Camp Lwandle: Rehabilitating a migrant labour hostel at the seaside
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In southern African narratives of migrant labour, hostels and compounds are represented as typical examples of colonial and apartheid planning. Visual and spatial comparisons are consistently made between the regulatory power of hostels and those of concentration camps. Several of these sites of violence and repression are today being reconfigured as sites of conscience, their artefactual presence on the landscape being constructed as places of remembrance. In this trajectory, a space of seeming anonymity in Lwandle, some 40 km outside of Cape Town, was identified by the newly established museum, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, as a structure of significance. The migrant labour compound in Lwandle, of which Hostel 33 is the last remnant, was designed by planners and engineers and laid out as part of a labour camp for male migrant workers in the 1950s. This article explores the ambitious project initiated in 2008, by the Lwandle Migrant Labour Museum (and funded largely by the US Ambassadors Cultural Restoration Fund), to restore Hostel 33. Although Hostel 33 was not a very old structure, having been built in 1958/9, nor was it easily considered to have conventional architectural significance, its material presence in present-day Lwandle represents a reminder of the conditions of life in the labour camp. The article traces the work entailed in the restoration process through paying attention to both the built fabric and its materiality, and by giving an account of the explorations into finding ways to restore the hostel to the museum through making it into a site of significance. In place of the centrality of the building as the object of restoration, the work shifted to considering how the hostel could function most effectively as a stage and destination for the Museum’s narrations of the past. Retaining and maintaining Hostel 33 was less concerned with the fabric as an empirical fact of the past, than with its projection into an envisaged future for museum purposes.