Phansi museum founder honoured

Paul Mikula with exhibits at the Phansi Museum African arts centre in Glenwood. Mikula will be awarded an honorary doctorate (architecture) by the UKZN next week. Picture: Shelley Kjonstad/African News Agency ANA

Paul Mikula with exhibits at the Phansi Museum African arts centre in Glenwood. Mikula will be awarded an honorary doctorate (architecture) by the UKZN next week. Picture: Shelley Kjonstad/African News Agency ANA

Published May 6, 2023


Durban - Architect Paul Mikula, the brain and inspiration behind some of Durban’s most iconic projects, will be recognised for his contribution to society next week with an honorary doctorate in architecture from the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

“I’m not one of those people desperate for recognition. But it feels very nice and it comes out of the blue. I’m glad about that, it’s welcome,” he said.

For several decades Mikula served the people of Durban, not just as an architect, but as an activist, seeking out new opportunities to create community and promote development.

“Basically an architect is everything. You look at every aspect of life,” Mikula said.

One of his best-known projects is the BAT Centre on Victoria Embankment which was developed in 1995 to promote the arts.

A venue for the visual arts, a music residency programme, youth development and a multimedia centre, Mikula said he wanted it to be a “safe haven” for artists from all over the province.

“Everybody was there, we could serve as a market for them. It worked well. Then ‘apartheid’ came in again and they ripped apart this community we had,” he said, referring to the ongoing divisions along racial lines that have even affected the art community after democracy.

The Bat Centre has also been used as a venue for live shows and many well known performers, like comedians, made their public debut there.

However, it is Mikula’s love for art and African art in particular that led to the founding of the African art centre, Phansi Museum, in Glenwood.

He calls it the “feel good museum” and says everything in it, all 9 000 objects, are handmade and beautiful.

“Ubuntu is about art.”

Mikula, who now serves as the managing trustee, has trekked throughout southern Africa for years, gathering artefacts that have made the museum renowned for its various collections.

UKZN described him as “a respected architect who has made a significant contribution to the preservation and promotion of KwaZulu-Natal’s arts and cultural heritage. His love for Zulu culture, music, arts and crafts, saw him turn big ideas into reality”.

Apart from his work as an artist, architect and activist, Mikula also played a significant role in ensuring that people in the municipality had proper housing.

He was part of a project that assisted about 3 000 “unseen” people who were living in Amaoti and ensured they were “brought into the open”. Several sites were created where they could settle down.

At the age of 83, Mikula says the work can’t stop, there’s just too much to do.

“Every day there’s another project that needs to be tackled.”

Full of humour, Mikula said he’d love to live as a hobo around the world for the next few years, just to observe life from a different perspective.

The honorary doctorate will be bestowed on him at UKZN’s Westville campus.

UKZN said he was one of seven distinguished individuals who would be honoured for their remarkable achievements in the fields of arts, social sciences and management.

“Through innovation, extensive knowledge and expertise in their respective fields, the honorary graduands have positively impacted the lives of people in South Africa and globally.”

Other recipients of the honorary doctorates include former eThekwini city manager Mike Sutcliffe; Prince Bhekizizwe Zeblon Zulu (Doctor of Literature) for his contribution to recording the rich history of the AmaZulu nation; world-renowned guitarist Muziwakhe “Madala” Kunene (Doctor of Music); Professor Obioma Nnaemeka (Doctor of Social Science), an expert in the fields of gender/women studies and development; and Professor Kwame Anthony Appiah (Doctor of Literature), who is at the leading edge of current thinking about questions of identity, nationalism, cosmopolitanism and universal ethics.

UKZN would also posthumously award Bavelile Gloria Hlongwa with a Doctor of Administration degree for being a champion of youth development, women empowerment and transformation. Hlongwa was also deputy minister for mineral resources and energy and died in a car crash.

The Independent on Saturday

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