by Sine Thieme, a writer and mother of four who is new to South Africa and busy chronicling her experiences on her blog, Joburg Expat.
The world is so fast-changing in many areas of life that our kids don’t have much of a connection to what we, their parents, would consider the more recent past. They have no idea what a walkman is, they have never seen a phone that’s connected to the wall with a cord, and they certainly would chuckle at the idea of a “floppy disk.”
But while that’s okay in the realm of technology, it’s not such a good thing when it comes to history. If you’re a kid in South Africa today, you have no idea how different your life is from less than twenty years ago. Apartheid sounds like a technical term, and putting an end to it seems almost like a foregone conclusion from today’s vantage point.
Fortunately, there is a great way to bring this history alive, right here in Jozi at the Apartheid Museum. Especially older kids, anywhere from age ten upwards, will benefit greatly from a visit. In addition to learning a lot of new facts, they will experience what Apartheid might have felt like for those who lived through it
This point will come across right when they enter the museum. When you purchase your ticket, you are classified as ‘white’ or ‘non-white’, which will determine which entrance to the museum you must use.
It seems like a small thing, a little trick, but it actually has a profound impact to set the right tone. You walk through a cage-like structure with hundreds of replicated ID-cards on display, and you cannot help but feel a chill when you approach the race classification board at the other end.
From there you are channeled back to the outside where you walk among mirror-like displays of “ordinary people,”to contrast the rigid separation of the apartheid state with the free mingling of people of all races taking place today.
Some of the most haunting displays are life-size photographs taken during the various uprisings in black townships and the brutal response they elicited from the police.
Towards the end of the museum you will find a truck on display, the kind that was used by police to drive into townships and quell uprisings. It looks more like a tank and gives you a strong sensation of the power of the state versus the oppressed masses, but also of the fear most whites must have felt in the presence of so many black people.
While most of today’s kids were born after the early 1990s, adult visitors will be struck by how recent all of this history is. Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990. In 1993, he and then president FW de Klerk received the Nobel Peace Prize for their tireless efforts to ensure a peaceful transition to democracy. But during those few years in between South Africa experienced a lot of turmoil and it was not at all clear that any kind of consensus on the future of the country could be reached.
All in all, the Apartheid Museum is a worthwhile visit for your family. You could combine it with a trip to Gold Reef City, which is right next door – and “sweeten the deal” with the promise of roller-coaster rides after the museum “drudgery,” but it might be a bit exhausting to do both in one day.