Apartheid Museum, Johannesburg

April 10

Today we visited the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg. It is a beautiful museum landscaped in the African veldt style with many beautiful grasses and African succulents.

The naturalistic landscape has many drifts of grasses along the gravel and brick walkways.

Along the entry are Gabon walls filled with rocks produced in the mining of gold. They represent the many non-white workers who died extracting the gold from the area.

Thirty percent of all gold mined in the world in all of history came from the mines near Johannesburg. The 2 photos above show some of the many mounds and hills made by putting the soil and rocks from the tunnels on top of the ground.

When you enter the museum they give you a ticket that says either “White” or “Non-White” randomly assigned. You have to enter the museum through the appropriate entrance as shown on the photo above. Whites and non-whites have different registration cards as shown above and the museum shows through photos, videos, recordings and articles how poorly the non-whites were treated under apartheid.

One large section of the museum is about Nelson Mandela, an anti-apartheid activist who spent 27 years in prison for his beliefs. One of the interactive displays shows photos of Mandela with some of his memorable quotes in different colors. The visitor chooses a favorite quote and then picks out a stick of the same color and places it in the rack on the other side of the path. In this way the museum encourages visitors to read some of Mandela’s writings.

Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990 and became the first black president of South Africa. He died in 2013 at the age of 95. His wife, Winnie, died 2 weeks ago so we were not able to visit her town, Soweto. Mandela was raised in a Christian missionary school and was taught from a young age that all people are equal. He helped to write the new South African constitution. The above plaque shows the 7 pillars of the constitution for which Mandela gave his life: Democracy, Equality, Reconciliation, Diversity, Responsibility, Respect and Freedom.

Many people ask: “Has apartheid really been eliminated in South Africa?” Officially it has: Everyone has the right to vote; every one has the same type of registration card; everyone can own land; everyone uses the same schools and the same public facilities. In reality however we noticed on our tour that all the bus drivers, cooks, waiters, housekeepers, bellhops, taxi drivers were black and all the shop owners, managers, guides were white. The blacks live in substandard housing in ghettos along the freeways as shown in the following photos.

Note that the middle photo shows a row of porta-potties lining the fence because the dwellings do not have bathrooms. They only have running water at a few hose bibs in the middle of the development. The government gives them free electricity and that is why you see all the wires in the air. If they didn’t the people would use kerosene for heating which would result in many fires.

The government is trying to build stucco houses for these people like those in the photo below.

But the government can’t keep up with the demand. The community is growing faster than the government can build because there are many refugees coming into the country from surrounding countries. What is the solution? Many of the liberal South Africans feel that the privileged whites should give some of their land to the blacks and they have passed laws to start this process. This has already been tried in the adjacent country of Zimbabwe back in the ‘90s with horrific results.

Our guide, Russell, is from Zimbabwe and told us what happened in that country. In the 1980’s the country was ruled by the white minority who were mostly descendants from the English colonists. The black majority were getting restless and wanted some say in the government. They wanted to rule their country and change the name from Rhodesia to Zimbabwe. Rhodesia was named after the Englishman Cecil Rhodes, Zimbabwe is an African name.

The uprising came in the 1970’s and in 1980 the blacks were in control and they elected a black president, Robert Mugabe. He became a de facto dictator and ruled the country with an iron fist. He started taking away the farm land and businesses from the whites and giving to to the blacks. The economy of the country started to go downhill because the blacks in many cases did not know how to farm or run the businesses.

In 1980 it took 10 Zimbabwean dollars to equal 1 US dollar. By 1990 it took 25,000 Zimbabwean dollars to equal 1 US dollar. Hyperinflation took a severe toll on Zimbabwe; Many of the whites left and our guide was one of them. The people who were left were unskilled and unable to run the country. President Mugabe used much money for his own pleasure and was a poor manager of the country. They started printing million dollar notes and then billion dollar notes. By 2009 they were printing 100 billion dollar notes to buy a loaf of bread.

Now Zimbabwe is the second poorest country in Africa (Congo is the poorest). They no longer have any currency of their own; they use US dollars and South African rands. Tourism is what keeps this country alive. I bought 200 billion Zimbabwean dollars for $10 US.

Tomorrow: Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

Leave a Reply