Director calls for ‘porous museum walls’ in Paarl

Michael Jonas, director of the ATM, in conversation with Genie de Waal, from Fish Hoek, a regular visitor to the Taalmonument.

The museum’s walls must be porous, says Michael Jonas, the new director of the Afrikaanse Taalmuseum en monument (ATM) in Paarl, who took over this challenging role last month.

As a specialist in the field of museum and heritage management, and particularly of research and educational projects, Jonas is more than ready to steer the ATM to new heights in its 41st year of existence.

According to Mr Jonas, one of their aims is to cultivate a love and pride of the history of Afrikaans. The ATM attempts to break down boundaries by running the museum and monument in an inclusive manner, in order for everyone to be able to respect and appreciate Afrikaans.

“Afrikaans has a unique origin with a variety of cultures that contributed to the formation of a creole language with diverse users. The language was also abused to create a certain identity, but today we are once again creating a new identity based on our shared past. Afrikaans can thus become a language of reconciliation,” he says.

Mr Jonas hails from Stellenbosch, where he matriculated from Cloetesville High School in 1990. He obtained a BA degree in political science and sociology from Stellenbosch University in 1994, and a postgraduate diploma in museum science in 1995.

In 2013 he was awarded a Master’s degree in museum and heritage studies from the University of the Western Cape, with a thesis on Kleinplasie Open Air Museum.

Over the past 20 years, Mr Jonas has played various key roles within the Western Cape Museum Services, including head of educational and public programmes and acting assistant director.

He became manager of Paarl Museum and also chairperson of the province-affiliated museums in the Cape Winelands district in 2014. He has compiled several guides on community research and the recording of oral history, as well as on curriculum-aligned educational programmes.

In 2007 he visited Sweden on a study tour to research and be trained in the time travel method. According to the international organisation Bridging Ages, time travel is an educational method to create reflection on contemporary issues in a local historical setting, with the goal of a deeper learning process, as well as social cohesion and community building.

Mr Jonas says that with “porous museum walls” he means that information should flow out as well as into the museum, for the community to accept ownership of the museum on different levels.

“Our focus is on our users, as the future of Afrikaans depends on its users. Afrikaans may be under pressure, but for many people it is their only form of communication.

“We would like to become more involved in debate about questions at issue in the community. Inputs from outside can become important criteria in the planning of our operations in order to stay relevant to the language community at large,” he adds.

According to Mr Jonas, this is exactly what the ATM has been achieving through its public programmes over the past few years, and would like to improve on.

“The ATM received more than 76 000 visitors during the last financial year, of which about half were South Africans. The Garden Theatre picnic series and our discourses on special days, such as Language Day and Heritage Day, have become very popular.

“The reading project supports children from Porterville to the Eastern Cape, and the project will soon expand to the Emthanjeni and Renosterberg Municipalities. We have also just announced the call for nominations for the ATM’s second Neville Alexander prestige award, recognising the unsung heroes of Afrikaans,” he says.

Mr Jonas sees the museum as an extension of the classroom where the public can interact directly with artefacts.

“Every visitor has his or her own needs and expectations, but also perceptions. Museums as educational institutions can change people’s perceptions.

“I thus invite the community to come and visit us in order to discover and explore the story of Afrikaans, as portrayed by the symbolism of the Taalmonument and unlocked through our exhibitions and educational programmes,” he says.

For more information, contact Mr Jonas at 021 872 3441 or email