Tuesday, September 16, 2008

back in the day...and how!

The day following our Sowetan tour, our gracious tour guides took us to yet another must-see on any first-time visit to Johannesburg, the apartheid museum. (http://www.apartheidmuseum.org/)

This museum documents the history of apartheid in this country – from its earliest roots to present-day, as well as the various systems of oppression upon which it was modelled (special shout out to Canada and its First Nations Reserves), with in-depth looks at key figures in its inception and implementation, countless images, reports, audio and video footage, eyewitness and survivors’ stories… a truly vivid and upsetting journal of South Africa’s history.

Authenticity and a brutal metallic aesthetic is consistent through the museum – from the separate entranceways for whites (blankes) and non-whites (nie-blankes) to the industrial high-ceilinged exposed-beam brick wall architecture and the prison bars that run throughout, to the stark and sometimes harsh lighting that you soon discover is often little more than natural light, varying between very bright and shadowy darkness.

The sections on Education* and transportation proved the most disturbing for me with discussions on the huge disparity between what was available to black (and to a lesser extent, coloured) children in contrast to their white brothers and sisters. A look at transportation offered insight into the lengths that black people had to go to to get from A to B, and the endless blockades that stood in their way of even earning enough to feed their children, let alone themselves. While I have been learning more and more about the history of apartheid during my time here, seeing photos and reading stories of people who lived in these times made it much clearer.

The exhibit ends on a positive note, with oral history stories from South Africans both young and old on their hopes and thoughts for the ‘new’ South Africa. I couldn’t help but notice how optimistic everyone was, given the realities of inequality that still exist, although I suppose, perhaps, in a comparative sense things are [inarguably] far better than they once were, and at the end of the day it is all but impossible to move forward without a hope that things will only continue to get better.

Sunday’s weather provided us with another stunning day, as we set out on yet another historical journey; though this time we were going a little further back.

The Cradle of Humankind (
www.cradleofhumankind.co.za) is about an hour’s drive from Jozi. A UN World Heritage Site, it is the place on earth where the earliest human remains have been found. Along with landmarks and replica bones, there is a museum on location which traces humankind’s evolution to modern man. Special attention is also paid to the devastating effects humans have had on the earth since we arrived – particularly on the environment and animal and plant kingdoms – and to the inequalities in education, health care and standards of living that exist across the globe today.


*The history of the disparities in the education system (the Bantu Education Act in particular) in this country is an important one to know and understand to fully grasp any discussion on where things stand today. I will discuss in greater detail in a future blog, but in the interim, if interested, I would suggest reading the brief bit written about it here:

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