While modern Johannesburg is a vibrant and energetic metropolis, it’s difficult to avoid thinking about its darker past – and why would you want to? It may not be pleasant, but a better understanding of apartheid, how it happened, and the lasting effects it has on the city and country as a whole makes any experience of South Africa more meaningful.
First should be a visit to the Apartheid Museum, a museum impressive in its scope and design. The exhibits focus on the entire history leading up to the beginning of apartheid, doing an excellent job of providing historical context. They also provide graphic yet important depictions of what was needed and was lost during the long struggle for freedom. Although not appropriate for younger children, every other visitor would benefit from learning more about apartheid and the heroes that fought to bring about its end.
In nearby Soweto is another moving museum and memorial focused on apartheid. To the southwest of Johannesburg proper, Soweto is the site of some of the most important and infamous events of the apartheid era. During the Soweto uprising in 1976, police opened fire on a group of thousands of students marching in protest. The museum and memorial here are named after Hector Pieterson, a 12-year-old student who was the first to be killed. This museum is focused somewhat on the effects of apartheid on Soweto, but also does an excellent job of displaying and commemorating the suffering that children went through under the system and the courage many showed in fighting back.
Nearby, in Soweto, a more informal museum has been set up in the former home of Nelson Mandela. Residents of the area give tours around the tiny home, which is still filled with countless decorations and memorabilia dedicated to the revered former president.
Another fascinating place to visit is Constitution Hill, located inside the Old Fort. An infamous prison used to be located here, and this is where Nelson Mandela and dozens of other prisoners accused of treason once stood trial. Now, the Hill stands as testament to the strength of the country’s constitution that has been built since the end of apartheid. The Constitutional Court hearings are now held here, in a court partly built with the remains of the old prison walls. Equally symbolic, court cases are heard in all 11 of South Africa’s official languages, making it truly a place of equality and community.
[photo courtesy of jasonwhat]