South Africa, the southernmost country on the African continent, is rich in history and diversity. With 11 official languages and three capital cities, the country has only recently begun the process of becoming a more unified whole. In recent history, the existence of apartheid and racial discrimination led to the emergence of some of the world’s most notable individuals, such as Nelson Mandela. Its distance from the rest of mainland Europe, North America, and eastern Asia largely allowed the apartheid regime to continue, and it was only legally ended in 1994.
What remains today are a number of historic sites which are a stark reminder of the stain of apartheid on the country’s history. Here are 5 of the most poignant which are worth a visit.
1. Robben Island
Robben Island, off the coast of Cape Town in South Africa was a notorious prison, best known for its internment of political prisoners during South African apartheid. Its most famous prisoner – prisoner 466/64 – was Nelson Mandela, the anti-apartheid activist who would later become the country’s president. In all, Mandela was imprisoned for almost 27 years, together with many other anti-apartheid activists. Robben Island’s prison closed in 1996.
In addition to touring the maximum security prison buildings, the tour includes a 45 minute guided bus ride around the island and interaction with a former Robben Island prisoner. A symbol of the most difficult and divisive era in South Africa’s history, Robben Island is arguably the most symbolic, evocative, and important of all South African historic locations.
2. District Six Museum
The District Six Museum in Cape Town serves as an apt memorial to and celebration of District Six, a thriving community destroyed during the Apartheid.
Telling the story of those who lived through this time, visitors can explore how a neighbourhood which was once an outstanding example of communities co-existing and flourishing became a terrible story of Apartheid in practice. The museum immerses visitors in the lives of its previous inhabitants. The museum also offers guided tours of District Six itself, but these must be booked in advance.
3. Apartheid Museum
The Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg tells the history of apartheid and the struggle for human rights.
Through its twenty-two exhibitions, comprising artefacts, information panels and multimedia presentations, the museum provides an insight into life under the apartheid regime. It also looks at the gradual campaign against apartheid and the struggle for equal rights led by Nelson Mandela, the country’s eventual president.
4. The Nelson Mandela Museum
The Nelson Mandela Museum at the Bhunga Building chronicles the life of South Africa’s iconic former president and his struggle for democracy and the end of the apartheid regime.
Spread across three locations, the museum is packed full of information for anyone wanting to know more about the life and times of Mandela. From the Bhunga building tours then go on to the other two sites of the museum, Mvezo, where Mandela was born and Qunu, where he spent his childhood.
5. District Six
District Six was a lively, multicultural district made up of artisans, freed slaves, merchants and labourers. The district was declared a white only area in 1960 and the government forcibly removed 60,000 of its inhabitants to make way for white settlements.
Despite some attempts to build residential areas in its place, most of the area is now empty, standing as a stark reminder of the savagery of apartheid with only grass fields marking its original place.Those visiting the city can drive past the original site on the city’s Red Tour Bus system or visit the nearby District Six Museum.