I must admit I didn’t know much about South Africa before visiting it. This place have never been very high on my list of places to visit – mostly because it’s so far away and so exotic that I’ve never really dreamt of being able to go there. But then this extremely low price (350€ for return Rome-Johannesburg!!!) appeared and it didn’t take me long to decide I’m going to South Africa! Few weeks later I was already on my way to this fascinating country.
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Background of best museums in South Africa
Because everything happened so fast I didn’t have enough time to learn about things to do in South Africa or about the history and culture of the place. I knew the basics: that the country dealt with the policy of apartheid, that Nelson Mandela was the president at the end of 90s and his popularity all over the world didn’t stop even when he retired, that in 2010 South Africa hosted football World Championships.
But what I learnt there, mostly about the apartheid, was like a slap in the face and something my mind couldn’t understand no matter how hard I tried… Even if the times of this cruel policy are long gone the tension is still widely seen and felt. I’ve myself witnessed couple of unpleasant situations that had a racist background – I observed it with a jaw-drop and I felt so powerless that I could do nothing about it… Fortunately the majority of people I’ve met weren’t like that at all!
During my time in South Africa I tried to learn as much as possible about its uneasy history. I know every place has its own issues but I tried really hard to understand what was happening in South Africa for big part of the 20th century. Now I’m definitely much smarter but still I can’t fully wrap my mind around all the apartheid issues.
I was lucky to visit 3 amazing museums in South Africa that covered the topic really well. I think every person visitihg South Africa should get to see them in order to realize that the country is not only about the beautiful landscape, that it also hides some dark pages in the recent history…
District Six Museum, Cape Town
District Six used to be a residential area in the center of Cape Town. Used to as in the 1970s, due to the apartheid regime, around 60.000 inhabitants were forced to move out from the site. What was a lively neighbourhood is now an unimproved land, haunting in the middle of this beautiful city.
The Museum isn’t very big but it’s guaranteed you’ll spend at least one hour exploring it and learning about the area. The ground floor is covered in the big map of the District Six – old residents marked where their houses used to be and wrote some personal notes about the place.
The place is full of old street-signs, small items that belonged to the community, personal stories of the life in District Six. Big boards explain the history of the neighbourhood as well as about the demolishion.
Visiting the Museum was one of the most moving experiences of my South Africa trip. I just couldn’t understand (and still can’t) how suddenly such a big part of the city can disappear and how so many people, more than in my hometown, have to move away, for no reason at all. I don’t even want to imagine how they must have felt and wat a traumatic experience it must have been for them…
To learn more about the museum as well as its opening hours visit the official website. I recommend getting the The Cape Town Official City Pass where the entrance to District Six Museum (as well as over 70 other attractions and hop-on hop-off bus) is included – you can purchase your ticket here!
You can visit District Six and learn more about the area during following highly rated tours:
- Robben Island Ferry Ticket and Township Combo Tour
- Township and Robben Island Combination Tour
- Cape Town: Half-Day Guided Township Tour
- Half-Day Tour Through Cape Town’s Townships
Hector Pieterson Museum, Soweto
Not far from Vilakazi Street in Soweto, where two of Nobel Prize winners used to live, this interesting museum is located. It’s named after young boy, 13-year-old Hector Pieterson, who had lost his life in the Soweto Uprising in 1976. He was one of the 176 people who died there (however some sources say about as many as 700 fatalities) but certainly the most symbolic one – the powerful picture showing his death is one of the most known of the apartheid regime.
I must admit that prior to my visit in South Africa I didn’t know anything neither about the Soweto Uprising nor about Hector Pieterson. And it was such a big part of the country’s history!
On 16th June 1976 around 20.000 high school students began protests as the answer to introducing Afrikaans language in the schools – eventually it turned into big riots that were strongly condemned by international community and eventually lead to the end of apartheid regime. Now 16th June is known in South Africa as a Youth Day.
I spent around 1 hour in the Museum and still felt I didn’t have enough time to explore it properly. There were lots of screens that were showing the history of Soweto Uprising and I wish I could see properly every single movie.
I was truly moved by the determination of all these young people who have decided to stand for their rights, how brave they were – it almost brought tears to me eyes. I just kept thinking how I’d behave in such situation and I honestly can’t give the answer…
You can visit the museum as part of the Soweto tour – I highly recommend it as this way you can learn more not only about the museum but also about Soweto and life in the township. You can choose from following highly rated tours:
- Johannesburg: Soweto Tour & Apartheid Museum Visit
- Johannesburg and Soweto Apartheid Full Day Tour
- Jo’berg in 1 Day: Soweto, Apartheid Museum & City Tour
- Johannesburg and Soweto: Half Day Tour
Apartheid Museum, Johannesburg
The most important of all museums in South Africa, showing and explaining all about apartheid. Room after room it’s a journey from the genesis of the regime, through it’s peak and eventually to its collapse and to South African freedom. Big part of the exhibition was shocking to me and left me speachless for a long time. I tried very hard to understand what have happen to South Africa for all these years but failed.
I will never comprehend what the insecurity can do to the human’s mind – that’s where it all started, in a group of people who weren’t sure of their position and talked others into their concept. It lead eventually into the struggle and suffering of innocent thousands whose only fault was their skin colour.
To get the feel of the times each visitor is assigned to a “white” or “non-white” entrance (I ended up in the second one). I found this slightly uncomfortable that I’m allowed / not allowed to use this and that. But it was just the game, so how must have the reality felt for all these years?
The Museum also displayed a big exhibition about the life of Nelson Mandela (it was 1.5 week before he passed away) which was a good learning experience as to be honest I didn’t really get the whole cult of him. Most of his life, during the apartheid regime, he spent in prison, isolated from the world. But every battle need to have a hero and a symbol and such was Mandela to the fights with apartheid.
To learn more about the Apartheid Museum visit the official website. You can visit the museum as part of Soweto tours – the same that stops at Hector Pieterson Museum – scroll up for the links to recommended tours.
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