“To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom to others.” — Nelson Mandela
While you get to walk among history at Robbin Island in Cape Town, you can learn about the names and their struggle for freedom and justice in Johannesburg. The Apartheid Museum works as a sobering lesson on a dark period in South Africa’s history.
When you enter the grounds, you’ll see the Seven Pillars of the South African Constitution, which was drafted at the end of apartheid. They include these values displayed on the pillars — democracy, equality, reconciliation, diversity, responsibility, respect and freedom.
The entrance replicates the race classification system where whites and non-whites were separated. When you buy your ticket, you’ll be told which entrance to go to — you don’t have a choice. Inside, you’re confronted with a series of I.D. cards and photos of the committees that determined who you were.
You then find yourself back outside where you’ll see walls made of rock and rubble. This represents the country’s history of mining for gold and diamonds. Along the way, you see photos of the immigrants who came to South Africa to work in the industry.
Before you head into the main museum, you can take in the Johannesburg skyline. This is where I have to point out the odd location of the museum and who owns it. Next to it is Gold Reef City, an amusement park with a gold rush theme. In the same complex is Gold Reef Casino, who owns the Apartheid Museum. As you would think, this is controversial. Gold Reef was founded by twin brothers Abe and Solly Krok, who made their fortune selling skin-whitening creams to black people. After a few court cases, the museum is classified as a not-for-profit.
Inside the main building (where photography isn’t permitted), you’ll get a step-by-step account of how apartheid came to be after the gold rush and the white miner strikes in the 1910s. The museum is informative as well as artistic in its layout. You’ll see nooses hanging from the ceiling, multi-media installations of hundreds of black prisoners and photographs of police breaking up protests. It was a violent, angry century for South Africa. What I learned the most, when apartheid was abolished and Nelson Mandela was freed, the violence continued for years led by the white supremacist movement. There’s a room where you are bombarded with violent news footage from the mid-90s.
There are hundreds of individual stories from this time — those like Steven Biko (the subject of the film Cry Freedom), Ahmed Kathrada and Walter Sisulu. The museum is a must for history lovers and for those who want delve deep into the country’s struggle.