CF: What led you to a career as a museum director?
SM: As a student at university I spent my time supplementing my income as a waitress, a hotel receptionist, a singing busker on the beachfront of Durban, selling clothes, selling pest control and was even offered the position of being a belly dancer in a cage in a nightclub. I knew when I went out to work which worlds I did not want to be part of. Marrying young and arriving in a small Afrikaans town in the middle of the then Orange Free State, I joined a bank. I worked at everything in the bank, from sending telexes, to foreign exchange to a cashier, to a manager’s clerk, to eventually being employed as a member of Senior Management.
As I progressed in the bank, I had nearly had several heart attacks dealing with the financial situations of farmers, businessmen, the man next door and other equally financially blighted people. I knew I would be buried young. The environment was toxic. Banking was just too cut-throat and impersonal. I had always loved museums and archives and libraries. When I left banking, I decided to work with the one subject I loved, history, which is how I came to be interviewed as a curator.
I think dogged determination never to be defeated was the key to succeeding. A woman heading a military museum was and is not a popular choice and it was a tough journey; however, it was a journey I will never regret making.
CF: Do you have any advice for young girls or women who would like a career as a museum director? What would you encourage these women to study in order to achieve success in this field?
SM: Find out what you love doing and you will never complete a day’s work in your life. Take a variety of subjects which can be used in museums, across all disciplines. These include any of the sciences, any subject involving design and layout, archaeology, anthropology or media studies. Everything you ever learn can be brought into a museum.
CF: What do you think will be the biggest challenge that the next generation of successful women will face, who work in the creative/heritage sector?
SM: I definitely think the challenge to any person wishing to work in the museum world is going to be keeping pace with the electronic advances that the future will undoubtedly bring. This will have to be coupled with the specialised topic that you love.