Learn about Johannesburg’s rich history by visiting its top museums. The Apartheid Museum offers a view into the country’s struggle to freedom, the Origins Centre Museum explores the roots of mankind, while the Wits Art Museum displays some of the best of South African art. There’s much more to see so we’ve rounded up the ten best museums to visit when in Johannesburg.
Johannesburg Holocaust & Genocide Centre
The Johannesburg Holocaust & Genocide Centre, established in 2008, aims to educate visitors about the history of the Rwandan genocide. The centre hosts many engaging events, such as guest lectures, film screenings and workshops, while tours can also be booked.
The Museum of African Design is the first museum on the African continent completely dedicated to design. MOAD documents the vibrant world of African design and does so through exhibitions and educational programmes. Different design disciplines are showcased, including fashion, furniture, architecture and landscaping, ensuring a diverse exhibition space.
The Apartheid Museum opened in 2001 and covers South Africa’s struggle to freedom and journey to democracy. The museum’s 22 exhibition halls display this journey through a series of artworks, photographs, videos and other memorabilia from the Apartheid era and leads visitors on a chronological tour of events.
The Bensusan Museum of Photography displays rare photographic equipment, including an early Daguerre camera. A wide range of photographs are also exhibited, from wet-plate prints to works of local photographers. The displays in the Bensusan Museum of Photography educate visitors about the different processes, techniques and essentials of photography.
A guided tour is recommended when visiting Constitution Hill, purely for the amount of information visitors receive. Constitution Hill is currently the site of the South African Constitutional Court and is a symbol of hope and democracy. The museum used to be an old prison and inmates included men, as well as women, such as the notorious Daisy de Melker, and children.
Wits Art Museum hosts an impressive collection of South African as well as West and Central African art. It’s one of Johannesburg’s top tourist attractions, as it sits alongside the Apartheid Museum and Constitution Hill. The gallery is situated in Braamfontein, a redeveloping and stimulating part of downtown Johannesburg.
The Origins Centre Museum is solely focused on the history of mankind, which has such a rich footing in Africa, and South Africa specifically. Think of Mrs Ples and all the other major discoveries made at The Cradle of Mankind, such as rock art found scattered around the country, or the civilisation on Mapungubwe. Permanent exhibitions include hominid fossils, genuine stone tools and other archaeological artifacts.
General Jan Smuts opened this museum in 1947 to display South Africa’s involvement in WWII, and since then the displays have grown exponentially. The large structure housing it is situated next to the Johannesburg Zoo and boasts a massive Anglo-Boer War (known today as the South African War) memorial statue on its grounds.
The Johannesburg Art Gallery (JAG), in downtown Johannesburg, is home to one of the largest art collections in South Africa. Architecture enthusiasts will appreciate the building, designed by British architect Edward Lutyens, who also designed the Anglo-Boer War Memorial mentioned above. Picasso, Monet, JH Pierneef, Walter Battiss and Salvador Dali are among the many artists featured in this gallery.
The Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory celebrates the life of Nelson Mandela, by chronicling his career and fight for freedom. It is also the official home of the Nelson Mandela Foundation, established in 1999. Exhibitions at the centre includes The Life and Times of Nelson Mandela, photography exhibits and much more.