Apartheid Museum


The Apartheid Museum is a one-of-its-kind exhibition hall that educates visitors on the story of apartheid in South Africa. The museum is situated at the Gold Reef City Campus in Ormonde. It was opened in 2001 and is one of the main attractions on a day tour of Johannesburg with MoAfrika Tours.

Dramatic photographs, videos, press clips, personal artefacts and moving anecdotes vividly illustrate what life was like for hundreds of thousands of South Africans who suffered under the brutal apartheid system and the journey the country took to its liberation.

Why was the Apartheid Museum built?

The purpose of the Apartheid Museum is to illustrate the rise and fall of apartheid and acts as a reminder of the historic and traumatic events that led up to South Africa’s first ‘free and fair’ democratic elections in 1994. The museum pays homage to the men and women who risked their lives and died tragically in the struggle for freedom and equality.

The Apartheid Museum is also meant to be a place of healing and the museum gardens offer visitors a tranquil space for reflection. Built on 7-hectares of land on the outskirts of Johannesburg, the museum is an example of exemplary design, space and landscaping.

A series of 22 individual exhibition areas take visitors on an emotional journey from a place of darkness to one of light and hope.

The exhibits not only highlight how people suffered under the state-sanctioned apartheid system and their struggle to overthrow the tyrannical ruling party; but also places a spotlight on the incredible tenacity and strength of character of the people who fought for freedom and equality in South Africa.

When was the Apartheid Museum built?

A consortium called Akani Egoli secured a bid to build a casino (Gold Reef City) in Johannesburg. The bid was secured on the basis that the consortium would fund the building of a museum on the adjacent land. An architectural consortium made up of leading architectural firms conceptualised the design of what would be The Apartheid Museum and oversaw the building project.

The cost of construction was approximately R80 million. The Apartheid Museum is registered as a Section 21 company (not for profits) and is managed independently of Gold Reef City. The museum relies on donations, contributions and sponsorships to remain operational.

What is apartheid?

n. the system of segregation or discrimination on grounds of race in force in South Africa from 1948 to 1991.

Afrikaans; meaning ‘apartness’

When the National Party came into power in South Africa in 1948, the all-White government immediately set in place a legal system that enforced polices of racial segregation that already existed in the country. Meaning ‘apartness’ in Afrikaans, the system of apartheid was designed to keep non-White South Africans who represented the majority of the population separate from the White population.

The apartheid system forced non-Whites to live in separate areas to Whites and use separate public facilities. There was strong local and international opposition to apartheid but the tyrannical rule of the National Party ensured the apartheid laws remained in effect for almost 50 years.

In 1991, the government of President FW de Klerk began to repeal most of the apartheid legislation. ANC leader Nelson Mandela was released from prison in February 1990 and worked closely with President FW de Klerk’s government to draw up a new constitution for South Africa which came into effect in 1993. Mandela and de Klerk shared a Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to bring about freedom and equality in the country.

The birth and death of apartheid

Racial segregation existed long before the National Party legalized the apartheid system and has its roots in the gold rush era which saw thousands of Black migrants descend on the gold-bearing region in search of work.

The controversial 1913 Land Act marked the beginning of area segregation which forced Black Africans to live in separate areas and made it illegal for them to work as sharecroppers (a tenant farmer who gives a part of each crop as rent).

Opponents of the Land Act formed the South African National Native Congress which would become the African National Congress (ANC).

By 1950, the government of South Africa had banned marriages between Whites and people of other races and prohibited sexual relations between Black and White South Africans. The Population Registration Act of 1950 classified all South Africans by race and provided the basic framework for apartheid.

More than 80 percent of the country’s land was set aside by a series of Land Acts for the White minority. Pass laws required non-Whites to carry documents that allowed them temporary access to restricted areas.

To further limit integration between Whites and non-Whites, the government introduced separate public facilities, limited the activity of non-White labour unions and denied non-White participation in national government.

By 1976, the apartheid system was under international scrutiny. The situation in South Africa came to a head when thousands of Black children in Soweto (the largest black township in the country located outside of Johannesburg) were shot at and some killed during what should have been a peaceful demonstration against the Afrikaans language being forced into schools as a teaching medium.

