homeopath who started an organization providing care for families infected and affected by HIV/AIDS in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands.

Shareholder in Africa Media Online, Rouen Bruni, is a homeopath who started an organization providing care for families infected and affected by HIV/AIDS in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands.

I know many of these people. People who stood against apartheid at great cost to themselves, even when there was no incentive to do so – because they were actually privileged by it, yet they fought against it because they believed it to be unjust – and people who in the post-apartheid era have stood for justice, particularly for the disenfranchised and the vulnerable.

I once worked with Charlie Bester who went to prison for a number of years because he refused to take up arms against fellow South Africans and serve in the SADF in what he believed was an unjust war. Angela Kemm worked for years in solidarity with a squatter community in KTC. Together, their effort eventually won the Tambo Square community land and houses in the buffer zone between Mannenberg and Gugulethu in Cape Town, a community now called Tambo Village. Piet Dreyer gathered over 50 churches in Pietermaritzburg in the early 1990s to respond to the refugee crisis created by the Seven Day War between Inkatha and ANC in the Edendale Valley. Their feeding scheme was eventually feeding 40,000 people a week in the greater Pietermarizburg area and the organisation, Project Gateway continues to this day to provide job skills development and access to markets for peri-urban communities.

Project Gateway is resident in the Old Prison in Pietermaritzburg. For over two decades it has played a pivotal role in the city in mobilizing churches, businesses and community organizations on behalf of vulnerable communities in and around the city.

Project Gateway is resident in the Old Prison in Pietermaritzburg. For over two decades it has played a pivotal role in the city in mobilizing churches, businesses and community organizations on behalf of vulnerable communities in and around the city.

I am a trustee of an organisation founded by Benson Okyere-Manu, a Ghanaian. He pioneered Community Care Project to assist those affected and infected by HIV/AIDS working with tens of thousands of young people in KwaZulu-Natal. Suzannah Farr started an organistion called Generation of Leaders Discovered (GOLD) to help vulnerable youth reach their potential. Annette Ntombiyenkosi Muchache (nee Landman) from a conservative Afrikaans Northern Transvaal farming family left the SADF to work among the rural poor in Northern KZN and then in southern Mozambique adopting several children of various colours, starting three schools and an orphanage for children affected by the war in Mozambique and eventually marrying a Shangane man. Together with Bridget Walters she started Nansindlela Primary School in Ingwavuma which over the decades attracted many teachers who had graduated from top universities, to teach in that rural community. Every year the top 50 places in the Dusi Canoe Marathon are dominated by young men from the Valley of a Thousand Hills who are beneficiaries of Martin Dreyer’s efforts to raise up World class athletes in the Change a Life Academy.

And this is to say nothing of the many, many families I know who have adopted children across the colour bar. The point is that South Africa is full of many amazing people of all colours who are doing exceptional things, often at great cost to themselves, to build a humane society in which all South Africans are treated with dignity and respect as articulated in the Freedom Charter. It is true, these stories seldom make the headlines – good news seldom does! A politician mouthing off in a divisive way, is far more emotive, and so sells more newspapers than a middle-aged couple from your community who has decided to adopt a child, found a few days earlier in a pit latrine, as their very own – giving two to three decades of their life and the resources to match to nurturing the child. Or the grandmother with meager resources who dedicates what should be her retirement years to raising her grandchildren because the parents are deceased or absent.

I documented the work of my father, Dr JV Larsen MBchB (UCT) F.R.C.O.G. in his final week working at Eshowe hospital having worked as an obstetrician and gynaecologist for 40 years among rural women. In order to ensure an integrated health care referral system for pregnant mothers in Zululand, he chose to work part time for KwaZulu Health and part time for Natal Provincial Administration. While that decision, along with such sacrifices by his colleagues, saved the lives of literally hundreds of women and babies, (the infant mortality rate in the region dropped dramatically over the decades of their service), it came at a personal cost - part-time staff do not get pensions like their full-time colleagues - a cost he knew about at the time, yet was prepared to pay for the sake of others! In his retirement he began to work at the Howick AIDS Clinic for a number of years. Now, however, in spite of being in his mid-70s he is back bringing his half-century of experience to working as a consulting obstetrician in rural clinics in the KZN Midlands.

I documented the work of my father, Dr JV Larsen MBchB (UCT) F.R.C.O.G. in his final week at Eshowe hospital having worked as an obstetrician and gynecologist for 40 years among rural women. In order to ensure an integrated health care referral system for pregnant mothers in Zululand, he chose to work part time for KwaZulu Health and part time for Natal Provincial Administration. While that decision, along with such sacrifices by his colleagues, saved the lives of literally hundreds of women and babies, (the infant mortality rate in the region dropped dramatically over the decades of their service), it came at a personal cost – part-time staff do not get pensions like their full-time colleagues – a cost he knew about at the time, yet was prepared to pay for the sake of others! In his retirement, to sustain himself and my mother, he began to work at the Howick AIDS Clinic for a number of years. Now, however, in spite of being in his mid-70s, he is back bringing his half-century of experience to working as a consulting obstetrician in rural clinics in the KZN Midlands.

These, however, are the ordinary heroes among us who are daily living out the promise of the new South Africa. Certainly, the media and the heritage community, particularly museums, have a significant role to play in highlighting these stories as an inspiration to us all, stories gathered from the tens of thousands of South Africans of all colours who have not stopped short at multiculturalism, but have pressed on to the greater goal of interculturalism and even interclassism.

The Forum for School Museums and Archives (FSMA) will be holding its 2nd National Conference at St Stithians College in Johannesburg on Saturday February 26. The conference starts with a cocktail party at 6 pm on Friday February 25 and there is the option of a tour to Soweto and Johannesburg on Sunday February 27, but the real business happens all Saturday with a conference dinner in the evening.

I will be presenting a workshop in one of the afternoon sessions on Managing your Born Digital files: from capture to digital archive aimed at helping school archivists to manage the overwhelming plethora of digital files that are being gathered by schools.

The programme, put together by Robyn Gruijters, archivist at Michaelhouse, promises to be varied and engaging. Nic Wolpe from the Lilliesleaf Trust will be the keynote speaker. Although it is in its infancy, the FSMA now has chapters in a number of provinces in South Africa and is playing a vital role in supporting the critical work of school museum curators and archivists, who play a critical role in the life of any school, but whose contribution is so often undervalued by the powers that be.

Click here to download the registration form and conference programme.

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