Apartheid Museum

Embarrassingly, it takes an American to get me to visit places in South Africa that I would immediately seek out were I not living in South Africa.

Amanda is in South Africa gathering data for her masters dissertation which, to the best of my understanding, involves interviewing people who have undergone traumatic experiences. I don’t envy her, but I do admire the work she does in studying human trafficking. She is only here for eight weeks, and then back to the States with her information and notes to write up the thesis.

Given this context, it is understandable that Amanda didn’t want to waste time visiting the Silly Buggers Museum (which is unfortunate because I hear that it is very nice). She wanted to visit the memorial to that political system that no-one in South Africa ever agreed with. Funny how a system like that could come into being with absolutely no support. I suppose everyone who thought it was a good idea must have died or emigrated (or both).

If you haven’t been to the Apartheid Museum, and you live in South Africa, I hope your excuse is that you live in Hotazel and have never been to Johannesburg (and only have a vague understanding of the concept of city).
I suppose that’s a little hypocritical of me, considering I visited it for the first time on Sunday and live in Johannesburg. I’ll revise the statement slightly.
After reading this post, I hope you will be making your way to the Apartheid Museum within the next month, provided you live in South Africa and are not holed up in some god-forsaken dorpie in a desert somewhere.

The Apartheid Museum is a beautiful place. Using simple, minimalist architecture it conveys a sense of serenity and peace. Yet there is also an undercurrent of something heavy waiting within. Something these plain concrete walls and tranquil water-features conceal furtively.
As I bought my ticket and entered the museum, a cold foreboding passed over me.

If the architecture of the place doesn’t have an impact on you, then the entrance can’t possibly fail to.
Each person who pays for entrance is given a ticket labelled “White” or “Non-white.” The tickets are handed to you arbitrarily, regardless of your actual genetic heritage. There are two entrances to the museum, and you don’t get to choose which one to enter via. The ticket you have chooses for you. Random. Arbitrary. Ridiculous.
The statement is very powerful, as the first part of the museum keep the “whites” and “non-whites” separated. I wondered whether the museum would be entirely separated like this, and whether I’d be reunited with my wife before leaving.
This initial impact is a lasting one, and the intensity of the place persists throughout.

I found the museum to be brutally honest about South Africa’s turbulent history and, more remarkable, brutally honest about the current state of the nation. Although apartheid has been dismantled, not everyone has been emancipated.
The display on the part women played during the struggle movingly illustrates to what extent women went in fighting against the social ills of the time. I was impressed that the display ended by highlighting the inequities that many women in South Africa still suffer, despite the change in government. The crimes against women that are rife in this country were listed. These things are realities in our country, and the curators of the museum were not afraid of pointing them out. The apartheid museum is not propaganda vehicle of the New South Africa, shouting out “Rah! Rah! Apartheid is vanquished! Look how perfect everything is now.”
This wasn’t the only place where the museum gave a balanced representation of the political events which had occurred. For this I am grateful, and inordinately impressed. It kicked any cynicism I might have felt about South Africa squarely in the buttocks.

We were at the museum for roughly three hours, and I didn’t even look at everything. I was, however, quite emotionally drained by the time I left. Of particular poignancy to me was the short twenty minute film on the 80’s, shown in the auditorium
The film depicted the civil unrest of the time, and the events leading up to and during the declared state of emergency. It depicted a very violent, sadistic time. People rioting, and fighting. Police cracking down on them, generally using gratuitous force. It was distinctly unpleasant to watch, yet completely compelling. I couldn’t get up and walk away, despite the senseless acts.
It was poignant to me because I a child living in South Africa during this time, and knew nothing of these events.
I had a vague idea of this “state of emergency” thing. I vaguely understood that black people were treated differently to me, and other people with fair skin. At the time I had no idea that white people were doing those things to black people. Obviously, the state controlled media was doing a good job in those days.
I was appalled by and ashamed of my ignorance. Certainly as a child, I could have done nothing to alter these events but I still felt mortified about my past as I watched the film.

The Apartheid Museum was an emotional rollercoaster. It brought me to the verge of tears but, annoyingly, my male socialised conditioning blockaded the tear-ducts. It made me laugh out loud at the absurd pontifications of the apartheid government officials and politicians (those natives must carry passbooks, which provide a handy folder to store all of their documents, which they are liable to otherwise lose — being a careless bunch of barbarians and all). It made me feel very sombre. It made me feel very positive about South Africa.

We’ve come a long way. We’ve got a long way to go. At least we’re being honest about it.

