Stellenbosch Village Museum is one of 28 museums affiliated with the Western Cape Provincial Government’s Museum Service. The Village Museum consists in the main of four period houses dating from the early eighteenth century to the Victorian era. It opened during the 1970s as part of what was then a larger complex of museums in Stellenbosch. The museum was partially redeveloped by Museum Service staff in 2015, with new exhibition panels and an interactive historical timeline installed in the foyer area. Focus is given to the historical origins of Stellenbosch with attention given to a diverse range of historical actors, from the enslaved to Khoi people. This is an important part of moving historical interpretation at the Village Museum away from the whites-only affair established in the apartheid years. Artefacts uncovered during excavations of the period houses and their outbuildings are displayed, though these lack contextual information in places.
Slavery is not referred to in great detail in the exhibition panels, however it does feature on the interactive timeline. Both the abolition of the slave trade in 1807 and abolition of slavery in 1834 are referenced. Efforts are made to posit the Bletterman family – original owners of the Village Museum’s late eighteenth century property - as slave owners. Particular attention is given to the case study of the enslaved woman Manisa who was owned by Stellenbosch resident Johanna Barbara van Biljon. This focus comes from the unusual level of surviving material which enabled a reconstruction of Manisa’s life, including separation from her family through public auction. There is even a full body portrait of Manisa, taken from a Cape Argus article published upon emancipation. Problematically, one of the outbuildings of Bletterman House which potentially functioned as slave quarters has been rented out by the museum and presently houses a number of eateries. No connection is made between references to the outbuildings as slave quarters in the historical timeline and their present use.
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