When we visited the Apartheid Museum, I was very impressed with how detailed it was. It really reminded me of the kinds of history museums that can be found in the United States, which contrasts with how I felt about the museums we visited in Cape Town. The Apartheid Museum had many different exhibits, and I was happy to see that the majority of them were not about Mandela – this museum had a large section for Mandela, but it also focused on other people who were important during Apartheid. This museum was very spread out, and in the spaces outside were very open and had lots of space. I appreciated that because sometimes museums try to pack in as much information and exhibits as they can, which results in less walking space and everything looking/feeling really close together.
I felt that the information given in this museum was very well written and easy to absorb and comprehend. The films that were shown were also put together nicely, and they helped reinforce the written information in some respects. I also really enjoyed the lack of other visitors while we were there touring, as it allowed for easier concentration and mobility. Another thing I’ll mention about this museum visit is the tour guide we had. He was very knowledgeable and did a pretty good job pacing us through the museum and its exhibits. This is something that I’ve noticed about the tour guides here in South Africa at the different museums – they all know what they’re supposed to know, but they also have the answers to many questions that lay outside of the information they share with us at each exhibit. In America, most of the museums (at least all of the ones I’ve been to) usually do not have tour guides. Most tours of museums in the U.S. are self-guided, which can be a good or a bad thing, depending on what a person prefers. But, I think more knowledge can be spread to visitors if there’s a knowledgeable person there to help guide everyone through the history – that would also really help with avoiding gaps in the history as well, as many times people skip through different sections and don’t go in any type of order.
Constitution Court was also an interesting place. I really enjoyed seeing the different prisons, and learning about the types of people who were sent there. That was the second time we’ve visited a former prison, and I actually think it’s a very good idea to use old prisons as learning material. It’s so easy to talk about prison, but to actually experience being in the place where people were held in bondage is something that can’t just be experienced anywhere. I really enjoyed learning about the way the prisoners were split up into different prisons based on their skin color. It was appalling but not surprising that white prisoners were treated better than colored or black prisoners during Apartheid – it was helpful to see a breakdown of meals that the prisoners would receive while in prison, and how it was broken down by race/color classification. I also liked being able to see the solitary confinement cells that the prisoners were placed in. The most interesting part of this visit was the women’s prison, because I’d never been to a women’s prison before. Women aren’t generally focused on when talking about times of hardship during Apartheid as much as the men, so it was really nice to get some insight into the horrors that women had to succumb to while imprisoned. One really sad part of learning about the women’s prison surrounded the children that sometimes were imprisoned simply because they had no one to come collect them if their mothers/aunts/sisters/etc. were arrested while they were with them. Sometimes children were in prison for weeks until a family member or friend was able to get them out. Some women also gave birth in prison, which was disappointing for me to hear. Childbirth is already painful and difficult enough, and having the extra strain of being imprisoned must have made the experience even worse.
The last thing I’ll mention about visiting the prisons is that I found it very upsetting that many of the prisoners were imprisoned for trivial offenses, or even just political ones. I find it so interesting that people here in South Africa were so against political speak amongst people. There must have been a serious fear of revolt or uprisings, which reminds me of Slavery in the United States. Slaves were not allowed to learn or be educated in any way because whites (particularly the men) were so afraid of slaves rebelling – they knew that knowledge was power, and as long as the slaves had no power, they couldn’t challenge the whites and break free from their chains. The same seems to have been happening here in South Africa, since political conversations were prohibited and political prisoners were kept away from regular prisoners for fear of the political leaders causing everyone to rise up and fight for their freedom.
Being here in South Africa and visiting so many historical places that explain the effects of Apartheid helps me realize that history definitely has patterns and it seems to repeat, even when we try our best to avoid repetition.