At the heart of village stands the small community museum – unique in SA in that it is the only museum that tells the story of rural land dispossession, and the community’s successful struggle for restitution.
The museum comprises an indoor section, as well as an outdoor component. Visitors begin their ‘Cata experience’ in the indoor part of the museum, where they will find exhibits of world-class standard. Life before the removal is depicted through artefacts and photographs. Pride of place is given to a model of a pre-betterment homestead – accurate in every detail. The homestead was modelled by internationally-acclaimed historical modeller, Peter Laponder, who has also done work for the Iziko Museums in Cape Town, and the Gisozi Genocide Memorial in Kigali, Rwanda.
The homestead is contrasted with the impact of betterment. Houses were demolished, fields and kraals had to be abandoned, established social arrangements were destroyed. The people of Cata were forcibly ‘villagised’ – with severe economic and social consequences.
The museum also focuses on the post-1994 period. The community’s engagement with the land restitution process over the period 1998 to 2000 is explained, and the signing of the historic Cata Settlement Agreement, in October 2000 is celebrated. Its links to the Vulamasango Singene campaign are explained. This campaign, by betterment villagers that were prejudiced during the lodgement phase and are seeking restitution, is the most significant early twenty-first century social movement in the Eastern Cape Province.
Visitors are then invited to view the outdoor part of the museum – a two-kilometre guided walk along a professionally ‘cut’ heritage trail. View the breath-taking scenery, while reading information boards along the way that describe the social and natural history of Cata. The natural heritage of Cata is extensive and spectacular. Situated on the slopes of the Amathole mountain range, Cata valley has notable geological features, its indigenous forests and grassy slopes are full of interesting plant life, and a number of rare birds (including the endangered Cape parrot) are frequently spotted here.
The walk takes visitors to the ruins of pre-betterment homesteads, and to the Cata toposcope. For many, the toposcope ‘brings home’ the effect of betterment on the community – the name of each dispossessed person is engraved in granite, with the distance to their demolished homestead noted. As one stands in the centre of the toposcope, surrounded by 334 names, and looks over the countryside to where the homesteads once stood, one begins to understand the force of the devastation.
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Entrance to the indoor museum is free.