The Apartheid Museum

The following blog post is by 2L Taylor Sprehe:

On this trip I had the realization that I had been robbed of a decent historical education in high school.  Our curriculum basically consisted of the revolutionary and civil wars with a pinch of current events.  Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990 with the first democratic universal adult suffrage election in South Africa in 1994.  That would have made me four and eight, respectively.  The developments of the youngest democracy in the world should have been given at least some attention though my secondary historical education.  Admittedly, I did not really start paying attention to the news on a global scale until I was about 15 or 16, but that, I believe, is typical of my generation in America.

We received our tickets to the Apartheid Museum and immediately noticed the inscription on the white paper.  “You ticket has randomly classified you as either ‘white’ or ‘non-white’.  Use the entrance to the museum for which you have been assigned.”  Ten points for audience participation.  I, randomly enough, was classified as “white”.  The entrants under both categories entered the same building, but they were separately exposed to vastly different perspectives of the Apartheid era.

Apartheid Museum 2


I would soon learn that was just a brief introduction to the museum.  After a hurried glance at the outdoor exhibits, which contained a brief history of the land on which South Africa now sits, we entered the actual museum.  The brochure laid out two possible courses for one to take in the museum: the full-on read everything I have unlimited time course, and the two-hour abridged course.  Our tour guide, Goodwill, notified us that we had limited time and to spend it wisely.  Although he was a tour guide and I’m certain this was not his first, or even 10th visit to this museum, Goodwill seemed to be honestly interested in the exhibits.  At least he seemed interested in making sure we understood what we were seeing.  This trip to Africa has been the first tour guided experience I have ever had, and if I learned one thing about tour guides it is that they are almost constantly saying interesting things.  I made it a guideline to follow Goodwill through the museum at his pace.  Excellent decision.  He narrated and commented on most of the exhibits.  Some of the highlights of the museum included a room commemorating all of the political hangings.  There were approximately 200 nooses hanging from the ceiling to represent each death.  They were all cluttered together to form a sky of rope and knots.  Another was the police riot vehicle that was open for visitors to climb in and look around.  The vehicle was about the size of a tank, mine resistant and seated 20 people with a snipers nest on top.

Apartheid Museum 1

The Apartheid struggle mainly occurred from 1960-1994.  That means there was plenty of video footage to display.  Probably another trait of my generation is the preference of visual learning.  I am used to taking in information through TV or the radio, so I immediately gravitated to the news clips being played on a loop throughout the museum.  The most powerful clip was the ten minute loop of F. W. De Klerk announcing the release of Nelson Mandela and the decriminalization of political organizing and the ANC.  The video would cut to other members of the South African Parliament who had looks on their faces that words can describe.  The museum ended with two piles of rocks.  One was to grab a rock from the pile on the right and throw it onto the pile on the left.  Your negative feelings about this era were supposed to be thrown away with the chunk of stone.  It provided much needed closure to this powerful experience.

Taylor Sprehe


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