Johannesburg, a key city in South Africa, has always been a prime attraction for tourists from different parts of the world. If you are however visiting the city for the first time, wouldn’t it be good that you delve deep into its history and know about the rich culture and heritage that it boasts. The better way for doing this is to explore Museum Africa in the city.
The Museum Africa is situated at 121 Bree Street in the city’s Newtown Cultural Precinct, which is home to some of the best live music venues, Gramadoelas Restaurant and the popular Market Theatre.
Important things to know before visiting museum
Before you set to explore the Museum Africa, it would be just great to know a brief history and essential facts about it. The museum remembers the stark history of the city aptly recapturing the bitter experience during the Rivonia Treason Trial, and the social effects that the migrant labor system had on various gold mines. Get ready to discover several fascinating aspects of the country’s history by visiting the hostel room of concrete bunks or a shebeen.
The museum is presently housed in a former main vegetable and fruit market in the city. Museum Africa combines both as an ethnological museum and an animated memorial to the important phases of the city’s historical past. Being a popular ethnological museum, you will discover various archaeological items, musical instruments, photographs, paintings and artifacts.
The permanent displays at the museum are themed to appropriately reflect Johannesburg’s economic, political, social and geological history. Most of the displays portray the social effects of the gold mines on people’s life in the country, particularly the city itself.
The museum is home to many permanent displays such as ‘Sounds of the City’, ‘Tried for Treason’, ‘Gandhi’s Johannesburg’, ‘Cartoons in Context’, and ‘Johannesburg Tracks: Mapping’.
Let us have a glimpse into all these permanent displays. The history of the South African music is beautifully retraced by the ‘Sounds of the City’. This includes the Marabi dance and music of the 1920s slum yards, and the township jazz of a Sophiatown shebeen.
The ‘Tried for Treason’ is yet another permanent display covering the four-year-long trial of 156 people who vigorously opposed apartheid, including Nelson Mandela.
The city’s landmarks associated with Mahatma Gandhi, the man who strongly advocated the passive resistance philosophy, are prominently displayed at the permanent exhibition titled ‘Gandhi’s Johannesburg’. The city is in fact considered to be the birthplace of Satyagraha. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, popularly known as Mahatma Gandhi, is fondly remembered as the Father of Indian Nation for his pioneering role in the country’s freedom movement. Gandhi studied in London and later on arrived in South Africa to work as a lawyer. He resided in Johannesburg from 1904 to 1913.
Prominent visual satirists and commentators have over the past several decades captured the South African history through their own eyes. This has been vividly portrayed through a long-term exhibition titled ‘Cartoons in Context’, curated by Linda Chernis. The exhibition showcases the museum’s extensive collection of political cartoons dating to late 1700s and going up till the 2000s. However, the contemporary cartoons made by renowned Sowetan cartoonist Sifiso Yalo dating from 2003 till present are source of major attraction as they also form integral part of the exhibition.
Another permanent exhibition called ‘Johannesburg Tracks Mapping’ provides a different facet of the city. It portrays sexuality in the city, particularly those related to gays.
Museums with Museum
The Museum Africa is not an exclusive museum. It has many museums within its complex. One such museum is the Worker’s Museum, which tells the story of migrant laborers in South Africa. The museum showcases many exhibits from the Zambezi River, and also boasts of an Iron-Age Tswana house, with a furnace for working iron.
The Africana Museum is also a part of the Museum Africa. It was earlier housed in the Johannesburg Public Library. The museum showcases an impressive collection of historic furniture and utensils used by the Afrikaner, Tswana, Xhosa, and Zulu tribes.
Two other museums – the Bensusan Museum of Photography and the Bamberg Museum of Fashion – now also form a part of Museum Africa. The Bensusan Museum of Photography traces the history of photography in the country ranging from Louis Daguerre in 1839 to the latest digital images of modern times. A fine collection of cinematography and photography equipments can also be found here.
If you want to know about the social, economic, political and cultural history of South Africa, it is important that you visit the Museum Africa, where you will find all the related exhibits and artifacts under one roof.