The Chronicles of a Southern Girl's Adventures of Living, Loving, Learning, and Traveling in Africa
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I have to admit I didn’t know much about apartheid. I knew that apartheid was similar to the segregation system in the south but I didn’t know how it started, the specific parameters of it, or how it differed from the segregation system in the U.S. I went to a high school that only taught European history and I went to an elementary/middle school that only discussed African-Americans’ role in history during slavery and the Civil Rights Movement – we picked cotton and we marched. That was about it. So needless to say, I didn’t know much about what was going on with black people on another continent. I’m still trying to learn what happened with us in the U.S.
The Apartheid Museum is definitely one of the most popular tourist sites in Johannesburg and it chronicles the painful history of apartheid and the courageous black and white South African men and women who fought against it in Johannesburg. I figured I better learn about the system that shaped this country and still has an imprint on it today.
For those that may not know, Apartheid was a system of racial segregation enforced by the National governments of South Africa between 1948 and 1994, under which the rights of the majority “non-white” inhabitants of South Africa were curtailed and white supremacy and Afrikaner minority rules was maintained (source: http://www.wikipedia.org). The basic principle behind apartheid was simple – segregate everything. Cut a clean line through a nation to divide black from white and keep them divided.
You can’t take pictures inside the museum so unfortunately I can only tell you about some of what I learned and the “Aha” moments I had while touring the museum.
The Apartheid Museum experience begins as you enter the museum. Your admission ticket into the museum is labeled as “White” and “Non-White” and you have to enter the door with the label that matches the label on your ticket. The entrance on the Non-White side is in a dilapidated state while the White side is in a much nicer state.
Top Moments from The Apartheid Museum that made me say “What in the world…?”
1. Racism is really CUH-RAZY. I’m not just having this thought. I’ve thought it was cuh-razy for quite some time but I can’t help but be shocked at it still. The concept that one race of people would subjugate or enslave another race of people solely on the basis of race is crazy. Also, I find it crazy that black South African women were good enough to be nannies and take care of white South African children (presumably a person’s most treasured loved ones) but they weren’t good enough to attend school with or use the same restroom. That’s RIDONCULOUS to me. Is it just me or does anyone fail to see the logic in that arrangement?
2. Johannesburg was a very racially diverse city until the system of apartheid. Different races were living and working with each other. Government officials designated areas where each race (White, Black, Asians, Indians, coloured (people of mixed race), etc.) could live and people were displaced and expected to relocate to the area designated for their race. It’s interesting to me that blacks in the U.S. were the minority, had no rights initially as slaves and gradually fought for and were given more rights; however, blacks in South Africa were the majority and their rights were gradually taken away with the passage of over 100 apartheid laws.
3. Walkways into railway stations, bank teller lines, taxi stands, and telephone booths were also segregated in addition to the usual segregated locales (bathrooms, schools, restaurants, water fountains). Blacks and Whites were not allowed to ride on the same buses either. One quote in the museum read due to all of the segregation signs “because of apartheid, Johannesburg became a city of signs.” Intermarrying between any races and alcohol sales to blacks in the urban centers were also forbidden.
4. Every black person over the age of 16 was required to carry a “pass card” within white regions. Racial classification was a huge part of apartheid. Black South Africans had to apply for the pass card and a person could be arrested if s/he was approached and did not have a pass card. Any white person (even a child) could ask to see a black person’s pass card.
5. Conditions in Robben Island prison where Nelson Mandela was held were really deplorable. They didn’t get access to hot water until 1973. He was imprisoned in 1964. I didn’t think it was Club Med but dang! No hot water? That’s brutal especially when you consider that that part of South Africa has very cold winters. His wife Winnie was allowed to visit him 2 months after he was imprisoned and then she wasn’t allowed to visit him for a year.
Any discrimination is not worthy a human being.
Today we can wonder if the black Africans are taking revenge for what happened in previous times. They are tackling the wrong generation and should know what it is to be discriminated, so it is not understandable that some black Africans seem to be willing to go back to a time of segregation, having this time the white Africans pushed in the corner.
They would better try to build up the country together in peace and take care that corruption does not come in power, like it is gaining grounds at the moment.
Marcus, thanks for reading my blog and for your comment. After decades of discrimination, I think it will take a while for people to realize that doing what’s good for self, another individual, or a certain segment of the population will not benefit the country as a whole. The people of a country rise and fall together. The majority people grew up seeing people in power using their power in a way that only benefited themselves. Hopefully, people in power will come to this realization sooner rather than later and make decisions accordingly. Thanks again for reading!