Museum linked to group that upholds white supremacy narrative

By Contributor
Source / The Lion and Tusk Museum

By Nelson Tiatia, Te Rito Journalism Cadet.

A controversial museum in Tauranga accused of commemorating “white supremacy” received funding from Te Papa Tongarewa National Museum in April 2021.

The Lion and Tusk Museum was established in 2018 by the Rhodesian Services Association who are devoted to commemorating the military history of Rhodesia (now known as Zimbabwe and Zambia).

The museum has been the topic of heated discussion within the community after a video was uploaded to TikTok earlier this year. 

The most liked comment on the video reads, “I think most people in Tga have never heard of it nor know what the Rhodesian was about. I’m shook lived there most of my life until last year.”

The museum's reception and store area.  Source / The Lion and Tusk Museum

Rhodesian Services Association editor Hugh Bomford said they successfully applied for the $2,000 grant from Te Papa to help pay their curator’s wages.

Te Papa confirmed that Lion and Tusk was awarded this money through the Helping Hands Grant in April 2021.

A Te Papa spokesperson said the eligibility criteria for the grant expanded to include supporting operational costs, including salaries and wages, because of pressures caused by Covid-19.

They declined to comment on whether the museum supported white supremacy.

A re-creation of a Rhodesian bunker inside the museum.  Source / 'The Sentinel', Newsletter of the Rhodesian Services Association.

Massey University expert on social cohesion Professor Mohan Dutta said the Rhodesian Services Association upholds and circulates “the narrative of white supremacy”. 

“Rhodesia is so critical here because an organisation like the Rhodesian Services Association is celebrating not just white supremacy as a structure, but a military structure that is able to enact serious forms of violence to control black, indigenous and people of colour,” he said.

The Lion and Tusk Museum concerns Professor Dutta due to the spate of racist incidents in Tauranga this year. 

These include the anonymous distribution of white supremacist fliers among houses in the area, bus drivers being racially abused and threatened, and Te Pāti Māori refusing to stand a candidate in the recent by-election because of threats from white supremacists. 

“For security and police, it’s something worth looking at carefully because the fact you have these discourses flowing from within the same geographic space is cause for concern.”

Dutta said the use of Rhodesian symbols has become popular recently as Nazi symbols have either been banned or condemned. 

“We’ve certainly seen an upsurge of the Rhodesian symbols because it enables white supremacists to identify each other but also to recruit others into that ideology.”

Dutta questions whether public funding should be used to support “racist infrastructure”.

“Oftentimes we will find fairly mainstream politicians that actually are linked with these organisations. I think that needs to be looked at closely”, he said.

“We are seeing this as a global phenomenon, including in Australia and New Zealand, where people recruited into these white supremacist organisations sometimes have military connections, evident in the museum’s association with donor and US military veteran, Kevin Smith."

An exhibition of a Rhodesian soldier holding a rifle inside the museum.   Source / 'The Sentinel', Newsletter of the Rhodesian Services Association.

Museum curator Tony Fraser said its purpose is to give soldiers, ex-Rhodesians and Zimbabweans, a place for their memories. 

“There are exhibits from all walks of life with a distinct lean to the military service of those people,” he said.

Fraser is not Rhodesian or Zimbabwean himself, but lived in Zimbabwe in the early 80s and wanted to “give back”.

“I’ve got no political affiliations with the place. I’m in favour of history and it shouldn’t be forgotten”, he said.

He also disagrees with Rhodesia being described as white supremacist.

“They were just people trying to make a living. Similar to what New Zealanders do.” 

Fraser says New Zealanders like the late Garfield Todd are commemorated at the museum. 

Todd was an Invercargill-born man who moved to Rhodesia in 1934 as a Protestant missionary to run a school and eventually became Prime Minister.

During his political career, he championed many policies aimed at improving the lives of the black majority in Rhodesia. 

He was later condemned as a traitor by white Rhodesians for coordinating the isolation and embargo of Rhodesia and supporting the legitimisation of black nationalist groups.

An exhibition of a rifle and danger signs inside the museum.  Source / The Lion and Tusk Museum

Fraser maintains the Lion and Tusk is “not a political museum” and that it's important to remember the good and the bad parts of history.

Another infamous Rhodesian Prime Minister, Ian Smith, who campaigned for a “whiter, brighter Rhodesia” and opposed black majority rule there, is also commemorated by the Lion and Tusk Museum.

“Even the so-called bad prime minister Smith almost lost his life on a number of occasions fighting the Nazis.

"We do celebrate the military history of a colony that fought for the British empire, just as New Zealand did.”

According to Fraser, the majority of the museum’s funding comes from membership and online sales for “memorabilia and military badges for people to wear on the berets on ANZAC Day so non-political ex-servicemen” can commemorate their fallen.

Dutta believes this could mean events like ANZAC Day are being co-opted by white supremacists.

“In research of white supremacy in Aotearoa and Australia, one of the things that seems quite clear is that white supremacy is fairly significant here in online spaces and offline spaces.”