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Germany, Poland, Austria, Hungary, Czech Republic, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Israel, Jordan and Denmark

Hawaii, Australia, Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, Malaysia, Nepal, India and England

Friday, January 6, 2017

11/22: The Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, South Africa

Our lovely room at the Blue Mango Lodge just outside of Johannesburg:
Steven and I would have preferred a real door in lieu of the curtain separating the bedroom from the bathroom though!
Part of the lodge's beautiful dining room included this paludarium, a type of fancy terrarium that incorporates both terrestrial and aquatic elements.

While waiting for Stevie, the lodge's owner, to drive us to the nearby metro station, we had time to walk around the lodge which was also used as a wedding venue. I am sure you will agree after looking at the photos, we lucked out when booking this site for two nights in Johannesburg!

Stevie later told us that bookings for the wedding venue were down in 2016 because of the sky high unemployment rate.

On the way to the Rhodesfield station, Stevie talked about his adopted country. He mentioned the spiraling prices and that unemployment was listed at between 28-30% but it was really a whopping 40% nationally. He added that many place names were being changed from the country's colonial past even though some, like the city of Pretoria, weren't racially offensive.

Stevie, born in Wales in 1962, told us that there were 54 countries in Africa which is the second biggest continent in the world after Asia. Our ears perked up when he talked about South Africa's Kruger National Park as we'd be visiting it soon. He said it was about the size of Wales and the second oldest national park in the world. However, when I just googled that fact, I found that Kruger is not in fact among the Top 10 oldest parks in the world.
Riding the spanking clean Gautrain into the city was so pleasant after some of the rather basic modes of public transportation we had used recently in other countries.
Stevie had suggested we get the Hop On Hop Off tourist bus - an international chain of tour buses known as HOHO - from the central station to the Gold Reef City Casino Theme Park where, strangely enough, the Apartheid Museum was located. However, when we learned that the cost would be 380 Rand or $32, we opted for a taxi instead as that was only 150 Rand or $11.

Outside the museum were The Pillars of the Constitution. Between 1994 and 1996, South Africa's fully democratic Parliament drew up the country's new Constitution. It contained guarantees of equality more extensive than anywhere else in the world. The seven fundamental values, represented by the pillars, were democracy, equality, reconciliation, diversity, responsibility, respect and freedom.
From the first step into the museum we were made starkly aware of the harshness of apartheid when our tickets arbitrarily identified us as white and non-white and thus we had to enter through different turnstiles. We were startled by the designation, but it put us in the mindset to learn more about apartheid. 
Interesting reading:
After passing through the turnstiles, we met up again while walking up a ramp that was bordered by the facade of stones in cages. The stones were a reminder of the thousands of miners who worked underground in pursuit of the gold metal that was to drive the country and the story of apartheid.
Journeys: The discovery of gold in Johannesburg in 1886 attracted migrants from all over southern Africa and many other parts of the world. The pictures we saw on the ramp were the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of some of those who traveled to the city of gold in the years following 1886. Together they made up a diverse and often racially mixed community. It was this racial mixing that the segregation and apartheid were designed to prevent.

Apartheid's system of classification: Every facet of apartheid was rooted in the system of racial classification. After 1950, all citizens were officially classified as 'native,' 'coloured' or 'white.' The last category was later extended to include 'Asian' as a separate racial category. Identity documents were the main tools to implement this racial divide. Those who were classified as 'whites' were guaranteed a lifetime of privilege. As members of a supposedly inferior race, 'coloureds' were consigned to lower positions on the scale of economic and political opportunity. But they were considered superior to 'natives' who were almost all relegated to lives of exploitation, poverty and hardship. 
The enormous consequences of classification: Apartheid's system of racial surveillance was designed to exclude no one. White people as well as 'coloureds', Asians and 'natives', were issued with identity documents which specified their race, Members of the police could demand to see these documents at any time, from any person. In reality, though, the targets of such scrutiny were always 'non-white- people.

The system of racial classification saturated every facet of life in South Africa - almost always to the benefit of white people. Only they were allowed to vote in what became the Republic of South Africa. Different races had to live in racially segregated areas. State spending on services was distributed according to racial groups. Hospitals and clinics were racially segregated. 
Children from different racial groups were compelled to attend racially segregated schools. Their course of study and teaching methods differed accordingly. 'Natives' were subjected to an educational system designed to turn them into disciplined, semi-skilled workers to service the country's white-owned industries. The most skilled, highest paying jobs were reserved for whites.
Putting apartheid into practice required the enactment of innumerable laws as well as putting into effect countless proclamations. The laws aimed to radicalize and regulate all aspects of social and political life. Below, a list of some of those laws:

The infectious spread of apartheid into the smallest details of daily living made South Africa into a land of signs.

Political executions: Under apartheid's various terrorism laws, 131 government opponents were executed, The state claimed that many others committed suicide while being detained. At least some of those people were, in fact, tortured to death. The room with 131 ropes with hangman's knots - one rope for each political prisoner executed in the apartheid era - was particularly chilling.
Two markedly opposing views of race relations in South Africa in May of 1976:
Nelson Mandela, the figure most closely associated with the fight against South Africa's apartheid, wrote 'To be free is not merely to cast off one's chains but to live in a way that respects and enhances the ways of others.'

On May 10th, 1994, after 350 years of colonialism and apartheid, tens of thousands of people gathered in Pretoria, South Africa, to witness the inauguration of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela as South Africa's first democratically elected president. When he addressed the jubilant crowd, Mandela said a new society would rise from the ashes of the past. South Africa had won their political freedom but faced a new struggle to free people from poverty, suffering and all forms of discrimination. 
Made from melted down AK-47 assault rifles, the art work Crucible was designed as a peace monument at the time of South Africa's first non-racial election in 1994. Neels Coetzee, the sculptor envisioned his sculpture and its setting as a shrine to all those suffering'abuse, deprivation, incarceration for whatever reason.'
Just before the 1994 elections, the Self-Help Association of Paraplegics organized a mini-marathon in Soweto, one of Johannesburg's black townships, to celebrated the International Day of Disabled Persons and raise awareness about the Disability Rights Charter. the main aim was to make sure that people with disabilities represented themselves in any forums where decisions would be made about them. Their policy was 'Nothing about us without us!'

We read a sign that said 'For every person that died in the struggle, three others became disabled. It is largely from this pool of injury and anger that the leadership of the disability rights movement emerged.' 
In 2009, the UN adopted July 18th as Nelson Mandela Day.

Spending three and a half hours walking chronologically through the apartheid years and eventually reaching the country's first steps to freedom with the democratic elections in 1994 was an emotional journey. Steven and I had both been intellectually aware of what had transpired in South Africa when apartheid was the rule of that country's land since it happened so relatively recently. However, experiencing a taste of the pain and suffering so many South Africans had to live through was gut wrenching.

Immediately following our visit to the Apartheid Museum, we had a personal tour of Soweto for the next several hours. That will be the focus of the next post as it's too long to include here.

Posted on January 6th, 2016 from Littleton, Colorado.


  1. Great write up on this info packed museum. The unemployment rate is staggering but familiar in Africa unfortunately ☹️. I still wouldn't mind living there though :-).

    1. Kemkem,

      I, too, just said to Steven last night I would love to return to Africa and discover many more of that continent's countries as we only saw a few this trip. Our favorite was South Africa and particularly the city of Capetown even though the constant reminders of violence was very unsettling. More on that in a much later post.


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