Museum plan in choppy waters

An organisation leasing a City property in Parow for a token R150 a year, ostensibly to set up whale museum, has little to show for it after six years, and a ward councillor wants to know why.

A motion tabled by Ward 2 councillor Leonore van der Walt to Sub-council 6 in Bellville, questioned the current use of the old synagogue in Ricketts Street, Parow, saying it was prime property not being used for the intended purpose. The property is being leased to the Whale Mark NPO at R150 a year, and, said Ms Van der Walt, the line department should explain “why the lease continues if the property is not used as per the lease agreement”.

City officials had a site visit to the museum in February, according to information from Sub-council 6.

During the visit, Whale Mark CEO Ken Botes was asked for a progress report.

“The matter was discussed with the manager: property holding and it was decided that this property be put on tender once the lease has expired,” the council document stated.

Ms Van der Walt said “it is important that the future use of the building be determined”.

Mr Botes, a former council employee, has long punted his plans for a whale and maritime museum at the property, but it’s been six years since he signed a lease for the synagogue and the whale museum has yet to materialise.

In 2011, when the lease with the City was signed, he said the museum would be a reality by the end of 2013 (“Lost stories of SA whaling”, Tygertalk, July 27, 2011).

Last week, Mr Botes initially agreed to an interview, but cancelled when Northern News arrived at the premises on Wednesday April 12, although he told us by phone the day before that Whale Mark would challenge the City’s plans to cut him loose.

Speaking to Northern News at the entrance to the museum a day later, he said he would have to discuss our questions with the museum’s board members, as he could get into trouble for speaking without their input.

Asked if the board’s members were present, as a function to honour the museum’s supporters was under way at the time, he said “some of them”.

He said Whale Mark was negotiating with the City about acquiring the property.

“Our committee has decided to buy the property,” he said hurriedly.

Northern News emailed questions to Mr Botes on Wednesday April 12 and sent a reminder the following morning, but no response was forthcoming.

In earlier interviews with Tygertalk, (Northern News’ predecessor), Mr Botes said the museum would be unique, because, unlike other museums, it would not be dependent on grants.

“It will operate as a business capable of realising profits which will be assigned to community upliftment projects and charities.”

He also said the synagogue would be demolished to make way for the museum (“Whale expert opens first exhibition”, Tygertalk, October 24, 2013).

In the same article, Mr Botes said they had secured R100 million in funding from a company in France.

Despite that claim, Whale Mark posted a request on an online classified site last year asking for stainless steel balustrades and handrails, new or second-hand, for which it offered R1 000.

Siyabulela Mamkeli, mayoral committee member for area central, confirmed the lease would terminate at the end of December 2019.

“The future use of the property will depend on whether it is required by City of Cape Town for its own purposes, which will be determined prior to the termination date of the lease. The City of Cape Town will follow due process,” he said.