The United Nations General Assembly denounced apartheid in 1973 and in 1976, the United Nations Security Council voted to impose a mandatory embargo on the sale of arms to South Africa. In 1985, the United Kingdom and United States imposed economic sanctions on the country.

Under pressure from the international community, the National Party under the leadership of President Botha relaxed some of the apartheid laws. This included scrapping the pass laws and the ban on interracial sex and marriage. The reforms were not sufficient in the view of the international community and by 1989, Botha was forced to step down as president of the National Party.

FW de Klerk took over the leadership of the National Party and took further steps to diminish the stranglehold of apartheid. De Klerk repealed the Population Registration Act and other legislation. Together with the help of Nelson Mandela, De Klerk set to work drawing up a new constitution that served to enfranchise Blacks and other racial groups.

The new South African constitution came into effect in 1994 and elections that year led to a coalition government with a non-White majority. The first-ever democratic elections were held in 1994 and saw Nelson Mandela inaugurated as the first Black President of South Africa. The elections of 1994 marked the end of the apartheid system and heralded a new dawn for South Africa.


The Apartheid Museum has three categories of exhibits: Permanent, Mandela and Temporary. In total, there are 21 exhibitions at the museum that chronical the rise and fall of apartheid and the historic events that lead to our country’s democracy.

The first exhibit you see walking into the Apartheid Museum is The Pillars of the Constitution. There is one pillar for each of the seven values that are enshrined in the South African constitution:

  • democracy
  • equality
  • reconciliation
  • diversity
  • responsibility
  • respect
  • freedom

PERMANENT EXHIBITION                                            

The Permanent Exhibition takes you on an emotional journey from the early days of race classification and segregation to the rise of Black consciousness, the release of Nelson Mandela and negotiations which ultimately led to the first democratic elections in 1994.


The Pillars of Constitution

Between 1994 and 1996, South Africa’s first fully-democratic parliament sat as the Constitution Assembly and drew up the new constitution for South Africa. It contains guarantees of equality more extensive than anywhere else in the world and has at its heart seven fundamental values represented by the pillars you see in the courtyard of the Apartheid Museum.


Race Classification

Under apartheid, South Africans were classified by race which placed individuals in one of four groups: Native, Coloured, Asian or White. To illustrate this point, visitors enter the Apartheid Museum by their allocated race: White or Non-White.



The gold rush of the late 1880s attracted hundreds of thousands of migrants from all over southern Africa and other parts of the world. The migrants were a racially diverse group and it was this racial mix that gave rise to the first act of segregation and ultimately apartheid. The exhibit portrays individuals from different races at this time in South Africa who came to the country in search of wealth.



Racial segregation was the official policy of the Union of South Africa which came into being in 1910 and it laid the foundation for apartheid. The two dominant politicians at the time were Jan Smuts and JBM Hertzog who effectively were the architects of segregation. The Segregation exhibit provides background on the official party policy that created the apartheid system.



Apartheid was formally enacted in 1948 and finally abolished by the time South Africa held its first democratic elections in 1994. The National Party implemented 148 apartheid laws between 1949 and 1971 which affected almost every aspect of lives on non-White South Africans.

The Apartheid exhibit examines the social and political forces that gave birth to apartheid and the political groups that resisted the system. Powerful, life-size photos bring the tyrannical rule of the National Party to life and how people suffered under its brutal rule.


The Turn to Violence

During 1959 and 1960, violence had escalated in many cities in South Africa. The National Party retaliated with brutal force, using what was known as the apartheid police to meter out harsh punishment on demonstrators. The government also placed a ban on the main African opposition organisations which included the African National Congress (ANC) and the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC).

The opposition parties went underground and formed an armed wing known as Umkhonto we Sizwe (ANC) and Pogo (PAC). By 1964, the majority of the internal leadership of both opposition parties had been arrested and jailed, including Nelson Mandela in the famous Rivonia Trial of 1963-1964.


Life under Apartheid

For White South Africans, the 1960s was a decade of unprecedented prosperity. For Black South Africans, it was a decade of extreme hardship as the apartheid system hardened into its most rigid and unrelenting form.

