Museum Africa, Johannesburg
Museum Africa is located in the Newtown area of Johannesburg, and the building was originally a market (part of the complex is now occupied by the Market Theatre, which is probably the premier venue for plays and 'serious' theatre in Jo'burg).
The building is wonderful, and on the face of it, the combination of great architecture and South Africa's vibrant, turbulent history should be a winner, especially given its proximity to the Newtown precinct: sadly, it fails to deliver on this potential, and is ultimately a disappointing experience.
The museum aims to recreate aspects of Johannesburg's social history, which should make for a rich and fascinating experience. Certainly much of the collection on view (particularly the old photographs) are of a high quality, and should make for exciting exhibits. However, many of the displays are tatty and some are downright amateur. It appears that the curator has been asked to work with limited financial and skills resources, and visitors used to the standard of museums in Europe and North America are likely to be disappointed (this is certainly not the case for the world class Apartheid Museum and Maropeng Centre at the Cradle of Mankind, so I'm not quite sure why Museum Africa isn't of the same standard).
However, my major problem is the attitude of the staff and their apparent reluctance to welcome children. I was brought up in London, where the museums actively welcomed even the youngest of children and made sure that the displays were kiddy proof - as a result, I have a lifelong passion for museums and consider them to be an invaluable resource in developing a culture of learning from a very early age. I took my children (aged 5 and 2) to Museum Africa last year, and we felt as though we were being treated as vermin virtually from the moment that we arrived. Whilst I can understand their concern that the children might break the exhibits, my question is why have the exhibits not been constructed in a childproof manner to start with? Surely attracting children is a core function of museums (particularly museums with a social focus)?
Sadly, on this basis, I cannot recommend Museum Africa as a worthwhile experience, and, if you have children, well, you have been warned!
Housed in an attractive building on the north side of the Newtown Cultural Precinct, MuseuMAfrica has definitely seen better days, and quite a few of them. Many of the exhibits are charmingly 'home-made' but the downside of this personal and homely approach is that the interpretation can be (and is, here) confusing. Furthermore, home-made panels and displays have a habit of getting broken very easily.
MuseuMAfrica should be the showcase heritage and visitor centre for Johannesburg, but I suspect that many of its treasures have been plundered for use in a variety of new thematic museums such as the Apartheid Museum, the Origins Centre and for Constitution Hill.
The museum has some significant displays and exhibitions, but unfortunately the palaeoanthropology disaply isn't one of them (go to the Origins Centre at Wits instead).
The exhibition on the 1956 trials of dissidents (including much of the ANC hierarchy) is fascinating, but more for the mass of newspaper coverage plastered to the walls. It all feels very unstructured and surely deserves better treatment than this.
Similarly, the photographic exhibition on Johannesburg's history, including many photographs by Peter Mangubane, is in an open hall with poor lighting.
A permanent exhibit on Mahatma Gandhi's stay in Johannesburg is superb, but again....it suffers poor lighting. An extensive exhibit on South African music should really be the star attraction, but it just doesn't work. Somehow the atmosphere was entirely missing.
I didn't have time - and I was also getting pretty demoralised at the lack of maintenance and the poor lighting - to visit the acclaimed Benusan Photographic Gallery on the top floor.
There is a good display on African rock art on the third floor, but it is showing signs of age and consequent decay. As before, you'll do better at the Origins Centre at Wits.
I was very disappointed at the state of MuseuMAfrica and hope that the many corporations that have funded some ofthe newer museums in the city can consider funding a revamp and revitalization of this museum. If it is to remain the anchor point of the disappointing Newtown Cultural Precint, it needs a lot of TLC!
Museum Africa is located in the Newtown Cultural Precinct in central Johannesburg. It carries a number of exhibits, including geological specimens, paintings, prints, photographs, public documents, folk art, and many other objects. Of special interest are the exhibits that deal with some of the more turbulent periods in the South African history - the Anglo-Boer War and the anti-apartheid struggle.
Located downtown this museum tells about South Africa history in all aspects. Mining, aparteid, education and much more. The cost was R7 for adults.