The Apartheid Museum, close to downtown Johannesburg, focuses on the notorious system of racial discrimination that became synonymous with South Africa from 1948 (when the white-minority National Party was voted into power) until 1994, the year in which the country held its first fully democratic elections.

Did you know?

  In 1952, African National Congress stalwarts Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo established South Africa’s first black law firm, called Mandela and Tambo.

The implementation of apartheid and white minority rule, as well as South Africa's peaceful transition to a non-racial democratic society, are major stories of the 20th century. This is what makes the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg a must-stop for tourists visiting South Africa.

Visitors to the museum are greeted with a very real reflection of what it was like to live in a racially segregated society. The museum has two entrances labelled 'White' and 'Non-white', and depending on which ticket you are issued, you will be ushered through one of the two. 

The laws that governed which entrances people could use or which bus to catch were classed as 'petty apartheid', but there were far more serious overtones to this system of racial classification. Under apartheid, the majority of people in the country were dispossessed of land, economic opportunity and their democratic right to choose their own leaders, simply because they were black. 

When the National Party took over leadership of the country in 1948, it began entrenching racial segregation under the auspices of the South African Bureau for Racial Affairs. Before long, racial laws, such as the Population Registration Act, which assigned every citizen to a racial category, and the Group Areas Act, which enforced separate urban areas for race groups, came into being. 

Other repressive measures included making striking illegal and limiting freedom of movement for non-whites through curfews and pass books. Apartheid led to growing resistance among the disenfranchised, which in turn led to more punitive measures from the state, culminating in several states of emergency in the 1980s. 

It was the unbanning of the African National Congress and the release of its leader, Nelson Mandela, in February 1990 by former president FW de Klerk that heralded a new era for the country and the start of negotiations for a more just dispensation. Both men were awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for their role in ensuring South Africa's transition was peaceful.

Throughout, Mandela emerged as the man able to lead the country out of the political wilderness and unite all population groups. Consequently, it's no surprise that the most popular of the more than 22 displays is the Mandela Exhibition, a life-map of South Africa's greatest son and world humanitarian icon.

South Africa's elections of 1994 ushered in a new era of democracy.

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

The Apartheid Museum
Tel: +27 (0)11 309 4700

City Sightseeing Joburg
Tel: 0861 733 287

How to get here

The museum is next to Gold Reef City on the corner of Northern Park Way and Gold Reef Road, Ormonde, Johannesburg. It's easily accessible off the De Villiers Graaff highway (take Exit 7 and follow the Gold Reef City signs).

Around the area

Gold Reef City is a theme and amusement park that will keep the kids entertained. Here you can also take a trip down a gold mine (stop No 6 on the City Sightseeing bus route).

Tours to do

From the Gold Reef City casino, you can catch the City Sightseeing bus and get an overview of Johannesburg. The company also offers a two-hour whistle-stop tour of the township of Soweto as an add-on to its regular route.

How to get around

The museum is the No 7 stop on the Jo'burg City Sightseeing bus route. Alternatively, take a taxi to the museum or drive yourself.

What will it cost

Adults R65; pensioners, students and children R50.

Length of stay

The museum is a half-day outing.

Where to stay

Johannesburg has a wide variety of accommodation options, from B&Bs through to five-star hotels.

What's happening

The Mandela Exhibition is a focus on the central role former president Nelson Mandela played in South Africa's Struggle history. It looks at his early involvement in the Struggle from the 1940s to his imprisonment for 27 years and subsequent leadership of the country from 1994.