Whale museum must go

The Whale museum in Parow.
Parow’s whale museum could face legal action for failing to clear out of the building it’s been leasing from the City of Cape Town.

But Ken Botes, CEO of non-profit company Whale Mark, it is business as normal.

Mr Botes says he’s determined to keep it going.

The Hopkins Street building was once a synagogue and then a place of ill-repute used by prostitutes, according to Mr Botes. He says it stood empty for 15 years before the local Jewish community sold it to the City on condition it only be used as a museum. 

However, the City from whom he leases the building wants to use the property for other purposes. 

At a Sub-council 6 meeting two years ago, councillor Leonore van der Walt  said the property – leased for R150 a year – was not being used for its intended purpose (“Museum plan in choppy waters,” Northern News April 19, 2017).

According to Mr Botes, his collection of whaling memorabilia is the most diverse of its kind in the Western Cape and spans 160 years. 

It includes harpoons and 20 to 30 year-old  whale bones; various fish and shell species, some found in Du Toitskloof Pass and one in a Chilean desert; in the desert of Chile, maritime equipment, oil-pollution equipment and fishing nets, paintings and books.

Many items have been collected by Mr Botes over the years; others have been donated. 

He said he had had a long association with whaling and, at the age six he of 6, had seen his first whale at Donkergat whaling station. 

“It was massive, 108 feet (33m), and it took two boats to haul it to bring it in. At that time, people were eating whale meat.”

In 1973 Mr Botes said he had worked as whaling inspector for the Union Whaling Company,  in Durban, in 1973, measuring whales caught using harpoons. 

“About 2 000 of them, to see if they were the correct size, lactating and if they had a calf and the species. We were told it was scientific purposes. To see what they are eating. It’s rubbish. When they come from warmer waters, they don’t eat, they come to calve.”

In 1974 he was selected by the government to go to Australia as an international observer at the International Whaling Commission. Among a list of career moves, he has also lectured marine compliance, a curriculum adviser on all things maritime and consultant marine disaster management for the City of Cape Town. 

Early next year he is launching a booklet on whaling. He says the museum is named for the Khoisan who first hunted whales of southern African shores. 

Today he regards himself as an anti-whaling activist, and some of his protest anti-whaling protest banners are draped on the museum wall.

 “I’m horrified at what took place. When a harpoon hits and a whale, it’s like a grenade. They cry like a baby and blood spurts everywhere. Nowadays, they shoot whales with a rifle, four or five times. It’s so shocking. As they were being carved into pieces, their eyes are open; sometimes the babies spill out. It can take from 20 minutes to one hour to die.”

In 1979 South Africa banned whaling in our waters. 

Mr Botes said that when he had taken over the shell of the building in 2001. It is old. At the entrance are two foundation stones, F J Van H Duminy Esquire 24 August 1927, another for L H Berold Esquire 10 December 1950. 

He says there had been holes in the floor, no doors or toilets.

The city planned to knock it down but all political parties agreed to keep it as it was part of the Voortrekker Corridor. It had taken millions of rand and four years to make it habitable and he had almost been done with the renovation when the City had told him it should be used for community upliftment, he said.

He was almost finished with the renovation, he says, when the City told him it must be used for community upliftment. 

Mr Botes said he had then rented out the leased the ground floor to organisations and he displays some of his artefacts on the veranda. He then moved his exhibits to the upper level.

“People come here for a conference, then go upstairs to see the artefacts and go home and tell their children said Mr Botes.” 

Schools also visited the museum, he said, and the children were particularly fascinated by an exhibit of a giant crab- some of them cringed and tried to hide from it, he said, but they still don’t want to leave the museum.
Mayco member for economic opportunities and asset management James Vos said the properties concerned are portions of erven 7352 and 7354 in Parow and are zoned Community One. This allows for a place of instruction or worship or a clinic.

The properties were sold to the City by the Jewish community and we are the registered owner, says Mr Vos. He says at the time of sale, there was a condition contained in the title deed that the property may only be used for the purposes of a museum. This said the original condition of sale – that the building be used as a museum – had been removed from the title deed in during 2014 with the consent of the seller, and may now be only used in terms of the Community One zoning.

According to Mr Vos, the City terminated Mr Botes lease in September 2018 following he City leased the property to the Whale Museum operated by Ken Botes. 

However, there were  “many breaches to the lease agreement”, and failed attempts to regularise occupancy. In September 2018 the lease agreement was terminated and the property was required to be vacated by December 31, 2018. But Mr Botes had refused to budge and the matter has been handed over to the City’s legal department.

However, Mr Botes said he had not received a notice about the lease. Instead, he said, he had applied a month ago to either buy the building or lease it for 50 years.
An online search for the museum shows it is among the top 10 on Tripadvisor. A search for Whale Mark shows nothing. Mr Botes did not respond to questions about his association with Whale Mark or where funding comes from. He did say the museum had been a member of Cape Town Tourism for the past year. 

The tourism body confirmed that.

Mr Vos says the property will be used by the City. He said there had been many discussions with Mr Botes about the building and he had been encouraged to relocate to more suitable premises.

■ The Whale and Marine Museum in Parow.