I blog when I go abroad, and occasionally when I do stuff in the UK too. There's a nicer interface over here.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Ebony and ivory

Let's call today a draw.

When I thought I'd be on the 9 o'clock bus my plan was this: an hour in the transport museum, 2 hours in the apartheid museum, maybe an hour in the origins museum, then however long I had left to spend in the same pub as last time before getting back to the airport for about 6pm. But I was an hour later than that, so the transport museum had to go.

I plugged in the audio tour headphones and left the volume on super high, perching on the side of the bus which gets most shade and trying to connect to wifi while taking the odd unimpressive photo of unimpressive things. The hallucinatory long blinks kept coming and a few times I almost totally passed out, even given the diet coke. It's an hour and 7 stops to the apartheid museum and I'm happy to report I didn't miss it.

In fact, I'm very happy to report that, because the apartheid museum is fantastic.

You start by having the most ludicrously cursory security check I could imagine, and then confusing the ticket woman by refusing to accept the "you came off that bus" discount. Hey, it's my last day, I have rand to spare, and I like museums being funded.

There are 3 suggested itineraries based on time: a quick 1hr involves scooting between the big guns; reading all the black signs and things to which they refer should take 2-2.5 hours, and if you read all the grey stuff as well you could be there forever.

The first exhibits are outside. There are 7 huge pillars, each labelled with one of South Africa's core values. Freedom, respect, that sort of thing. They are very imposing, and there's a few quotes from some famous non-racists plus some benches marked "do not sit on this bench". So far, so flippant.

But then you go inside.

Your first steps indoors are dictated by the random classification given to you on your ticket: white or non-white. Inside there is a display of identification/racial classification cards, as well as lots of text from Siffrican parliaments and parliamentarians over the years, explaining how it works. Race was more than just skin colour, but behaviour, languages spoken, heritage, a few characteristics that all led to what was written on your card and thus dictated what you could do and where you could live. I walked under huge "taxis for whites" signs and read so much awful text. Very powerful and sobering.

Back outside, you walk up a long ramp with mining heritage rocks on the left and human heritage stone art on the right (though I'm sure Tsoukalos would say it was aliens). There are life size pictures of relatives of the early anti-apartheid campaigners "walking" uphill with you.

You reach the roof, and get a view of the Joburg skyline in the background with an old mine head in front. And then, back inside for a 20 minute film about the history of humanity in South Africa, montage style, leading up to the early 20th century. A room full of trinkets donated by the same anti-apartheid relatives is next, with quotes from and about them, before a massive Nelson Mandela temporary exhibit. This is utterly chock full of stories and quotes and pictures from his entire life, in chronological order and grouped by a single noun: from child to statesman via prisoner, politician, lawyer, etc.

Discrepancies in his family's backstory compared to what records show are present, as are other negative reactions to him. Joburg does not appear to flinch from bad stuff, and while obviously he is held in crazily high regard, even in an exhibition about him he is not beyond criticism. I liked (in a way) that he or one of his cohorts was once nicked for "statutory communism".

Back into the main museum and, well, I didn't make notes of it all - I'm sure they have a website which goes into detail. But there is a staggeringly well presented story of race relations in South Africa with large amounts of utterly horrifying detail. Migrant worker pay stayed at a fixed level for 60 years. Blacks were referred to by members of parliament on TV as "these underdeveloped people...who cannot govern themselves" and some stuff about the white man's responsibility, burden even! to teach these savages the value of work, and that life doesn't have to just be hunting and fighting. Paul Sauer, fuck off.

This is less than 60 years ago, remember. I was very worried by how some of the policies closely matched to the kind of rhetoric coming from the EDL, UKIP, Daily Express and Mail, etc. Sigh.

One room has 131 nooses hanging from the ceiling to represent the political prisoners executed by the apartheid regime. I almost cried. :-( In that same room are vivid descriptions of the demise of some prominent folk including Steven Biko.

It's an amazing story, I am a sucker for good overcoming evil, but also just in generic museum terms one of the best I've ever visited. There is video, audio, text, some astonishing photos, and they don't gloss over anything. The room with the 4 video screens showing massacre aftermath next to a cage of decommissioned weapons...eesh. The worst thing was the midway diet coke machine not accepting my coins.

I ended up being there for 3.5 hours, emerging just in time for the 1440 bus. Since that was longer than anticipated, I also had to sack off one of the two remaining ideas so naturally gave up on the origins museum and went to the pub...

...except ALL THE FUCKING PUBS WERE SHUT. What the fuck, Joburg? The bus stop in the studenty drinking district goes past the boozers before stopping so I didn't even get off: everything was shut apart from one coffee shop. Ffhs. Now what am I meant to do?

Bus wifi was working so I sought Guinness and came up dry, so looked for boozers in Sandton. It's a northern flashy suburb where I have to change trains anyway, so I figured I'd get out and drink there. Well, one out of two is pretty bad. I got out, walked a few blocks, everything looked totally not setup for doing much except for a giant mall and some posh hotels, so just went back to the station. One woman not only didn't wait for everyone to get off before boarding. she got on before anyone had got off (it's a terminus!) thus making a good 20 or so people's lives - including her own - quite a lot worse than they needed to be, for a couple of minutes. Another hallucinatory ride later and I'm at the airport, 5 hours before my flight. Boo!

Failed to ask about upgrade possibilities at check in but got my exit row seat, which means it doesn't really matter. At security there were two women funnelling the big queue into little queues for scanners, and one of them pointed at me while shouting something to the other, who stared at me and nodded. Sure enough, my boarding pass got scanned but no one else's did. No idea what that was about. Passports waved me through and before I knew it I was in the lounge necking a diet coke, plate full of pasta, and a beer. How the fuck I haven't passed out yet I do not know.

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