Later, Angie and I discussed our feelings about the museum and we reckon that every politician currently in office should spend three hours at the Apartheid Museum. It’ll help them remember why they are in office in the first place, and what they should be trying to achieve there.

6 thoughts on “Apartheid Museum”

  1. I really do feel bad about having not been there yet. The whole of last year we talked about going, but never did. We did manage to get to Constitutional Hill, which was pretty awesome. Must definitely get to the Apartheid Museum as soon as we get back.

  2. I absolutely agree with you- Dad and I went to the Apartheid Museum, and it was one of the best put together displays I have ever seen. I thought the way the architecture mimicked the mood (a sudden array of windows with light streaming through as you hit the 1994 section) made me all teary- not being a man, I think I just let myself cry for our past and our future. I must have spent at least 3 hours as well, and didn’t see enough. I would definitely go back (although it is very emotional) so that people around me would experience it. In fact, now that I have been a tourist for a year, I think Kyle and I should make an appointment to go as soon as we get back.

  3. “Each person who pays for entrance is given a ticket labelled “White” or “Non-white.” The tickets are handed to you arbitrarily, regardless of your actual genetic heritage. There are two entrances to the museum, and you don’t get to choose which one to enter via. The ticket you have chooses for you.”

    Oh my hat. That’s about the most brilliant thing ever 🙂


    This Heritage Day marks ten years to the day when The Apartheid Museum began nationwide distribution of a concept document that anticipated broad South African participation in the erection of a R1Billion structure called The Apartheid Museum. The founder and originator Mike Stainbank began development of the concept in 1977 and registered the trademark The Apartheid Museum in 1990. In March 2000, after many years of slogging from door to door in an effort to find partners, funders and an appropriate location he finally received the one line he had been working toward:
    “The Apartheid Museum will be built in Bloemfontein.”

    This brief outline of the origins of The Apartheid Museum is to be broadened into a film in which Stainbank hopes to secure the likes of actors Sean Penn and Denzel Washington, playing the part of New York attorneys. Under the working title “THE APARTHEID MUSEUM – the true story”, the draft outline – for now punted as a feature documentary – draws on years of investigation which Stainbank conducted on Gold Reef – the casino company which markets Abe and Solly Krok as “co-founders” of The Apartheid Museum.

    The script grants the “co-founders” the centre they claim for themselves and unearths volumes on their lives and history. It explores the patriarchal role Abe and Solly Krok played as the financial muscle behind their BEE consortium which pitched for the Casino License. Although this will be a South African production in every aspect, the New York backdrop, while adding international appeal, is important to shaping the profile of Abe and Solly Krok.
    Stainbank has already bought the entire record of Case No: 90/4016 in Central District Court of California where Abraham and Solomon Krok (along with Arlene Krok and Sharon Krok Freur and three others) were defendants in a $25M case of fraud brought by the Bank of New York and two other banks. This matter is on record just 7 years before the Krok’s participation in a pitch for a Casino License. “The case against the defendants outlined by the banks lawyers makes for an intriguing insight into the defendants. Beyond their superb acting I am partial to actors like Sean Penn and Denzel Washington for these lawyer parts. Their real life, personal activist profiles, will add to a movie such as this.”

    Advocacy and activism are currently at the core of efforts of The Apartheid Museum and this film is a part of the mission Stainbank set in the development of The Apartheid Museum 30 years ago. The Declaration of The Apartheid Museum reads: It shall be incumbent on The Apartheid Museum to engage progressive movements throughout the world; disseminate information to its broad constituency locally and internationally to market its facilities, services and programmes, remain vigilant, alive to change and development relating to issues of human rights and social justice.

    The story, in its fullness, coalesces into many astonishing ironies. “I have found that those who have taken the time to read into the facts are downright offended by the impertinence of Abe and Solly Krok” says Stainbank. Abe and Solly Krok, were leaders in the skin whitening business in South Africa. The products they manufactured were laced with hydroquinone and mercury. Eventually banned in South Africa, studies show the irreversible horrors of hydroquinone on the skin. Here the point is about the considerable wealth the Krok family generated from this business; the foundations of the capital that funded Gold Reef. But this element is brought into political perspective by a pointed question: What lies at the core of a human being willing to turn a blind eye to the efforts of Black pride and self-actualisation in a crippling apartheid circumstance?

