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Who Tells Your Story? Duncan Village is a place with a rich and unique story

South Africa is a cemetery of untold stories and many more dying to be told. In the waiting room of our consciousness are under financed, mismanaged or completely ignored institutions, mostly custodians of black history.

Coincidentally, while in conversation with Qukezwa Xinwa (Programme Manager at Duncan Village Heritage Museum), a friend suggested I listen to The Roots featuring Common – Who tells your story, a song taken from the Hamilton, a Broadway musical based on Alexander Hamilton (Caribbean born American statesman). The song speaks of how we do not control how history remembers us, we have no say on how our stories are told after we have perished.

Common raps: “Memories divided by perception. Will it be water for chocolate or Resurrection? The path to perfection is rarely achieved.”

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This speaks to his anxiety of how our posthumous stories are often not accurate but are the perceptions and experiences of those who tell our story.

Winston Churchill said: “history is told by the victors.”

Please, exercise patience while I tie these scattered thoughts together.

Duncan Village Heritage Museum stands as an antithesis to the misappropriation of black history. Established and commanded by strong black women; they are taking their story, owning and driving the narrative. Both victor and narrator of the Duncan Village story. Their museum sees the past, embraces the now and looks to the future: “The museum will not only enshrine the rich history of Duncan Village Township but will also serve as an education, learning and development conduit for the public.”

Nompumelelo Tshaka-Nyikana, affectionately known as Sis’ Sporie, takes us through this amazing project. As Fela Kuti beautifully put it, “who no know go know”.

Zululand Press (ZP): Give us a brief background on Duncan Village.

Sis’ Sporie: Duncan village is a place with a rich and unique social history and has played a particularly significant role in the struggle against apartheid, being the epicenter of both the Defiance campaign in the 1950s and the township struggles of the 1980s. When the liberation movements were banned in the early 1960s, more political activists were sent to Robben Island from Duncan Village than any other township in South Africa.

According to the information recorded about Duncan Village, it is said that the township was founded in 1941 and was named after the then Governor of East London, Patrick Duncan, who oversaw the opening of what was called a “leasehold tenure area” in the East Bank location. The township was created to solve a housing crisis in East London during the late 1930s and early 1940s. The decision to establish Duncan Village was based on the recommendations of the Thornton Commission of 1937, which was put in place to solve overcrowding in East Bank, East London. The commission recommended the building of an entirely new location on a new site, the utilization of East Bank and that all the wood and iron dwellings in the East Bank be demolished and replaced with houses built “on town planning lines”.

The response of the East London Municipality to the commission’s recommendations was to build Duncan Village in 1941. By 1944, 628 houses had been completed in the new township, however, the wood and iron dwellings in the East Bank were not destroyed at the time. The new houses and old corrugated iron ones co-existed in Duncan Village for a number of years.

Life continued in Duncan Village among its inhabitants with activities typical and normal to township life. The township boasted and prided itself with excellence in sporting activities like boxing, tennis and swimming. There were resources for these sporting codes and some made use of these public amenities and resources. Duncan Village became rich in contemporary music too and produced musicians and seasoned artists. There was so much social life and vibrancy in the township both socially and politically.

Sadly, Duncan Village today is a shadow of its former self. It is violent, crime-ridden and poor. Above all that, it has lost its spirit and fervour and has become little more than a depressed, hyper-ghetto of poverty and misery. It is a great shame and tragedy, the post-apartheid years seem to have delivered so little for the residents of Duncan Village and its children don’t seem to know the beautiful history of the place. The icons, the legends and people of significance seem to have been forgotten and gone down with history.

ZP: What is the motivation behind the museum?

Sis’ Sporie: It is with this short background that this project was conceived and born, to remember, record, preserve and to celebrate the history of Duncan Village Township with pride and excellence. To instill proud citizenry among the youths and people of Duncan Village and remind them of the former glory of their township. It is to showcase what was with an objective to revive what is and put Duncan Village on the good books of South Africa and the world at large. Duncan Village Heritage Museum will indeed become a national key point as we tell the history of this once beautiful and vibrant township.

Duncan Village Heritage Museum is a Non Profit Company founded in 2018 by Nompumelelo Tshaka –Nyikana and her daughters Sihle and Lihle Nyikana. It was then registered in March 2020 in the Republic of South Africa in accordance with the laws governing the Companies Act, Act No. 71 0f 2008.

The museum will not only enshrine the rich history of Duncan Village Township but will also serve as an education, learning and development conduit for the public. Generations to come will not only depend on the internet to learn about the history of Duncan Village but will also have a physical monument where they can hear about it all.

ZP: Where exactly is the museum located?

Sis’ Sporie: The Museum is based in Duncan Village (corner Ndende/Kese and Mdaka Street), East London, South Africa, where it will position itself as one of the leading historical heritage and cultural storytellers of untold stories eKasi.

This site has been chosen for various reasons, including that it is easily accessible for all, large rooms are available and it has adequate toilets and it is fenced.

