Robben Island

Cape Town - Robben Island management says the era of labour disputes at the iconic museum is over and it is ready to use “innovative strategies” to boost visitor numbers, although it is struggling to appoint qualified senior staff.

Sibongiseni Mkhize, the chief executive of the museum, presented its turnaround strategy to Parliament’s arts and culture oversight committee on Tuesday.

The museum was the only major tourist attraction in the Western Cape to experience a decrease in visitor numbers last December, although its total visitor numbers for the year had increased slightly.

In 2011, union members at the museum went on strike twice over wages and a demand to axe a senior manager in what Mkhize called an attempt to “flex their muscles and demonstrate who is in power”.

Mkhize, who was appointed in November 2010, said that while the island had resolved disputes with unions, it still faced a “skills deficit” and had not yet appointed a chief heritage officer, senior heritage manager, tourism senior manager and ferry operations senior manager.

“The key is having the right people,” said Mkhize, noting that once they were in place they would be expected to increase the island’s co-operation with universities so that the island’s history would not be lost.

The island had to use consultants last year to help with the workload, although the number had decreased from two years ago.

Mkhize said the museum, now entering its “growth” phase, was considering partnering with private organisations to transport visitors to the island.

The ferries can’t go to sea in rough weather.

He added the museum would explore the option of acquiring “all-weather boats” that would be able to make the trip in rough seas.

To increase visitor numbers and improve their experience, the island would explore the option of adding interactive media to the museum, to complement the ex-political prisoners who serve as guides.

Mkhize said they would also be looking at whether visitors would be willing to pay more for enhanced experiences, such as staying the night on the island.

The island also wants to secure more private funding, including from overseas, to bolster its resources.

Responding to criticism of unkept lawns and uncollected rubbish on the island, Mkhize said maintenance was the job of the Department of Public Works, and it was unfair to blame island management. However, the island would divert 15 percent of its own revenue to maintenance.

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Parliamentary Bureau