Apartheid and the Museum that will never let us forget.

I’ll start with a little background for this as I don’t want to assume people know about the history of South Africa. I mean, I only learnt a lot of this because I went here. A lot of this happened before my time but I obviously know the big-name Nelson Mandela, but there is so much to know about how this disgraceful act that was allowed to happen.

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While Europe was recovering from WWII and the segregation and massacre of thousands of Jews, South Africa was moving in the opposite direction. Apartheid, meaning “apartness” in Afrikanns, was a political rule of segregation from 1948-1990. This was put into place by the minority white rule, who made up something like 20% of the population. Throughout the history of S.A, Dutch colonisers were enforcing rules of segregation, which was then continued by the British. By the time all the colonies were bought back together to create the Union of South Africa, there were nearly 300 of these “homelands”.

It was in 1948 that Dr D. F Malan, led the Nation Party in the first political campaigned that was based on the rascal promotion of white unity. They swept into office winning 80 seats, while the United Party won 64. This new government started to bring in new rules to “ensure the survival of the white race” and to separate different races on all levels, Blacks, Coloureds and Whites. One of the first Acts passed was the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act in 1949 – the banning of marriage between Europeans and Non-Europeans, not long after this, it was extended to ban sexual intercourse as well. By 1950, Malan’s government passed the Population Registration Act which officially categorised every race in South Africa, which forced people to carry race cards (sound familiar?). In 1952, if you were caught without your reference book you were fined or imprisoned. As a sign of rebellion, many people didn’t carry them. This caused fights between the police and civilians. This was life in South Africa. People also seem to think that life in S.A changed when Mandela was released from prison in 1990. How very wrong, I the early 1990s S.A was on the brink. Riots now were between whites and blacks and blacks and blacks. People were turning on each other and the use of the “necklace” (death by tire fire) was used on those thought to be informants with the police. This just shows the brutality of which people would go to for change.

Apartheid formally ended in 1994 with the election of Nelson Mandela – the first black president of South Africa. This was the first election which allowed the participation of ALL adult voters, regardless of colour.

The Apartheid Museum which is on the outskirts of Johannesburg has all this information and so much more. On arrival you buy your ticket, which is just plain white and then on the black you are given a race, you are either “White” or “No-White”.  You must then use the entrance to the museum indicated on the ticket. This gives you just the smallest of idea what it was like during the apartheid. It costs R95 for an adult, which is about a fiver. Not much really! According to the museum if takes about 2 hours to go around, I however took about 4! I got taken in by the horror of what happened. There are so many in-depth signs to read, you have the choice of an overview on the black panels or grey which is more in-depth. They start from the Boer Wars and go up to and include the election of Nelson Mandela.

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For me, the hardest part to see was the student massacre in Soweto. Beginning on the morning of 16th June 1976, due to the introduction of Afrikaans as the language used to teach in. A hundred and seventy-six pupil were killed, though some estimate up to seven hundred! These were children! CHILDREN. It broke my heart to see the images, to watch the videos, to read the accounts. Throughout the museum there are moments like this. These were people’s lives, ruined by a few mad people in power.

This museum reminds as how we can never forget that lives were lost, on both fronts. Public executions were a norm, shown by the hanging ropes in a single room. Solitary confinement was a regular punishment. The ANC’s history and involvement in the anti-apartheid movement is a big part of the museum for obvious reasons.

While we were there Nelson Mandela exhibition was on. It was fascinating to read about his life. So much I didn’t know, you really only here about his years on Robben Island then his presidency. But there was so much more to his life.

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As I write this, I get so angry, and upset. How can we have let this happen again? I mean we as a World, keep letting this happen, time and time again. Through out history this is happening, and every time we say “no we will learn from this”, while there is another country enforcing ridiculous rules against race or sex. You don’t have to look far these days to find out that this is still happening, just look at that all the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.

 

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