The exhibit uses dramatic photographs and live footage to chronical life for the majority of South Africans under apartheid rule in the 1960s.


The Homelands

Ten homelands were created to further divide the people of South Africa. Non-Whites were forced by mass removals to relocate to these homelands which were mostly in isolated and largely uninhabitable areas. Between 1960 and 1994, over 3.5 million people were forcibly removed to Black homelands.

In the 1970s, the government granted ‘sham’ independence to South Africa’s Black homelands which effectively stripped its citizens of any political rights. People were unable to make a living in the homelands and the men were forced to work as migrant labourers in South Africa.


The Rise of Black Consciousness

A new generation of Black youth emerged in the 1960s inspired by leaders such as Nelson Mandela and Stephen Biko. The Black Consciousness Movement was founded by Steve Biko while he was a medical student at the University of Natal.

The Black Consciousness Movement led to a social, cultural and political awakening in the country in the 1970s which didn’t sit well with the apartheid government. Biko was murdered while held in detention in 1977 because he had become such a threat to the apartheid state.


Political Executions

At least 131 opponents of the National Party were executed under the apartheid’s various terrorism laws. Some were tortured to death while in detention and many others committed suicide, although it’s believed now that many of them were murdered. The executions were mainly carried out at the Pretoria Central Prison.


The Significance of 1976

16 June 1976 was a watershed day for South Africa. Soweto school children who staged a peaceful protest to demonstrate against the introduction of Afrikaans into schools were fired upon by the apartheid police with teargas and bullets. The official death toll was 23 scholars but it could have been as high as 200.

The first student to be shot that fateful day was 15-year old Hastings Ndlovu but it was a black-and-white photograph of a young boy carrying the lifeless body of a young Hector Pieterson with his distraught sister running alongside that finally bought the dire state of affairs in South Africa to the attention of the international media.

South Africa was never the same after that day. The apartheid government retaliated with brutal force, violence escalated with the young taking centre stage for the struggle for equality. It’s estimated about 1 000 students were killed in ongoing confrontations with the South African police.


Total Onslaught

The 1980s was a time of intense civil unrest in South Africa. President PW Botha adopted a ‘total strategy’ that involved the coordination of military, political and development policies. He invited Coloureds and Indians to join his tri-cameral parliament in 1983 but excluded Black representation.

Powerful anti-apartheid organisations came together to oppose the tri-cameral parliament. This included the South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and the United Democratic Front (UDF). Resistance to apartheid grew steadily both inside and outside South Africa. Large sections of White society in South Africa also began to question the morality of apartheid.


Roots of Compromise

South Africa reached a turning point in 1987 when a powerful non-government delegation held talks with the ANC in Dakar. Nelson Mandela, who was still in prison, invited the National Party to negotiate an end to apartheid.

In 1989, FW de Klerk took over leadership of the country from the hardline PW Botha and within months ordered the release of Nelson Mandela and the other Rivonia trialists. De Klerk also unbanned the ANC, PAC, SACP and other political organisations. The Group Areas Act, Population Registration Act and the Land Act were repealed in 1991.


Mandela’s Release

The moment the world had been waiting for; the release of Nelson Mandela on 11 February 1990 after 27 years in prison. Mandela addressed the nation and the world for the first time from the Grand Parade in Cape Town.


On the Brink

The ANC, PAC, SACP and other political organisations had been unbanned by February 1990 and South Africa stood on the brink of democracy. The country began a painful process of negotiation and compromise but still it was turbulent times. More people died in politically-motivated violence between 1990 to 1994 (about 14 000) than from 1948 to 1990.

Violence between the ANC and other political parties also flared up, stoked by a ‘Third Force’ supported from within the apartheid state. The exhibit documents the harsh years between February 1990 and the elections of April 1994.


Negotiating a Settlement

Lengthy negotiations went on behind the scenes which ultimately led to the final agreement on a National Bill of Rights and a new political order. The National Peace Accord was signed in September 1991 which attempted to curb the widespread political violence.

