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Examining the past, following his passion

- By Vivienne Rowland

Celebrating International Museum Day and his birthday on the dame day – 18 May – is no coincidence for Luvuyo Dondolo.

In fact, he believes that he was destined to follow his profession in the heritage field, and tackles his daily task with vigour and passion. He has since January 2015 been entrusted with the curatorship of the Adler Museum of Medicine at the Wits Faculty of Health Sciences, one of the many places of great interest to Witsies and the community at large.

Hailing from Queenstown in the Eastern Cape and celebrating his 40th birthday this year, Dondolo says that he has always been interested in history, arts, politics and policy formulation, and his academic path shows a fusion of all these fields.

“My first degree I completed at the University of the Western Cape, the place that my peers and I called the ‘intellectual home of the left’. I explored history and philosophy, because I have a deep interest in it. I believe that we are all a product of our past and the communities that produced us,” says Dondolo.

Having completed a BA degree in 1998, a BA (Honours) in History in 1999 and an MA in Public and Visual History in 2002 where his particular field of interest was public history with a focus on heritage resources management, museum management and tourism, Dondolo then set his sights abroad when he joined Emory University in Atlanta, USA in 2001.

This happened after he was awarded a scholarship by the Rockefeller Foundation and he used it to develop his knowledge on research, policy formulation, knowledge management, tourism management, cultural institutions, public history, museum management, public culture and heritage resources management.

During this period, he attended an in-service training programme at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC, primarily at the Centre for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, and Birmingham Civil Rights Institute in Alabama, USA.

Upon his return to South Africa he worked for the Human Science Research Council and the South African Heritage Resources Agency in Cape Town; and nine years later, in 2004, returned to his home province as the Heritage Manager and later Senior Manager for policy and research at the Amathole District Municipality. There his responsibilities included providing policy formulation and research guidance and advice to the institution.

“We looked into topics such as using our heritage for job creation and local economic development while safeguarding it. We initiated cultural tourism products and produced films based on the history and heritage of the area and enterprises,” says Dondolo. This was coupled with a unit to conduct policy resource and long term planning for the district, as well as a resource centre to tie in with the National Development Plan.

From October this year, when he receives his PhD in Museums, Heritage Studies and Social Transformation from the University of Fort Hare, he will be addressed as “Dr Dondolo”. His dissertation addresses social transformation and the production of post-apartheid memorial complexes in the Eastern Cape. He hopes to further publish some academic papers on topics such as heritage and museums, and local government, exploring political and administrative instability effect on service delivery.

“I love the academic environment, teaching and research, and that is one of the reasons why I joined Wits. I wanted to become less of an administrator and more of an academic. Through this position, I am combining these aims – I like to be challenged and engaged intellectually,” says Dondolo.

He has bright plans for the Adler Museum and looks forward to contributing to the expansion and progression of it.

“I think as a social scientist, I will contribute in bringing out that dimension of the Museum. Although it exists within the health care and public health framework, I will focus on the triangular approach – locate the medicine within the social, economic and political contexts. The medicine geography – history and evolution of medicine – cannot be presented and interpreted purely on medicine,” says Dondolo.

“One of the exhibitions will focus on developing space, planning and public health, because historically, the outbreak of disease such as the bubonic plague of 1901, the 1918 influenza outbreak and many others later, showed the subsequent influence of public health on spatial planning and apartheid spatial landscapes, which resulted in forced removals. It is because of this connection that Africans were seen as health hazards and were removed from the inner cities to the townships.”

“I think that it is important to examine and display such and other thematically exhibitions through the triangulation approach. We want to be the best on the continent and globally and seen as the knowledge hub and a leading museum that preserves, conserves and presents the medicine history and heritage,” says Dondolo.

We wish him good luck in his new position!

*International Museum Day is celebrated annually on 18 May, an occasion to raise awareness on how important museums are in the development of society. This year’s theme is Museums for a sustainable society. Read more.