Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Johannesburg - sights of Newtown

Newtown is the closest I have been to the city centre of Johannesburg. As a European I have heard much about the crime in the inner cities of South Africa. As I have already has stated, security must be a real concern for those traveling there. Newtown was, however not threatening in any way. After we had our lunch at Gramadoelas we saw a few sights.

Getting there

Here is a minute film giving you some impressions how it felt crossing the Nelson Mandela bridge and enter into Newtown. It felt like a downtown area, but is regarded as a suburb, located in region 8 of South Africas largest city. It is an area under renovation and many old buildings were restored back to its former beauty. As we were to drive to Johannesburg International airport, we were just given a short glimpse of what Newtown had to offer.

Museum of Africa

This magnificent building in bright colours housed the Museum of Africa. This museum was established in 1994 and has an excellent ethnological department. At the museum you find reproductions of huts, tools, and domestic tools, as well as equipment, arts and crafts from many of the South African peoples and tribes.

If I had entered I could have seen rock art similar to those I admired in the Drakensberg mountains showing the intensity and artistic quality of Bushman drawings and paintings.

The grim face of apartheid

This grey building facing the square in Newtown, is a grim reminder under what conditions the black population of South Africa once lived. As our host Arne told us, the industrial complex, that once used to be a power station, was kept going by cheap slave labour.

It is this past South Africa still tries getting to terms with, as the inequality between black and whites inherited from the racist regime still remains. The good thing are all the things the new democracy in South Africa has achieved in such a short time.

The Workers Library & Museum

This museum is located in what used to be the migrant labor compound in Newtown. This single-sex hostel was built between 1905 and 1910 to house 300 black men who worked at the city’s power station. It was turned into a museum in 1993 and it was declared a national monument in 1996.

A NGO, Khanya College, provides political and labor education incorporated the Workers’ Library and Museum in 2004.

Today the site is a chocking testimony of the oppression in the racially segregated South Africa. The old hostel is now turned into a heritage site to commemorate past and present labor struggles and the inequality that once was the very structure of South African political life.

This blurred building shows the sleeping quarters of the men that once lived in this hostel. They slept in large dormitories on hard wooden beds. Seeing those conditions, I am happy that this time is over.

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