South Africa’s history of hope

28 June 2010

Nearby the majestic Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg stands a museum that acts as a testament to the troubled history and amazing journey of reconciliation of the 2010 Fifa World Cup host nation.

The Apartheid Museum is one of Johannesburg’s most important attractions, drawing large numbers of people to the images, artefacts and video that explains the reality of South Africa’s racially troubled past.

Apartheid was a system of legal racial segregation enforced in South Africa between 1948 and 1994, under which the rights of the majority non-white inhabitants of South Africa were curtailed.

“We are currently seeing a high number of visitors to the museum,” Wayde Davy, deputy director of the Apartheid Museum, said last week. “We were expecting between 2 000 and 2 500 visitors daily, and we have been averaging between 4 000 and 4 500.’

The 2010 Fifa World Cup has brought an extremely high number of tourists to the Johannesburg region, and the Apartheid Museum has featured prominently in the itineraries of fans. On 16 June, Youth Day, 6 300 people came and visited the museum.

Emotional journey

“People are shocked after visiting the museum,” said Davy. “The enormity of what they have seen coupled with the emotional journey means they leave exhausted. The question that often comes up is, how is South Africa now?

“The museum shows people how South Africa was just a few years ago; they hear so many bad things about South Africa, but come here and see only good,” said Davy. “This World Cup has driven interaction, and there is a strong will among South Africans to stay as one.

“I believe this particular World Cup has great marketing value for South Africa, for Johannesburg and for the museum; we just cannot quantify it.”

Aside from the high number of visitors pouring through the museum, journalists have also been coming to document the museum and beam those images home. “We have had five or six camera crews a day here in the museum,” said Davy. “Which means more people around the world will come to appreciate how far we have come.”

The museum has a number of additional exhibitions to coincide with the World Cup, ranging from art sculptures to a history of football in South Africa in the 1950s. “This exhibit talks about the fact that soccer was quite an integrated sport, with players leaving South Africa to play games in mixed teams,” said Davy.

African visitors ‘can relate to the story’

The reality of the first Fifa World Cup in Africa also means that the museum is seeing an increase in its African visitors. “They have a different reaction and become more emotional,” said Davy. “They can relate to the story.”

For Davy, it is moments like the World Cup that bring nations together. “I believe this interaction breeds an understanding. There is a camaraderie, a getting to know a people, and thereby eliminating stereotypes.”

As one passes the exhibits, there are many faces glued to the images, words and videos. Many of these visitors never having realised the gravity of South Africa’s past. “I didn’t know this much about it,” said Marco Leite from Portugal. “To see this and then experience the atmosphere in the stadiums, with black and white together, it is amazing.”

‘We are one nation’

Suzanne Naude is a white South African who has been drawn to the museum for the first time due to the importance of the World Cup. “It is a sad experience for me, to see where we have come from and what we are achieving now makes me proud. We are one nation.”

For many visitors to the museum, the experience is difficult to digest. “I found the experience very disturbing, and can’t believe how long it went on for,” said Michelle Hansen from Denmark.

For Hansen, the spirit she has experienced at games and the people she has met on the street offer hope for the host nation. “I am really hopeful, after seeing where South Africa has been and where it is now.”

Source: 2010 Fifa World Cup South Africa Organising Committee