ZP: What activities are part of the museum?

Sis’ Sporie: Apart from retelling the accurate history and preserving the heritage of Duncan Village, our museum will seek to add value to the local economy. The “business hub” aspect of our concept seeks to address poverty and unemployment among other things. These business entities which have a skills training aspect will take place in the form of curio shops at the museum facility, and local shops and rustic restaurant in a designated area closer to the museum. We are currently in the process of having our first exhibition by the end of 2021.

Research/ Collection; Envisaged Heritage Sites/Museum Facility Outlined:
o History of DV and East London in general
o Causes of over population
o 1952 Uprising
o Political Heritage
o 1985 DV Massacre
o Religious Heritage
o Indigenous knowledge systems
o Duncan Village Legends
o Sports / Culture and Recreation(Sports excellence, Gangsterism, Lifestyle etc.
o Business structures (entrepreneurship) and popular streets
o Book of remembrance o Sontshi Home
o Hostel room/One room
o Rubusana Dr, Clements Kadalie, Gwentshe 1985 DV Massacre burial site
o Welsh High School
o Sax Manuel Old Shop
o Eziphunzana old shops
o Freedom Square
o Bantu Square
o Sister Eden Aquillan Memorial Centre

o Display Rooms
o Bookshop
o Coffee shop
o Boardroom/small conference centre
o Internet Café
o Music studio
o Curio shop
o The Look Out deck – view of E.L
o Gangster museum stories – container
o Wall of Fame for Living Legends
o Selfie Area for visitors (Memoir)

ZP: Who is behind the running of the museum?

Sis’ Sporie: Founder Nompumelelo “Sporie” Tshaka-Nyikana and the co-founders are Lihle Nyikana and Sihle Nyikana. As well as the Programme Manager, Qukeza Xinwa; Curator, Zodwa Skeyi-Tutani; Tourism Manager, Vuyokazi Madikane; Multimedia Manager, Cinga Sikwebu; Social Media Specialist, Sia Mausi; Events Manager, Sinawo Njimbana; and the Brand Specialist, Luthando Lucas.

ZP: From the initial plan what have you achieved, what remains and what are you looking to do in the near and far future?

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Sis’ Sporie: We have Already formed partnerships with:

• East London Museum (guidance, storing information etc.)
• Gompo Library
• Local Schools (debates, adoption of heritage sites)
• DSRAC (Events planning e.g. International Museum Day, Women’s Day Event)
• WSU Media School (project involves collaborating with 3rd WSU students in different media forms telling the African narrative in our unique voices, documenting stories etc.)
• 2021 Celebration of Duncan Village living legends such as Buelah Hashe of Mango Groove, Ndithini Mbali saxophonist, Siya Vabaza first female Soccer referee in South Africa and other local women

ZP: What does it do?

Sis’ Sporie: We have multiple projects on the pipeline that will be revealed on the outgoing course of the year. For any community development project to succeed, a project must have the support of its community, right from the start. Our community engagements:

  •  Training of community members to become to tour guides & ambassador of the community (achieved)
  • Documenting history
  • Collection of artefacts (achieved)
  • Create platform for storytelling and encourage debates
  • Community empowerment and skills development
  • Promote running clubs
  • Introduction of indigenous games and promote indoor & outdoor games
  • Encourage visit and cleaning of Heritage sites
  • Awareness of Tourism benefits such as job creation, increase education, community pride and promotion of entrepreneurial spirit.

We promote heritage in schools:

  •  Performances that will reflect to rich heritage of Eastbank and Wesbank (Dance, theatre, music)
  • Sports Activities E.g. Indigenous games, weight lifting etc.
  •  Cultural Festival
  • School projects based on rich heritage e.g. Research on street names
  • Outreach programmes on Tourism products
  •  Oral History projects
  • Debates
  •  Task to document DV Legends
  • Cleaning Campaign

ZP: Any significant friends of the museum, how are you maintaining finances, how can you be helped, who should be helping, what associations are you hoping to make?

Sis’ Sporie: We have recently established a board of directors from a group of people that are from Duncan Village who are highly competent and equally invested in seeing our community showcased in the correct light and more importantly who grew up here and will make sure that we as a team do make a marked difference. We are still looking for funding to re-do our museum, rebuild it in to the space that we feel can have the capacity to run the programmes we envision and also house exhibitions. Any organisations willing to fund even in-kind donations or be a friend of the museum is more than welcome to contact us to talk further on a way forward would be immensely appreciated.

We have also recently set up our website which is now live and will be updating all our social media pages and keeping them that way for ease of reference.

ZP: Who should be visiting the museum?

Sis’ Sporie: Everyone, most importantly the people of Duncan Village, young and old. South Africans and tourists from outside our borders. We will also be embarking on a journey to have virtual tours of our exhibitions for anyone in SA or anywhere around the world. Our history as Duncan village is rich, vast and deserves to be known and appreciated, to also have our present and future preserved and nurtured

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