Study, internship and learning opportunities within the museum sector

Johannesburg Art Gallery
Johannesburg Art Gallery

Across the globe, museums have long been seen as places that hold ancient artefacts (often acquired via dubious means from far away places), but things are changing. A shift in the cultural zeitgeist is taking place and there are growing calls for most big museums to repatriate artefacts to their native countries. This change, however, does not mean obsolescence, and museums still have a vital function to play in modern society. From education to memory preservation, these institutions hold crucial value for a healthy society. 

Museums are a fantastic place to work and learn for those interested in history, curation, and conservation – and there is potential to become a driving force in changing how museums and society interconnect. As times are changing, many of these spaces are in need of younger people to continue the tradition while using innovation and creativity to propel museums into modern times. 

South Africa has an estimated 327 museums scattered across the country according to a South African Cultural Observatory (SACO) study. These include fine art museums/art galleries, natural history and natural science museums, cultural and anthropological museums, museums of science and technology and privately-owned museums. 

The country offers a wide range of options for those looking for study, internship and learning opportunities in the sector. 

Universities across the country offer African studies, heritage, history, anthropology, archaeology and visual arts study programmes, with options to further specialise through honours, master’s and doctoral programmes. More information on these options can be found in this article on The Heritage Portal.

An internship can offer valuable opportunities to grow professionally, as well as bridge the gap between theory and practice for young graduates.

One of the most famous museums in South Africa is the Robben Island Museum (RIM). The island has gone through a variety of iterations and has served as a leper colony, a penal colony, a place to house the mentally ill, a prison and perhaps most famously, as the place former President Nelson Mandela and numerous political prisoners spent years of their lives in the fight against apartheid. 

According to Chief Heritage Officer Pascall Taruvinga, “Robben Island Museum as a hybrid institution with varied but complementary functions such as conservation, research, education, tourism, collections management, interpretation, biodiversity management and administration, offers internships across the board in line with industry standards and protocols on the same. The main purpose of the internship programme is to use RIM as a platform for a dedicated transformation function in society through skills transfer while generating awareness on the significance and importance of heritage. The internship programme reduces the gap between practical knowledge and expertise through direct contact with different functions of the Robben Island Museum. This constitutes the transformative function of heritage at RIM and like-minded institutions.”

For those with an interest in justice and the role of art in liberation and transformation, the Constitutional Court offers a six-month paid curatorial internship. The opportunity is open to South African citizens under the age of 30 who have a qualification in visual arts. Applicants should not have worked full-time in a gallery or museum environment. Visit for more information. 

The South African Jewish Museum offers rotating, unpaid internships for those who are interested in the history of Jewish people in the South African context. Due to financial constraints, there isn’t enough to compensate volunteers. However, the museum does offer a daily, fully subsidised four-hour education outreach programme for grades 4-7. It is endorsed by the Department of Education and deals with issues relating to the commonality of human values, the dangers of xenophobia and respect and tolerance for the “other”, according to its CEO Gavin Morris. 

While things are uncertain and many positions have been frozen, Iziko Museums of South Africa has offered internships for those with a degree in Art History Museology and Curatorship in the past. The duration of the internships is just over nine months and they offer a competitive stipend to successful applicants. 

For those looking, there are a number of learning opportunities available in the country’s museums. Visit our listing of South African museums for more information on available opportunities: .

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