on December 30, 2006
Our first excursion in South Africa was a half-day visit to the Apartheid Museum. Apartheid means apartness or separation. During the apartheid years, the South African government classified its citizens as white, black, or colored (mixed or Asian). The blacks were at the bottom of the social status. This systematic discrimination and oppression was the law of the land from 1948 to 1990. As a reminder of this dark period in South Africa's history, the entrance of the museum has two doors - one for whites and the other for non-whites. The door through which you enter is actually randomly determined by your admission ticket - not your race. However, these doors are the extent of the separation. Once inside, the story of the rise and fall of apartheid is told through film presentations and numerous exhibits with plenty of information to read. The museum is symbolically kept dark with brick walls and metal gates. No photography is allowed inside.Our journey through the museum took us from the early inhabitants of South Africa, through the arrival of Europeans and colonization, through the apartheid years, and eventually to the end of apartheid in 1990. Along the way we learned about the oppressive laws such as the "dompas" law requiring non-whites to carry a pass booklet anytime they left their designated homeland. Without it, they risked being arrested. We learned about Nelson Mandela and others who spoke out against the apartheid. They were charged with treason and sentenced to the maximum security prison on Robben Island off the coast of Cape Town. After his 27-year incarceration, Nelson Mandela went on to become the President of South Africa and a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.Our visit to the museum was not a typical visit for the tour company we used (Thompsons Africa) in that our driver, who happened to be a certified tour guide, gave us a guided tour. Ordinarily, the driver waits in the parking lot for 3 to 4 hours while the passengers tour the museum at their own pace. En route to the museum, we asked our driver if he would also show us Soweto. He was able to get permission from his office to do so, but he decided to give the six of us a guided tour of the highlights of the Apartheid Museum so that we could make it through in two hours and still have time to see Soweto. He did an outstanding job and was able to answer all our questions. It was a memorable experience to hear narration from someone who lived through this era. In my opinion, the Apartheid Museum was the best place for us to start our South African journey because it provided a great overview of some of the other places we'd visit in the country such as: Soweto, Robben Island, District Six, and the Zulu lands of KwaZulu-Natal.
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