Leon Steyn
Curator SA Naval Museum

If you could choose a day to visit a museum with family or friends, what day of the week would it be?

No school holidays yet, but it is week-end! The wind was blowing like crazy on Saturday, but come Sunday morning the proverbial ‘calm after the storm’. You could see people are up and about this morning. My favourite coffee shop was unusually busy early on – a good indication of people’s good intentions. Along the beach road a peloton of cyclists made their way, whirling from Glencairn to Simon’s Town, while at Long Beach energetic dogs pulled at their leashes, brightly coloured umbrellas and cooler boxes emerging, a sunny day at the beach for some. I could see cars slowly making their way towards Simon’s Town, foreign registrations …CF …CY …CL …CEY …CFG …CW …day visitors.

A perfect day for an outing. On their way they are midway between the breakfast and coffee that they had at Kalk Bay and the penguins and baboons they were going to see at Boulders Beach or Cape Point. Somewhere between those two points of immense interest, they will find our museum, the South African Naval Museum!
“…in Main Road, about a kilometre past the train station on your left, yes you will find our pedestrian entrance just off Main Road, just opposite the Shell garage. Yes you can park right there, it is within easy walking distance. Entry is free of charge, but you can make a donation sir.”

Today I wish all of them would visit our museum, we have certainly ‘done our bit’. Museum brochures at Kalkies and Olympia Cafe in Kalk Bay (hulle kom mos van daai kant af), a full length article in Die Burger By the other day, a radio interview on Voice of the Cape last month, facebook, whatsapp, website, twitter… even the President promoted us, he said that museums (gyms and restaurants) are [special] exceptions. It was just short of ‘support your museum’ my fellow South Africans.

Friendly and able seamen on duty today, they look smart. Everything is ready, the flags are flying, floors are polished, the music is playing, the tv’s are on, the doors are open. Welcome aboard! At 09:30 we welcome them, 4 visitors from Saldanha, then 6 visitors from Simon’s Town (local people!), 5 visitors from Worcester (dit is warm daar), 2 visitors from Goodwood …by lunch-time almost 30 people through the gate.
Considering Covid and closures it is a good morning for us and it is not over yet! I comfort myself that most visitors get stuck in Kalk Bay and the traffic is always terrible through Fish Hoek, they are on their way!

But the sober truth is that people still fancy the beach above the museum. Who can blame them if it is 30 degrees outside? They like fish & chips at Kalk Bay and so do I. You got to eat. Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs at play? Museums (even if they are open on Sundays), does not feature as a top attraction, certainly not in South Africa and definitely not on a hot summer’s day. Beach or museum / Cold Beer or museum.

But is does not mean that we should capitulate. The South African Naval Museum is one of the few museums in Cape Town that are open on a Sunday. The Air Force Museum at Ysterplaat is closed, the Police Museum in Muizenberg is closed, Simon’s Town Museum next door is closed, even District Six Museum in Cape Town is closed on a Sunday. Each has their own set of challenges, not enough personnel, not enough volunteers. But we still need to compete, we need to be very reliable and we need to be fantastic. We need amazing exhibitions and displays that wow* the public! They need to say “I want to go to the Museum today!”

* to impress and excite (someone) greatly

The duty staff at the South African Naval Museum – welcoming visitors on 28 February 2021