I walk past seven pillars, each representing the seven principles of our constitution: Democracy, equality, reconciliation, diversity, responsibility, respect and freedom. I smile as I’m imensley proud that the birth our democracy was based on these, however around the corner of these pillars I’m faced with something which was so prevalent during those dark years of apartheid and yet so unfamiliar to me. The sight of the “White” and “Non-white” queue signs very suddenly brought the injustices apartheid South Africa to the fore, so much so, that overwhelmed with emotion, the tears started running down my cheeks and my mind kept saying “I can’t believe this was how we treated people”.
This was introduction to a place which houses some painful memories of South Africa’s past; A place I have wanted to visit for a long time and only now, on another work trip to South Africa, I managed to do. I have read quite a few books which goes into the horrors of Apartheid and I’m well aware of the crime perpetrated by the Apartheid government, however as I don’t remember much from my apartheid childhood and growing up in a house where I was taught that a black person is the same as a white person, I think I never really felt the full thrust of apartheid. That, I think, explains the overwhelming emotions I felt when I faced the “white/Non-white” signs.
Once you are in, you’re faced with a numerous oversized Identity cards from non-white South Africans. This brings home the notion of otherness when you see that within your own country you were classified and treated differently according this classification. From this point onwards, you are faced with how the institutionalised racism that developed from the colonial period to arrive at it’s peak, the birth of Apartheid perse.
There are a number of exhibits in the museum which convey life under apartheid for white and non-white South Africans and these exhibits clearly dispel the illusion that under apartheid things were “Separate, but equal”. A great example of this is photograph of black school children huddled around their books on the classroom floor. The exhibits constantly bring you face to face with the injustices of apartheid.
The most striking exhibit is a room honoring those who died in custody of the security police and the execution of political prisoners. The room is simple, displaying the names of executed political prisoners, though the most striking feature of the room, is the dozens of nooses hanging from the roof (hanging was the method used capital punishment).
I spent a good two hours in the museum taking in our awful past, however I realized the importance of this museum. Humanity needs to be reminded of it’s cruelty in order for us to not allow events and periods like this to happen again. However, museums alone won’t make a difference, as individuals we need to make the difference, we need to stand up against racism in all forms and make sure that future generations are colour blind, respect and accept difference.