    “For me though the greatest irony is that The Apartheid Museum became first victim of its own mission. Even as I anticipated that Apartheid would be with us for a long while yet – to this day I remain astounded by the apartheid style stratagem that was used by Abe and Solly Krok and Gold Reef. With adequate patronage in place the elaborate plot was made replete by drawing noted, though malleable, individuals from the ranks of the oppressed, to lend legitimacy to the dispossession.” The film synopsis reads: That a palpable fabrication, using the exact modus operandi of the apartheid system, can take root and reside comfortably without consequence is a fascination deserving dramatization on screen.

    The development of the script has been blessed with fresh revelations around Gold Reef conduct. A recent news report describing Gold Reef as “the most egregious example of corporate greed” adds enormously to the script. “Way back in 2001 hardly anybody, not the media, and least of all shareholders, listened when we screamed about the lack of ethics and morality at Gold Reef. I feel vindicated by the findings of the Securities Regulations Panel earlier this year. Since the release of the SRP report Gold Reef shares have lost almost 45% of their market value.”

    Throughout, the script moves back and forth showing conduct that drove the apartheid mindset while drawing parallels with the facts that make up the true story of The Apartheid Museum. Even as the central message carries social themes of racism, class, power, fraud and dispossession, the intention is for a gripping film in the mould of Inside Man – directed by Spike Lee. Here the character Arthur Case (Christopher Plummer) aided and abetted Nazi dispossession of Jewish property. Come the end of the war Case’s enormous wealth, harvested on the plight of Jewish victims of the Holocaust, propels him into the upper echelons of American society. He slithers into the new dispensation as a banker and high profile philanthropist, believing that little acts of charity will appease his conscience; that something clean can from a thing unclean. On its own facts the story of The Apartheid Museum is plentiful in subterfuge, political intrigue, corporate excess, patronage and deceit. The dramatic climax seeks to draw attention to the matter of an apartheid past against the South African quest for a values based society. More importantly it seeks to identify who sets the example and who exactly erodes those values; the hungry thief, the hijacker or the corporate entity sitting with perceived integrity on the JSE.

    Investigations into Gold Reef, Abe and Solly Krok and their BEE partners began in 2001 when, unbeknown to Stainbank, Gold Reef assembled the most reputable local and international media to announce the opening of “The Apartheid Museum” and not Freedom Park, which they had presented to the Gauteng Gambling Board in their 1997 pitch for a Casino License. When Stainbank sued for infringement they applied for expungement, making central to their case, voluminous press clippings of the fabricated version presented to an unsuspecting media. The fabrication, now sold to South Africa and the world through the writings of highly reputable journalists working for trusted media titles had the desired effect. The trademark The Apartheid Museum was expunged in Class 41.

    The continuing effort of The Apartheid Museum® operates under the trademark in Class 35 registered by Stainbank in 1998. This trademark is the only registered trademark and is protected by law which gives exclusive use to the proprietor – Mike Stainbank.

    The Apartheid Museum®
    Mobile: 083 391 7077
    Landline: +27 11 807 2041/2
    Fax: +27 11 807 0766
    Private Bag X63 – Rivonia – 2128
    Email: apartheidmuseum@stainbank.co.za
    (Write to this address to request an electronic version of this Press Release)

    WEBSITE: http://www.stainbank.co.za

  5. 15 CASE REFERENCES: 2002 – 2013
    TPD 26295/2002 (NGHC) – Gold Reef City Casino – (AKANI EGOLI)
    TPD 32237/2002 (NGHC)
    TPD 32237/2002 (NGHC) Application for Leave to Appeal – denied
    SCA 603/03 – Appeal to Chief Justice – denied
    CCT 71/07 – Application for Leave to Appeal – denied
    WLD 31005/2007 (SGHC)
    WLD 31005/2007 (SGHC) Application for Leave to Appeal – denied
    TPD 5752/09 (NGHC)
    CCT 70/10 (TPD 5752/09 (NGHC)
    WLD 10152/2008 (SGHC)
    WLD 10152/2008(SGHC) Application for Leave to appeal – denied
    SCA 698/2011 Application for leave to Appeal to Chief Justice – denied
    WLD 31054/2011 (SGHC)
    CCT 05/12 – Application for Leave to Appeal – granted
    WLD 14590/13 (SGHC) – Current – (Interim Court Order granted against Stainbank)

    “I will deal with the history of the creation and commencement of the Museum which is known as The Apartheid Museum. At the outset however, I wish to confirm that the organization that actually trades as The Apartheid Museum is an entirely separate entity, namely, a company registered in the terms of Section 21 of the Act, with effect from 14 August 2001 under number 2001/019108 under the name of The South African Apartheid Museum at Freedom Park.”

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