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Johannesburg > Activities > Apartheid Museum

Apartheid Museum

Apartheid Museum
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Apartheid Museum is located just 15 minutes from Johannesburg International airport. The Museum was built on land that had once been the epicenter of Joburgs reason for existence:- gold fields and the no-man�s-land between black Soweto and white Joburg. The Apartheid Museum is a great story of the triumph of the human spirit over adversity. In 1948, the white elected National Party government initiated a process which turned over 25 million people into 2nd class citizens, damning them to a life of servitude, humiliation and abuse. In 1994 they where liberated with the election of Nelson Mandela, the prisoner of 28 years who became president. The Apartheid Museum, illustrates the rise and fall of apartheid: The racially prejudiced system that blighted much of its progress and the triumph of reason which crowned half a century of struggle. Its a metaphor as well as a monument to one of the last century�s most spectacular experiments in social engineering.

Visitors are given a classification card on buying their tickets. Groups are arbitrarily divided into two groups �Whites� or �Non-Whites�. You may enter only through the steel gate allocated to you by race. Bars separate you from your companions. Wire cages containing enlarged identity documents constrict your view. These are the documents that tell you how to live your life under the rules of racial superiority or inferiority. Then the corridors diverge, leaving visitors wondering when they will next see their friends and family.

They are reunited on an inclined cement path, bricks on one side, steel-encased stone on the other. Nothing soft, nothing rounded and nothing that speaks of life. At regular intervals along the walkway stand 2-meter-high reflecting glass boxes. Within each rectangle is the figure of a South African. Some are empty and it is possible to see your own reflection in just such a racial box. The effect is chilling. Not until you have passed through this dehumanizing maze do you find another hall where the figures are displayed again, this time as faces, names, biographies, and a selection of items that give them individuality: a book, a comb, a scrap of a letter. These are real people of all races who contributed mightily to their country.

As a museum it is unashamedly didactic. From the overhead spotlights and surveillance equipment that leaves viewers feeling hopelessly exposed, to the glinting razor wire and barriers that ensure they do not tread beyond their predetermined path, it hammers the message home. Apartheid is revealed chapter and verse, in the legislation that created it over nearly 50 years. The fine print is fascinating, explaining the criteria used by government panels to reclassify people from one racial group to another. If a pen stuck into an applicant�s hair fell out, the person was judged �colored�; if it stuck, the person was �black.� Families were split and �communities� were created this way.

On all sides are video monitors replaying the struggle: here Nelson Mandela as a young man giving a reasoned explanation of his policy while on the run from the police, there a news clip of burning beer halls. The most chilling exhibit is surely the room filled with white rope nooses, 121 �political activists� hanged by the apartheid regime between 1962 and 1986. But it is not all pain and suffering. There are exhibits of the rough sketch that led to the agreement for democratic elections. Deceptively simple in black and white. There are the posters and T-shirts celebrating the first real democratic elections and the promise that never again will one race be allowed to persecute another.

But perhaps the most extraordinary exhibit of South Africa�s fascinating history is still a work in progress: a living museum, where apartheid is not consigned to showcases and video clips but still very much alive�the tiny town of Orania. What might well be the most politically incorrect tourist destination in the world is beginning to attract an audience. Baking in the dusty karroo, the heirs to Hendrik Verwoerd�the man who gave apartheid its philosophical underpinning�stay true to their belief that each group should be allowed �self-determination.� It is legally a whites-only precinct.

This awkward anachronism came about when a couple of hundred prefabricated bungalows, built to house workers on an irrigation project in the 1960s, fell into disuse. The settlement was bought out and transformed into a private company by the �Volkstaters��diehards�who hoped, and still do, that it would become the refuge for tens of thousands of Afrikaners. It now has about 600 residents. They all do their own manual labor; no black servants are allowed. No one has even asked the question whether any blacks have applied for residency.

The prime exhibit is the well-preserved home of Verwoerd�s widow, Betsie, who died in 2000. Here you can see the original manuscript of the former prime minister�s inaugural speech and the chair he was seated in when he survived an attempted assassination in 1960. In a glass case is the suit he was wearing when a second assassination bid, in 1966, succeeded. The townsfolk, mostly farmers and small-business people, take pride in their low crime rate and the policy of eviction for anyone who fails to meet their social obligations. It is a dour place, with many rules and few distractions. Perhaps, it is the best exhibit of all that South Africa has to offer about the impossibility of apartheid. A warning of what might have been.

Discover the true history of South Africa. Whoever you are, you cannot but come away with a deeper understanding and appreciation of this country, its darkest days and its brightest triumphs. The Museum has been assembled and organized by a multi-disciplinary team of curators, film-makers, historians and designers. An architectural consortium comprising several leading architectural firms, conceptualized the design of the museum on a seven-hectare site. The museum is a superb example of design, space and landscape offering the international community a unique South African experience.

The exhibits are from film footages, photographs, text panels and artifacts illustrating the events and human stories that are part of the epic saga, known as apartheid. A series of 22 individual exhibition areas takes the visitor through a dramatic emotional journey that tells a story of a state sanctioned system based solely on racial discrimination.

To understand what South Africa was really like, a visit to the Apartheid Museum is fundamental to journey to the past. This beacon of hope shows the world how South Africa has come to terms with the past and is working towards a prosperous future for all South African's.

Museum times

The Museum is open from Tuesday to Sundays, 10am to 5pm. The entrance fee is R55 for adults and R12 for pensioners and students. Guided tours can be arranged by phoning 011 496 1822 ( two weeks to a month in advance). It is located on the corner of Gold Reef and Northern Parkway Roads.

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