Key Historical Sites of South African Apartheid

What are the key museums and sites of the South African Apartheid period?

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From Robben Island and the District Six Museum to the thought-provoking Apartheid Museum the apartheid sites and museums are important places to explore. By exploring these key historical sites of the South African apartheid period you can learn more information to help plan any proposed visit. With this list of apartheid sites and museums you can find out more about the history behind each location.

1. Robben Island

Robben Island, off the coast of Cape Town in South Africa was a notorious prison, best known for its internment of political prisoners during South African apartheid. Its most famous prisoner - prisoner 466/64 - was Nelson Mandela, the anti-apartheid activist who would later become the country’s president. In all, Mandela was imprisoned for almost 27 years, together with many other anti-apartheid activists. Robben Island’s prison closed in 1996. In addition to touring the maximum security prison buildings, the tour includes a 45 minute guided bus ride around the island and interaction with a former Robben Island prisoner. A symbol of the most difficult and divisive era in South Africa’s history, Robben Island is arguably the most symbolic, evocative and important of all South African historic locations.

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2. District Six Museum

The District Six Museum in Cape Town serves as an apt memorial to and celebration of District Six, a thriving community destroyed during the Apartheid. Telling the story of those who lived through this time, visitors can explore how a neighbourhood which was once an outstanding example of communities co-existing and flourishing became a terrible story of Apartheid in practice. The museum immerses visitors in the lives of its previous inhabitants. The museum also offers guided tours of District Six itself, but these must be booked in advance. 

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3. Apartheid Museum

The Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg tells the history of apartheid and the struggle for human rights. Through its twenty-two exhibitions, comprising artefacts, information panels and multimedia presentations, the museum provides an insight into life under the apartheid regime. It also looks at the gradual campaign against apartheid and the struggle for equal rights led by Nelson Mandela, the country’s eventual president.

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4. The Nelson Mandela Museum

The Nelson Mandela Museum at the Bhunga Building chronicles the life of South Africa’s iconic former president and his struggle for democracy and the end of the apartheid regime. Spread across three locations, the museum is packed full of information for anyone wanting to know more about the life and times of Mandela. From the Bhunga building tours then go on to the other two sites of the museum, Mvezo, where Mandela was born and Qunu, where he spent his childhood.

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5. District Six

District Six was a lively, multicultural district made up of artisans, freed slaves, merchants and labourers. The district was declared a white only area in 1960 and the government forcibly removed 60,000 of its inhabitants to make way for white settlements. Despite some attempts to build residential areas in its place, most of the area is now empty, standing as a stark reminder of the savagery of apartheid with only grass fields marking its original place.Those visiting the city can drive past the original site on the city’s Red Tour Bus system or visit the nearby District Six Museum.

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6. Qunu

Qunu in South Africa’s Eastern Cape was the place where Nelson Mandela spent much of his childhood. Today, it forms part of the Nelson Mandela Museum.

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7. Mvezo

Mvezo in South Africa’s Eastern Cape was the birthplace of Nelson Mandela and is now an open air museum which forms part of the Nelson Mandela Museum.

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Our list of apartheid sites and museums may not be complete. If you know of other places you feel should be added please get in touch via our contact page.