Apartheid Museum

Before delving into the packed day, I have come to a robust conclusion about the Johannesburg weather; it’s cold.  Ironically, it’s 20 degrees Celsius in the afternoons and yes, I did grow up in Canada.   Even though I study in Montreal – a beautiful place in the summer but a frigid barren land in the winter with temperatures reaching below -30 degrees Celsius – I find myself feeling cold. After a few days, I have identified the reason: central heating system.  In developed countries, we’ve become accustomed to a constant temperature inside all establishments no matter what storm brews outside.

After a few days, I have identified the reason: central heating system.  In developed countries, we’ve become accustomed to a constant temperature inside all establishments no matter what storm brews outside.  Therefore, even during the heart of winter with wind-chill and below freezing temperatures, it’s nice and toasty inside most buildings.  However, in Johannesburg, similar to many places in China, inconsistent central heating systems leave the inside temperatures fluctuating according to the outside.

Takeaway: to all my friends who heed from cold places that should not be habitable in the winter (i.e. Montreal), do not be fooled by the sunny 20 degrees Celsius’ on Johannesburg’s weather network!  Pack warmly and expect it to become quite chilly at night because the days during this time of the year end earlier (it gets dark at around 5:30PM).  Johannesburg winters may seem like our spring, but it can still get cold and this is no shorts + t-shirt weather!

Weather aside (seeing how it is such a central topic to so many of my Canadian counterparts) today, our Emzingo group left early to beat Johannesburg traffic (roads are seriously congested during rush hour – like most major cities).



When we arrived at the Apartheid Museum located in”Gold Reef City” (which also consists of an amusement park and casino), each individual received an entry ticket that was randomly labeled “white” or “non-white”.  Depending on the label we received, we entered through a different doorway.  Although the labels were random, simply imagining that they were real, and living in a world where someone would go around assigning privileges based upon their interpretations of our race, was horrifying, disempowering and embarrassing.  This was the existence for many of those that lived under the Apartheid regime during 1948 – 1994.

You did not choose your entryway.

Photos were not allowed once we passed this entryway.  Through the turnstiles, we progressed in separate paths and were presented with replica “pass books” or “internal passports”.  During the Apartheid Era, black citizens were always required to carry the pass book with them.  The pass book was used as a form of ID, however, there needed to be a section that clearly stated the holder’s race.  This racial classification was used to segregate the population and control who held power in the nation.

Nowadays, we understand that race is a socially constructed concept.  However, during the Apartheid Era, there would be “racial classifiers”.   These individuals had the power to assign races to passbooks through ridiculous, to the point of almost comical, methods.

  1. The Pencil Test: The racial classifier would run a pencil through a scalp, from the top of the forehead to the base of the neck.  Depending on how easily the pencil glided through would determine your race.  If the pencil glided through easily, you were most likely white.  If the racial classifier received resistance, since the texture of African hair is coarser, than they would deem you black.
  2. The Pinch Test: If the Pencil Test was not absurd enough, the Pinch Test was assigning a race based upon the sound someone would make when pinched.

I know.  You’re shaking your head in disbelief.  And to think that this government and these legislations existed a little over 20 years ago….

Here are a few other Apartheid rules (some that took place before the government was in office):

  1. 1914 Land Act: Black people could not be given land and as a result, today in Johannesburg, the Afrikaans own most of the agricultural industry.
  2. 1923 Native Urban Areas Act: This is the legislation that implemented the pass book system.
  3. 1949 Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act: It was illegal for white people and black people to be together.
  4. 1950 Population Registration Act: Afrikaans were white, however, within the black race, several tiers were recognized:
    1. Indians
    2. Coloured (mixed race or of the Khoisan or KhoiKhoi tribe)
    3. African

The lower the tier, the fewer rights were recognized.  In addition, Chinese were also considered black according to the Apartheid government and fell below Indians on the scale.  Ironically, Taiwanese and Japanese however, were “Honorary Whites”.   Even though the Taiwanese and Chinese people have the same roots, the reason why Taiwanese and Japanese were “Honorary Whites” was because the Apartheid Government wanted to establish business relations with these nations and needed to be on better terms.

Before we move forward with the Apartheid Era, it’s important to understand the history of South Africa.  Hopefully, the short summary is accurate and clear!

There were several identified original people of South Africa:

  • Khoisan (people without cattle) lived in Souther Africa, had high cheekbones and made clicks when speaking.
  • KhoiKhoi (people of cattle) lived harmoniously with the Khoisan although they tended to look down upon them for not domesticating cattle.
  • Bantu people were first sighted in 250 A.D. and settled on the banks of Sand River from Eastern Cape.
  • Zulu people lived further north

The history of the Zulu people became one of the justifications used by the Apartheid government to gain their support and eventually come into power.  During 1815, Shaka Zulu who is recognized as the Napoleon of South Africa, militarized the Zulu nation and changed the warfare and habits of the Zulu people.  Warriors under Zulu’s rule were not allowed to come back if they had a wound since it was seen as cowardly and shameful.  While Zulu terrorized nearby tribes, one of the generals from the Zulu nation broke away to create his own kingdom.   The Zulu general led a killing spree of his own and coupled with Shaka Zulu’s violence, the people were living in a constant state of fear.  During this time, there was no structure or security.  People did not even have time to bury their dead.

Other major catalysts for the rise of the Apartheid government were the economic pressures following the Great Depression and World War II.  Leading the Apartheid were the Afrikaans, descendents of the Dutch that arrived in 1652 led by Jan Van Riebeeck.  British colonists also settled in South Africa and lived without major conflict until the discovery of gold and diamond during the late 1800s.  This led to the Boer War and until the 1940’s, the British and Dutch descendents experienced a tug-of-war in power.  However, when the Apartheid government came into power, the motive for the Afrikaans was to secure their economic, political and social control in South Africa.


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