zuzu Museum offers visitors insights into the Northern Region—its land, the people and their way of life. Culture warriors say one cannot claim to know the region without visiting the exhibitions in Mpico House, which the locals call the red building’.
Stepping into the spacious room, tourists, researchers, students and the curious are welcomed by displays on the region’s passage in the space of time. The exhibitions comprise traditional hunting tools, musical instruments and replica huts typical of Ngonis and other tribes scattered across the North.
It also preserves relics of endangered histories, including roadmaps and letters of Scottish missionary explorer Dr David Livingstone who pioneered the displacement of slave trade with Christianity, commerce and civilisation.
CNN’s acclaimed travel guide, Lonely Planet, advises travellers: “If you’re planning to head up to Livingstonia there’s an interesting exhibition telling the story of the missionaries’ journey.”
However, the museum is on the verge of closure following an accumulation of unpaid rentals that government was supposed to clear out two months ago.
Two months ago, the Department of Housing, which manages the estate of all government agencies, advised regional museum director Smeda Matundu to move the exhibitions from their traditional home of over 30 years.
Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development spokesperson Charles Vintulla claimed the looming relocation was part of a cost-cutting measure as some agencies are required to move to a K3 billion wing being finalised at Capital Hill in Lilongwe.
However, details have emerged that the regional museum’s transfer follows an eviction order as government owes Malawi Property Investment Company (Mpico) tenancy fees worth K6 billion nationwide.
Early this year, the landlord asked Mzuzu Museum to vacate the building by May 31.
However, the principal secretary for the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development, in a letter signed by a Mr TEC Mwale on May 17, terminated the lease of Mpico Group offices.
The letter, which The Nation has seen, reads: “I would like to officially confirm that our tenancy in the building where the Mzuzu Museum is located has expired and Mpico Group is not renewing the lease.
“I am, therefore, advising you to work with the regional officer [North] in identifying alternative office and accommodation and prepare to vacate the premises by May 31.”
The hopes of ‘rehoming’ of the museum have been dashed and fears are deepening that it could be shut down as earmarked buildings in Mzuzu were mostly deemed either too small or too dilapidated.
The museum, which begun in 1985 in a humble building owned by Chenda Mkandawire, has been operating in Mpico since the 1990s.
An insider has warned that the country could lose a great deal of the priceless artefacts both transit to a new site and in the substandard building.
“Government needs to rethink this decision. The relocation is as good as saying the Mzuzu Museum should be closed down,” said one official in an interview.
A retired curator urged against the rush to relocate, saying it would be costly and confusing as both residents and tourists associate the museum with Mpico House.
The old-timer said: “Before tourists and researchers come, they turn to the internet and publications that say the museum is in Mpico Building. The graver problem is that most of the buildings may not be fit to house the regional treasure. A museum needs a home which is quiet, spacious and dry.”
When asked, Lovemore Mazibuko, who heads all museums, could neither confirm nor deny the news.
“This is an internal matter best handled by my bosses. Try the Director of Culture Dr Elizabeth Chindevu,” he said.
Chindevu did not pick her phone and her department’s spokesperson Christopher Mbukwa asked for more time to consult his bosses, saying it was “a sensitive matter”. Chill has asked for his input, but he has not replied despite reminders.
However, we can confirm that Mazibuko led a delegation to search for the new premises two weeks ago.
A source described the hunt as “futile” and “disappointing”.
“All the building were found wanting,” the source said.
The crew fears authorities may settle down for one of the undesirable settings as Mpico group is “coming hard” since the May deadline expired.
Vintulla confirmed the Department of Housing wants museum officials to pack up and relocate due to debts.
“The issue of arrears is true. It has been there, it is there and government is paying the outstanding rentals little by little. The last payment to Mpico was made in June,” he said.
The spokesperson kept the debt size under wraps, but insisted government made the last payment last month.
“Government is willing to pay up, but the problem is that Mpico keeps changing the figures. Meanwhile, we have engaged auditors to ascertain the real balance so that taxpayers do not pay more or less,” Vintulla said.
Mpico was conceived as a State-run firm to solve housing woes faced by government departments and agencies, but the Treasury has come under pressure since the company was privatised.
However, there is need to handle the museum shift with caution as it may not be as easy as moving the office of the Ombudsman which is also leaving Mpico House in Mzuzu.
The Department of Lands has not renewed lease agreements for nearly all of government offices in the group’s buildings nationwide, officials say. n