Formal, multi-party talks played out at the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA) where a political compromise was negotiated. The Sunset Clause helped to break the deadlock in the negotiation process. The clause guaranteed White civil servants a stake in the new South Africa.


1994 Election

The first democratic ‘free and fair’ election in South Africa took place on 27 April 1994. Footage of voting queues that stretched over a kilometre long at some polling stations are a reminder of the significance of the event.

A sense of euphoria gripped the country although in some parts, fears ran deep of what would transpire if the dominant Black party won the elections. The 1994 election took place over a few days with around 20 million South Africans turning up to vote. The elections were largely peaceful and saw the ANC win 63% of the vote, the National Party 20% and the IFP 11%.


Mandela’s Presidency

South Africa has gone down in the history books as having been one of the few colonizing groups that gave up its power without a civil war or large-scale international intervention. A Government of National Unity was formed that briefly brought together the ANC and other political forces.

After three and a half centuries of colonial and apartheid rule, Nelson Mandela became the first democratically-elected president and the first Black president of South Africa. He was 75-years old at the time.


The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC)

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was formed in July 1995 and chaired by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The purpose of the TRC was to promote re-conciliation and forgiveness among perpetrators and victims of apartheid.

The Commission was charged with three specific tasks: discover the causes and nature of human rights violations in South Africa between 1960 and 1994; identify victims with a view to paying reparations; and grant amnesty to those who fully disclose their involvement in politically-motivated human rights violations.


The New Constitution

A new constitution for South Africa was drawn up and promulgated by President Nelson Mandela on 18 December 1996. It came into effect on 4 February 1997, replacing the Interim Constitution of 1993.

The South African Constitution is regarded as one of the most progressive in the world and contains the most inclusive equality clause. Constitution Hill that houses the country’s Constitution Court was built on the site of an old political prison and military fort.

South Africa’s new flag is one of the most instantly recognisable in the world and the country’s new national anthem is the only one in the world to contain stanzas in 5 different languages.


A Place of Healing

The Apartheid Museum was built on 7-hectares of land adjacent to Gold Reef City in Johannesburg. Its purpose is to showcase the historical events that shaped South Africa’s past and serves as a beacon of hope for its future. The museum gardens provide visitors with a tranquil space for reflection.

The Apartheid Museum opened in 2001 and is acknowledged as the pre-eminent museum in the world dealing with 20th century South Africa. A consortium called Akani Egoli facilitated the construction of the museum at a cost of approximately R80 million. It’s an independent entity and relies on donations, sponsorships and contributions to continue operating.



The Mandela Exhibition at the Apartheid Museum chronicles the life of the iconic Nelson Mandela, leader of the struggle movement and the first democratically-elected Black President of South Africa. Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in jail after being tried in the famous Rivonia Trials and found guilty of treason.

The exhibition showcases 6 roles that define the great Nelson Mandela and his contribution to the fight for freedom and equality in South Africa.

  1. Character
  2. Comrade
  3. Leader
  4. Prisoner
  5. Negotiator
  6. Statesman


The Apartheid Museum features unique exhibits that serve as a platform for a myriad of provocative visual and creative narratives. Each themed presentation focuses on the history of South Africa and explores contemporary issues.

The purpose of the Temporary Exhibitions is to start conversations and search for solutions on pressing issues in South Africa today.

For information on current exhibits on show in the Temporary Exhibitions section, visit the official website of The Apartheid Museum.


Apartheid Museum opening hours

Monday to Sunday: 09h00 to 17h00

The Apartheid Museum is closed on Good Friday, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day


Corner of Northern Parkway & Gold Reef Roads, Ormonde, Johannesburg, South Africa

Admission fee

Consult the official website for price increases

Adults: R100 person

Pensioners, university students and scholars: R85 per person

Age restriction

Due to the graphic nature of the visual content in the exhibits, The Apartheid Museum is not deemed suitable for children under the age of 11 years.

Tour times

Set aside at least 2 hours to visit the Apartheid Museum.


MoAfrika Tours offers a selection of day tours to Johannesburg and Soweto that include a visit to The Apartheid Museum.

Check the MoAfrika Tours website for more information on our Apartheid Museum day tours.