By Hannah Orth
Apartheid is painful to talk about. People were killed, beaten, jailed, and oppressed based on the color of skin, only. The difficulties behind race is a problem across the world. People with darker skin seem to be repeatedly oppressed by those of whiter complexions. The white counterparts have difficulty recognizing the effects of apartheid and their roles in the whole conflict. Race is difficult to talk about, difficult to swallow, difficult to reconcile. The divisions cannot be overcome in five years or in a decade. Just like in South Africa, the black and white people of the US are still struggling to reach equality. South Africa, with a more recent major conflict of racial oppression, is faced with perpetuating problems that create a blurry future. What information and accounts will be passed on to the next generation? I find that sometimes the most difficult parts of a nation’s history are omitted from the book or simply are given a paragraph of explanation. The Apartheid museum in Johannesburg contains such an overarching plethora of information that Apartheid will never be forgotten because of this museum, even if sections are omitted out of the textbook.
The Apartheid Museum visited today provided an extensive overview of the apartheid and the various aspects that contributed to it, fought against it, and fell victim to it. The apartheid laws restrict the black and colored people and their freedoms, leading to the divisions that still exist today. The Land Act in 1913 gave 92% of South African land to the white people and only, 8% to the black Africans. Immediately, the divisions began. Taking land away from one group and giving it to another. The Group Areas Act of 1950 divided land even further. Designating some areas for whites only and some for blacks or coloreds only. However, these areas did not always have the designated peoples living there, forcing people of Sophiatown to relocate to Soweto and the removal of black and colored people from District Six. In addition, the Population Registration Act of 1950 mandated that people register according to their race. The government was able to monitor everyone with these laws and completely disrupt the lifestyles of many black citizens across South Africa. These were only some of the legal mandates created by the government to control and separate the black population.
While I had learned about these before, the positioning and use of exhibits within the museum allowed me to really understand and process the absolute hate the government inflicted upon black people. In both the District Six readings and the museum, we learn about the relocation, but the sheer amounts of people other than District Six was shocking to me. Original pictures of Soweto were in the exhibit, exemplifying the space that was designated for these people who had been removed from their homes. Video footage of bulldozers was really powerful especially when a man described his feelings as his house was torn down. Overall, the exhibits about the specific laws allowed me to view these events in chronological order and to see the effects in other places than just District Six.
Although familiar with the Ku Klux Klan in the US, I had not heard of the radical white supremacist parties featured in the museum. Besides the Nationalist party, White Afrikaner Nationalists joined the Ossewa Brandwag party which was a supporting force of the Nazi Party during World War II. In addition, the AWB was a hate group that provided violent training to all of its members in order to combat the black protests arising from 1990-1994. Their symbol, three interlocking sevens, represents the biblical symbol meaning luck. The video footage of these people training reflected brutish people preparing for war. From bashing watermelons set to the height of an average man while riding horses to their control of guns, these people were terrifying, hateful, and evil. The footage was chilling. The footage incited chills equal to those of footage of the KKK and the Nazi Party. I seriously cannot even process people who believe the color of their skin is a point of power over another. I could not believe the aggression in their training in combination with their beliefs. I was really glad when that exhibit was over. I really did not respond well to the hate groups present on the television.
The most powerful room was the room honoring all those who died in police custody. The 151 people who were arrested one day and murdered the next were honored beautifully in this exhibit. The nooses hanging from the ceiling really impacted me especially because of the history of the noose in the US, too. One man’s cause of death was, “slipped on soap and died.” All of the other suicides and deaths in custody were fabricated, and we have seen similar situations arise in the US. We can look at the history and mourn, but it continues. We still have the same exact thing happening in the US. Police Brutality is real issue and that exhibit demonstrated that. I feel frustrated having seen that museum. Law brings justice, but when the law is unjust, there is no justice. Steve Biko was the first time I confronted this horror in terms of apartheid, and he was not alone in being killed for violating pass laws or because of their political opinions. All people should fear a government that prevents any opposition.
One of the more powering exhibits included the images and happenings of the world continuing to spin while atrocities occurred in South Africa. Even fellow South Africans, mainly white people, continued their lives as if nothing was morally and ethically wrong with the state of apartheid. How many times has the world kept turning serious and dangerous issues? What kind of event needs to occur in order for the whole world to take interest or have compassion for another people?
I will continue to write about how amazed I am with the ability to reconcile in South Africa. I am inspired and humbled by not only Mandela’s ability to forgive, as previously discussed, but everyone’s ability to move forward. Although, South Africa has a lot of progress to make and many people realize that, the ANC has not completely decided to take control and create a similar system of retribution for the human rights violations of the Black and Colored populations. I think forgiveness and reconciliation are two parts of human nature that are more challenging. South Africa has set an example for the world about how to reconcile differing governments and opinions over barriers that have previously divided people, The Bill of Rights and the Preamble of the Constitution of South Africa state clearly that all people should be treated equally.
Learning history is a product of any public high school education in the US, but what did we actually learn in those classes? Who wrote those textbooks? What was present, and what was omitted? I beg to ask these questions to a South African student. What parts of apartheid are simply to atrocious to remember, the Soweto protests? Considering both my personal interests and the theme of the Basotho group, I find that education plays a crucial role in remembering history and educating students on the good and the bad. Sometimes, I feel that I have been hidden from the blatant truths, the horrors, and the reality of many historical events especially concerning the Civil Rights Movement while in high school. I hope that the textbooks address and call apartheid what it really is for the sake of the foot soldiers, current students, and future children. What do those textbooks say about apartheid? I believe that the apartheid museum did a great job providing the information for students to learn even if it is excluded from class content or is simply a bolded word in a text book. I am thankful for this experience and for the honesty and transparency of the museum.