CONSTRUCTION work at the Museum of African Liberation (MAL) commenced last week, marking the early steps towards the establishment of what is envisioned to be one of the grandest Pan-African complexes in the world.
Situated on the edge of Westlea suburb, just outside the Harare Central Business District, the 100-hectare property is set to be a palatial citadel of African chronicles.
The museum yard covers the expansive space between Bulawayo Road and Solomon Mujuru Drive (formerly Kirkman), between the National Sports Stadium and Westlea.
While the orginal idea was to have a museum where traditional clothing, weaponry, furniture and other ornaments used by revolutionary leaders in the continent`s quest for self-determination were fashioned, the idea behind the museum has since expanded in scope. The Covid-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc to the model of museums globally and the MAL was not spared.
The Institute of African Knowledge (Instak), which is supervising the establishment and operationalisation of the museum, had to shelve the idea of a stand-alone museum in light of the new realities.
They had to go back to the drawing board. They envisioned the utility complex taking a more family-friendly outlook. Now the complex will have a shopping mall, a restaurant, housing complex and a hotel among other utilities. Instak chief executive officer, Ambassador Kwame Muzavazi, said they decided to expand the scope of the facility so that it offers visitors a wider experience.
“We realised that the model of museums without supporting services and facilities is now unsustainable. In this Covid-19 era, 40 percent of the world`s museums have closed, which means that we had to come up with strategies.
“These include having other supporting facilities, which can allow the museum to have longevity regardless of the global economic conditions,” said Amb Muzavazi.
He added: “The facility will be family-friendly, with an amusement park and zoo. We believe that the facilities will be accommodating to the various needs of a family unit.”
The museum is an African Union-led project. President Mnangagwa presided over the museum’s ground breaking ceremony in December last year. The museum birth was witnessed by over 50 ambassadors from the continent and will document wars fought in Africa in its quest for self-governance. At the ground breaking ceremony, President Mnangagwa received the museum’s first artefacts.
He was handed National Hero and liberation war general Josiah Tongogara’s full military gear and pistol from the late general’s wife, Angeline. He was also given a television set from the late Roman Catholic priest, Father Emmanuel Ribeiro, dating back to 1962 and a trunk and a diary from late Vice President Simon Muzenda’s family. Construction of the main museum is expected to be completed in 18 months.
“It is our intention to open the museum doors to the public in January, 2023,” said Amb Muzavazi.
A section of the property has been given to the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, where a Chimurenga mini-museum will be set up.
“We realised that there is a need for an immersive experience of the Chimurenga liberation war. We want people to have a feel of how life was during the days of the liberation struggle.
“We are going to recreate bases, so that when we explain what happened during the liberation struggle, people can visualise it.”
The mini-museum project, which is considered a low hanging fruit, will be one of the first facilities to be completed.
“We expect the Chimurenga mini-museum to be done by the Heroes Day holiday (set for the second week of August). We are setting a tight deadline for ourselves because we are pursuing progress and we are always challenging ourselves to make sure we remain ahead of schedule,” he added.
Upon completion, visitors will get a real life experience of what it was like at camps during the liberation struggle. When The Sunday Mail visited the site, preliminary clearing works were in motion, with earth moving equipment already on site.
To reflect the multi-national scope of the museum and ancillary facilities, talent will be recruited from different countries.
“Our philosophy is that the project is for the whole continent, so we are going to have recruitment that is representative of the family of nations which are in support of the project. However, there also has to be a degree of priority given to locals to ensure that they benefit from their proximity to the facility,” Amb Muzavazi said.
When the grand plan materialises, it will bring employment opportunities for hundreds of young people in the surrounding suburbs such as Warren Park, Belvedere, Westlea and Tynwald. Crucially, the museum is strategically located close to the National Heroes Acre, to help bring an interconnection between the two iconic facilities.
Originally, there was a plan for a footbridge to cross over Bulawayo Road into the national shrine. However, this plan was shelved in favour of an ultra-modern cable car connecting the two facilities.
For those who will prefer immersive experiences, the hotel will provide an appropriate setting.
“We are adjacent to the National Sports Stadium, and we envision that if we set up a hotel, it will provide a lodging facility which can be utilised by visiting national teams. They can be within the vicinity of the stadium and avoid instances where teams have to live far from their match day venues,” said Amb Muzavazi.
A recording booth, which will be used to record oral evidence from those who were part of the liberation war, has already been established.
Opposite the museum`s Bulawayo road gate facing Warren Park High there is an open space which will be turned into a community library. If operationalised with precision, the grand plans laid by the African Museum of Liberation can become a significant addendum to Harare’s economy and the continental story. The idea of a Museum of African Liberation was endorsed by African ambassadors and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in 2019.