Johannesburg is one of the most visited destinations in the world and is well known for its trendy restaurants, luxurious hotels, great outdoors and a buzzing nightlife. Apart from the many attractions it must offer, the city holds a crucial wealth of cultural history that the South African people hold dear to their hearts. For a city with a history dating all the way back to 1886, it comes as no surprise that Joburg is home to numerous heritage sites, composed of historical landmarks that harbor memories of eminent public figures and significant past events that helped to shape the destiny of the “Rainbow Nation”. The following are key Johannesburg heritage sites you ought to know.
Hector Pieterson Museum
The Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum is in Orlando West, Soweto. It commemorates the significant role played by students of the country in the fight against apartheid rule. In 1976, students in Soweto marched and protested the sub-standard levels of education in black South African schools with many of them ending up dead from the bullets of the apartheid police. On June 16, hundreds of students joined a protest planned by South African Student Movement and swarmed the streets to protest peacefully against the mandatory use of Afrikaans language for teaching in black secondary schools. The students were supposed to meet at the Orlando Stadium before the march but on their way, they were intercepted by police who told them to quit the march and disperse.
What followed was a violent confrontation between the students and the police that quickly escalated into a full-blown uprising that ignited other similar events around the country. This resulted in multiple student deaths because of the police opening fire in retaliation. Among the first students to be killed was 12-year old Hector Pieterson. An iconic newspaper image of his lifeless body being carried by a high school student as he was running served as a graphic representation of just how repressive the apartheid regime was and exhibited to the world the extreme brutality and cruelty it inflicted upon the blacks.
Mandela House Museum, which is situated at the historic Vilakazi Street in Soweto, was built to preserve the history and legacy of the Mandela family. It provides an efficient and meaningful experience to any guests that visit and tells them the story of Nelson Mandela in all the contexts of his industrious life.
The house was built in 1945 and Nelson Mandela, along with his first wife Evelyn Ntoko Mase, moved into it in 1946. After their divorce in 1957, Mandela was joined by his second wife Winnie in a house he never got to stay in much due to his central role in the struggle against the apartheid government. After being arrested and imprisoned for almost three decades, Mandela only went back to the house on his release from Robben Island for a paltry 11 days before moving to his house in Houghton. In 1999, the National Museum Monuments Council pronounced it a national monument; two years after Mandela had donated it to the Soweto Heritage Trust. Mandela House Museum has since undergone renovations to include exhibitions and other information relevant to the site in a representation of the Mandela family legacy.
The Apartheid Museum tells the story of how the human spirit triumphed over oppression and diversity. In 1948, when the apartheid system was introduced by the white elected government, it condemned at least 20 million people to the status of second-class citizens and subjected them to a life of humiliation, abuse, and servitude. The path through the building takes visitors on a journey that starts with segregation, the essence of the apartheid system. It tells the history of different pre-apartheid cultures, the subsequent race classification after apartheid was introduced and many more oppressive acts of the system. It gives you an insight into the rise of black consciousness, the ensuing armed struggle and final release from prison of the apartheid hero, Nelson Mandela.
Constitution Hill bears over a century of the country’s history; starting from the British soldier’s war with the Boers, the youth involved in the Soweto uprising, to the beginning of democracy and establishment of the South African Constitutional Court. Constitution Hill basically educates visitors about the past injustices in South Africa, the processes that led to the realization of freedom and how it is currently protected. It contains different exhibitions and museums like:
• Number Four- Explains the racial hierarchy system that was established and what it meant to be at the bottom of the hierarchy for blacks.
• The Old Fort- One of the city’s oldest buildings. Built in 1893, it served as the prison for white men, with Mandela as the only black prisoner.
• The Women’s Gaol- This is a Victorian-styled building that served as a prison where women political activists like Winnie Mandela were incarcerated.
• Constitutional Court- This is the highest court in South Africa, which protects basic human rights and freedoms that were fought for and won by the many people who were imprisoned there.
Vilakazi Street is the most recognized street in the Soweto Township, Johannesburg. This is because two former Nobel Peace Prize laureates, Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu lived on this street. While Tutu still lives here, Mandela and his family moved to Houghton and donated their house to the Soweto Heritage Trust. However, the street gets its name from Dr. BW Vilakazi, a poet, intellectual and novelist who produced numerous literary works in different indigenous languages. He was the first black person to teach at Witwatersrand University and later helped to develop isiZulu and SiSwati.
The largest residential area occupied by black South Africans in the country offers visitors a special cultural experience. Soweto was a result of the then government’s apartheid policy of segregation and represents a historical site for the country’s struggle for freedom. The township was also home to major public figures and personalities, who were instrumental in the struggle including Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu.
This Museum harbors the story of migrant workers who left behind their families and came to Johannesburg through the Southern Africa region. The black migrant workers were subjected to slave-like conditions which are exhibited by the original dormitories, punishment room, and concrete bunks at the old compound building. It shows the hardships workers went through under the migrant labor system from the 1900s to the 1970s. It also depicts the vibrant and creative toughness of migrant workers in light of all the injustices that bedevil them.
You can discover the rich history of Johannesburg with Ntaba African Safaris. If you are interested in discovering the capital of Gauteng province, contact us and we will create a great trip for you including Johannesburg and other amazing destinations in South Africa.