Black residents have forced the closure of a museum honouring anti-apartheid heroes, accusing the authorities of building “a house for dead people” while they live in squalor.
Once a tourist magnet, The Red Location Museum in New Brighton outside the southern city of Port Elizabeth houses hundreds of “memory boxes” containing the life stories of anti-apartheid activists, including former president Nelson Mandela.
The modernity of the R22m building, which won several international architectural awards, stands in total contrast to the plastic and corrugated iron structures which serve as houses for the neighbouring community.
The museum closed nine months ago in the face of threats by residents to assault visitors and efforts to reopen it have been met with violent protests.
Its website says only that it “is closed due to community protests”, in what is one of the oldest townships of Port Elizabeth.
The building has now been stripped by people helping themselves to electrical wiring, water pipes, power sockets, fencing and wooden fittings for their shacks.
Some security guards hired to patrol the perimeter of the building – which was also used as a research facility by historians – have abandoned their posts in fear for their lives.
“The conditions are getting worse. The fencing has been cut in several places and there is no lighting,” said one guard.
“Even the covers of the drains outside have been pilfered. It is dangerous, you don’t know when you will be attacked,” he said.
“The building used to be very busy and we used to mingle with international tourists here but now it’s a ghost.”
Chris du Preez, the museum’s acting assistant director, says no artefacts or documents were stolen or damaged during the looting.
The museum won the 2006 Lubetkin Prize awarded by the Royal Institute of British Architects as the best new building outside the EU.
The building remains closed.