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What struck me as I stood outside, was the design of the building, it looked like a prison. And indeed, as the brochure states as well: Apartheid is exactly where it belongs – in a museum; which looks like a prison. On the wall outside Mandela’s words: ‘To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.’
The entrance may well be the part of the museum which I will remember forever, because there are two entrances actually. One for ‘whites only’ and one for ‘non-whites’. Like in the old days… The ticket office issues tickets randomly labeled either category, and you may be separated from your friends as your ticket determines where you go. Like the colour of your skin in the old days…
The museum itself is an interactive display of ‘all things apartheid’: from political and economical division of the different cultures and people of South Affrica, the years of race classification and the 150 (yes, one hundred and fifty!) acts of apartheid, detentions and the oppression of the nationalist regime. It takes you through the rise of black consciousness, the armed struggle, and of course the 27 years of Nelson Mandela’s imprisonment.
Impressions that will always stay with me are the ‘cell’ with the ropes hanging from the ceiling, symbolizing all those people who were executed or tortured to death, yet who were recorded as having committed suicide during their imprisonment. Or the historic speech of F.W. de Klerk, who replaced hardliner P.W. Botha in August 1998, and decided within months of his regime that Nelson Mandela should be released, and political organizations like the ANC and the Pan African Congress should be unbanned. Sights, sounds and displays which will leave a lasting impression.
A visit to this extra-ordinary museum is a historical journey through a dark era of South African history. But one that sheds light on where we are today as a country, and how far South African has come. I personally believe anybody interested in history in general and South African history in particular, should visit the Apartheid Museum. Both ‘whites’ and ‘non-whites’.