A Day of Museums; A Lifetime of Learning
When asking a student what their preferred activity for an early Saturday morning would be the furthest thought in their mind would be to go on a museum tour in Cape Town's CBD. Nevertheless the students of Queens Street geared up with sunhats, cameras and open minds headed off to town to visit some of the most historic places in the city.
Our museum tour began at the oldest colonial building in South Africa, The Castle of Good Hope. This building is less your conventional building and more of a type of fortress to say the least though this is implied in the name. Built in the 17th century by the first colonisers Simon van der Stel and Jan van Riebeek the castle stands as a rembrandt of South Africa's violent and raw history. Its original purpose was to serve as a replenishment station for sailors of the Dutch East India Company sailing to the east. Today, it serves as a poignant reminder of our complex history and is pivotal in understanding the turbulent socio political climate in South Africa. Our tour commenced with the firing of a rather small and surprisingly loud cannon- dynamite truly does come in small packages! With the help of our tour guide we then moved through the different areas of The Castle from the Governor's private quarters to the torture and solitary confinement rooms to finally ending at the gunpowder storage chambers. Though highly informative this tour was challenging in every sense of the word. We were required to grapple with the dense issue of colonialism and to recall the past in order to never repeat it.
After some reflective conversation we then walked up the street to our next stop: The District Six Museum. This museum captures a different period in South Africa's history and is an amalgamation of history and what happened during the forced removals under Apartheid as well as an embodiment of the vibrant and metropolitan culture that was District Six and the great music that this area gave us. The layout of this museum allows anyone to enter and begin navigating the different sections without a guide. The various sections show District Six at different periods in history and perhaps the most poignant ones are those that capture the sentiments of those displaced by the forced removals. Reading these lived experiences made the museum a more real and human experience which mere archives cannot do justice.
From District Six our group made a slight detour to grab a quick coffee at arguably the best coffee shop in the city, Truth Coffee. Once replenished we headed over to our final stop at The Slave Lodge. This museum is a self guided museum which consists of installations, video presentations, poetry and pieces remembering and acknowledging the former slaves, their names, families and origins. Though the overarching theme of this museum is slavery and the portrayal of this history there are sections that focus on similar narratives in South Africa such as the liberation movement and the highly tumultuous post Apartheid South African mining sector. Of all the museums visited this was by far the most critically engaging for the students. It portrayed the history in a way that did not guilt the visitor nor was it cold and factual but it was a combination of these two and interwove these elements to leave one in pensive mood yet at the same time appreciative of how far we have come and determined to live in a manner that contributes to some greater good in our lifetime.
Though we spent but a few hours of our day wandering the corridors and rooms of history we left with far more than facts and did more than tick off another item on our Cape Town to-do list.
We engaged, we learnt and we reflected. These are the things we will hold in our hearts.