If you’ve been up Table Mountain, spotted the Big 5 in the Kruger and shopped your heart out at the Waterfront, it is time to explore the unique history that has shaped South Africa.
The struggles of this culturally rich nation are chronicled in a number of interactive and artistic museums that are well worth a visit. The exhibits aim to explore the diverse cultures, commemorate those who suffered atrocities and to give an insight into what life was like during the many stages of South Africa’s history.
While some of the history is quite unhappy, what should be celebrated is how far this young nation has come in such a small space of time – and that is exactly what these museums do. By highlighting the strength of individuals and the nation as a whole they are testament to a country that has overcome so much. Heart-breaking at times, but ultimately uplifting, understanding this history is a necessary experience to gain an appreciation for the country.
Here’s our list of the museums that are not to be missed during your next visit to South Africa.
The Apartheid Museum, Johannesburg
Apartheid almost tore apart South Africa over the 46 years it was in place. As a result of its abolition in 1994, with Nelson Mandela at the helm, South Africa is now one of the youngest democracies in the world, with possibly the most liberal constitution. It has transformed itself into The Rainbow Nation, and while many of us see Apartheid as being very much in the past, it pays to recognise the significance and impact it had (and continues to have) on the country, which is why this museum is so important. It handles the enormous task of presenting 46 years of horrors in an accessible and interesting way extremely well; it’s quite big so allow enough time to see it all.
Slave Lodge, Cape Town
As a part of the Iziko Museums of South Africa, the Slave Lodge is funded by the Department for Arts and Culture. Situated in the heart of Town, on the corner of Wale and Adderley, the Slave Lodge is one of the oldest buildings in the city and as the name suggests it used to house slaves. It now shows visitors what life would be like for a slave in Cape Town and is a great place to start your cultural adventure in the city.
Mandela House, Soweto
8115 Vilakazi Street, Orlando West, Soweto is one of the most famous addresses in South Africa. This was the house Nelson Mandela and his family lived in from 1946 through to the 1990s, and on the 1st September 1997 Mandela donated the house to the Soweto Heritage Trust so it could be turned into a museum. It chronicles the events of his life as well as his family’s during Apartheid, and bullet holes can be seen in the bricks as well as scorch marks from Molotov cocktails. This modest house has seen a lot, and it manages to fit it all inside with a bit of help from the addition of a visitor’s centre. It’s in the middle of vibrant Soweto, so you’d get to see two great places at once.
District Six Museum, Cape Town
In 1857 District Six was named the Sixth Municipal District of Cape Town, and was established as a diverse community of freed slaves, merchants, artisans, labourers and immigrants. By the beginning of the 20th Century forced removals had begun, displacing black South Africans first until it became and all white area in 1966. People were forced out to the Cape Flats and their homes were flattened. This museum gives an insight into what life was like in the area before the forced removals, during and after; with reconstructions of parts of houses and streets, personal memorabilia, photographs and interactive exhibitions.
Bo Kaap Museum, Cape Town
The Bo Kaap is perhaps best known for its colourful houses, cobbled streets and the Noon Gun. Formerly known as the Malay Quarter, it is considered the historical centre of Cape Malay culture which is unique to the city. The Malay influence can be seen in the food, architecture and mosques that feature in this area. Also run by Iziko, this museum provides more of an in depth look at the lives of the people who lived there and the socio-political events that shaped the area. It’s also worth just having a walk around the Bo Kaap; it’s a beautiful part of the city and feels very different to the rest of Cape Town.
If you want any more information about these museums or South Africa in general, please don’t hesitate to contact one of our experts.
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