I was asked recently to recommend a museum in Johannesburg for visitors to spend an afternoon at. It wasn’t an easy decision, as we have some brilliant museums in the city. And how do you choose just one, when we have so many diverse ones? We have museums devoted to Apartheid, Democracy, the Struggle, Art, Gold, Mining, Beer, Money and Science too.
Here are some of our favourites:-
The Apartheid Museum – if you have just a few hours in Johannesburg, this would be the museum to visit. It is actually acknowledged as the most important museum in the world, dealing with 20th century South Africa, detailing the rise and fall of Apartheid. There are photographs, provocative film footage, text panels and artefacts illustrating the events and human stories from this era. You can do it on your own or take a guided tour, and you will walk out inspired. A visit to the Apartheid Museum stays with you for days.
Open daily, 9 am to 5 pm, R 75.00 entrance fee. Near Gold Reef City and if you’re so inclined, you can combine the visit where you can also find reconstructions of the old mining town of Johannesburg as well as take a gold mine tour.
Constitution Hill is in Braamfontein, with The Old Fort itself, originally built as a prison, dating back to 1892. Further buildings were added in the late 19th and early 20th Century and collectively they formed part of one of South Africa’s most harsh and feared prisons where thousands of ordinary men and women who contravened colonial and apartheid legislation were held, often without representation or trial. At the end of Apartheid the site was chosen to be the home of our new Constitutional Court. Today one can go on a tour of the Con Hill Precinct to see the old Fort, Women’s Gaol, the prison sections (Section 4, 5 and the isolation cells) and the new buildings of the Con Court. They have an outstanding art collection in the foyer and if lucky, you can get to see the court in progress. Open daily, 9 am to 5 pm midweek, 10 am to 3 pm on weekends, and they offer daytime, nighttime and special interest tours. Entrance from R 30.
The Origins Centre is at the University of the Witwatersrand and is a world class museum showcasing the origins of humanity. They have amazing permanent visual displays and audio, as well as current exhibitions, specialist tours (try the DNA testing tour) and public lectures. Origins has extraordinary paleoanthropological, archeological and genetic materials charting the origins of humankind. Entrance is R 80, but if you donate four non-perishable food items or toiletries, just R 40. I love this concept.
You can combine a visit to Origins with a visit to The Wits Art Museum. Home to an extraordinary collection of African art, including contemporary and historical art from South, West and Central Africa, WAM is part of the Wits University Cultural Precinct. It is in the hip regenerating part of Braamfontein, just three blocks from the Nelson Mandela Bridge, has a fab coffee shop and there are lots of good restaurants and funky shops in the area. They have permanent and temporary exhibitions, and adult art classes too. Open Wed to Sunday, 10 am to 4 pm, free entrance, and most definitely worth a visit.
If you’re exploring the Newtown area there are quite a few museums to visit. Museum Africa is housed in the Newtown Cultural Precinct’s old fruit and veg market which dates back to 1913 and has been converted into a contemporary space, hosting various exhibits all at one time. They have a huge collection of objects, photographs and paintings that tell the story of South Africa. Some of the permanent displays include shack life in South Africa, the history of gold mining, rock art, the story of the Treason Trial and the journey of jazz in South Africa.
Open Tue to Sunday, 9 am to 5 pm, entrance from R 20.
You can combine a visit to Museum Africa with a few other museums in the area, so make a day of it. It’s easy to walk across to the Sci Bono Museum (open daily) which is fab and as much fun for adults as it is for kids. It’s a world-class science centre that supports maths, science and technology education, and they have both educational and fun things to do. Currently there is an Ice-Age exhibit, which my kids absolutely loved. R 25 for kids, R 40 for adults, open daily.
The Worker’s Museum is nearby, revealing the hardships faced by migrant workers and the nearby SAB World of Beer traces the history of brewing and is completely fascinating. The entrance fee here includes two beers so take your time. You can then wander across town to the Absa Group Museum which is all about the development of money in South Africa and is in the Absa Building that has the most astonishing art collection.
There are others in Johannesburg – the James Hall Museum of Transport, the Museum of Military History, the Museum of Geology and the Adler Museum of History. A good site to refer to, for each and every museum, is www.joburg.org.za, which will give you information, rates and opening times for each and every museum.
We haven’t included info on the Soweto and Kliptown museums because we’ll soon be doing a Soweto museum tour where we will focus on the Hector Pieterson Museum and Mandela House amongst others. Watch this space!