Rediscovery of a small rock art museum at the Royal Natal National Park
KwaZulu-Natal Museum staff recently visited uMhwabane rock shelter in the AmaZizi Traditional Authority, which is well-known as a site that has suffered large-scale rock art removals.
As part of the same visit, we went to explore the ruins of the old hotel in the adjacent Royal Natal National Park. When the rock art panels were removed from uMhwabane rock shelter, they were put on display at the hotel, where they were viewed by the British royal family during their tour of South Africa in 1947. We wanted to see if we could find the small museum where the rock art had been exhibited all those years ago.
The only information we had to go on was a plan drawn by the provincial architect Noel Jackson, who was tasked with getting the hotel ready for the royal visit. The plan showed a simple double-storey shed that was supposed to serve primarily as a bowling pavilion.
This drawing is filed in the Archaeological Survey archive, South African National Archives, Pretoria (photograph by Justine Wintjes 2010). It shows the special display cases built for the rock art (lower left).
This photograph by Alex Willcox (courtesy of SARADA) shows the rock panel with the famous ‘elephant-man’ on display at the Royal Natal National Park Hotel around 1950. Today this rock is on display in the Hunter-Gatherer Gallery in the KwaZulu-Natal Museum.
The hotel closed in 2000 and is now in a derelict state full of overgrown vegetation. One of us had tried to find the pavilion several times before, but had not succeeded. This time with so many colleagues to help look around we found it! It had been modified from the original design but it is unmistakably the same building.
Marks from the display cases are still visible on the walls. It is amazing to think that the rocks from uMhwabane rock shelter now in the collections of the KwaZulu-Natal Museum lived in this building for almost two decades!
Photographs by Justine Wintjes (2021).