South African Museums

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For Education, Study and Enjoyment

South African Museum, Cape Town  
There are more than three hundred museums all over South Africa, and each and every one of them is well worth a visit.

Remember the agonies you endured as a kid when you were taken to boring tours among never-ending succession of strange exhibits? It is even possible that those painful memories put you off visiting museums ever after.

The Windmill Museum, Loeriesfontein

Well, forget all about those childhood traumas and give museums another chance. These venerable institutions do not have to be boring or stuffy. They don’t even have to be especially serious.

For example, did you know that when you go frolic at the Gold Reef City Theme Park you can get a taste of the turn-of-the-century Johannesburg, when prospectors poured into the area following the discovery of gold? And at the Sci-Bono Discovery Centre, also in Johannesburg, you can learn about science and technology as you get to play with blocks.

Yes, museums can be light, fun and, at times, even a bit tipsy. That is, if you choose to combine your love of beer with a visit to the SAB World of Beer (Johannesburg); the last time we checked, entrance fee included two free beers. Or you can pay a visit to the Groot Constantia Museum (Cape Town), if your taste buds are partial towards wine.

We are sure that by now you are beginning the see the pattern: in order to really and truly enjoy visiting museums, go with your affinities. If you like fishing, you’ll never be bored in the Angling Museum (Knysna), the only one of its kind in the southern hemisphere. On the contrary. You’ll spend hours contemplating the exhibits: rods, reels, hooks... oh, yes, and the famous coelacanth fish.

Everyone who loves oceans and ocean creatures (and don’t we all) will enjoy a visit to the uShaka Marine World Durban), Old Harbour Museum (Hermanus) and Two Oceans Aquarium (Cape Town).

Art lovers will not want to miss a visit to the Irma Stern Museum (Cape Town), with the permanent collection illustrating Stern’s growth as an artist.

Photography lovers would slap themselves if they missed a visit to the Observatory Museum (Grahamstown), the home to the only genuine Victorian camera obscura in the southern hemisphere.

You can’t call yourself a rugby fan if you can pass indifferently by the SA Rugby Museum (Cape Town) where the number one attraction is a replica of the Webb Ellis Cup won by the Springboks at Ellis Park in 1995.

Museums can come in useful in everyday life too. If your children turn up their noses every time you try to make them eat an apple, take them to the Apple Museum (Elgin). They might be more willing to eat apples afterwards. 


Especially if you promise to reward them with a visit to the Toy and Miniature Museum (Stellenbosch) or the Warrior Toy Museum (Simon’s Town).

And in case you think that some individuals in your proximity display traits of latent wayward behaviour, we suggest you take them to the Correctional Services Museum (Pretoria), the only one of its kind in South Africa.

Just to re-enforce the message, make the South African Police Services Museum (Pretoria) your next stop.

By now you are ready to widen your museum-visiting ventures to satisfy your curiosity about things that are outside of your immediate interests and preoccupations. You choices are broad, for there are more than three hundred museums all over South Africa.

Here are some of the numerous thematic museums that are worth your while:

Origins Centre (Johannesburg) is dedicated to the early history of modern humankind.

Wildebeest Kuil (Kimberley) is an open-air exhibit of San rock art.

Mapungubwe Collection, Pretoria

Mapungubwe Collection (Pretoria) features artefacts from the little-known kingdom of Mapungubwe that flourished near the confluence of the Limpopo and Shashe Rivers between 1000 and 1300 AD.

Gold of Africa Museum (Cape Town) has a collection of gold artefacts from west and southern Africa.


Pinetown Museum (Durban) houses a multicultural display on Pinetown settlers from the Stone Age to modern times.

Tzaneen Museum (Tzaneen) has a collection of pottery spanning about 2000 years, beadwork, as well as utensils like spoons, weapons and drums. It also has the largest collection of pole-carvings in the world.

Robben Island Mueum

Absa Museum (Johannesburg), the only one of its kind in South Africa, covers numismatics, financial history and economic literacy and has a valuable coin and banknote collection.

Loeriesfontein Windmill Museum (Loeriesfontein) boasts the largest collection of wind pumps in South Africa. It is one of only two windmill museums in the world.

Adler Museum of Medicine (Johannesburg) details the history of medicine in general and its application in South Africa. On display are tools of the sangoma, drug-making equipment from the early 1900s, a century-old dentist's drill, and so on.

Botshabelo Mission Station (Botshabelo) is a historic site depicting daily life at a 19th century mission station.

Campbell Collection (Durban) includes 18th and 19th century Cape furniture, 19th century topographical paintings, African art works and cultural artefacts.

Mandela Family Museum (Soweto) brings to life the man behind one of the best-known modern day icons.

And then, of course, there are the illustrious national museums: South African Museum (Cape Town), Robben Island Museum (Cape Town), National Museum (Bloemfontein), Anglo-Boer War Museum (Bloemfontein), Ditsong National Museum of Cultural History (Pretoria), Ditsong Museum of Natural History (Pretoria), and Ditsong National Museum of Military History (Johannesburg).

Make a habit of going to your local museum and seek out museums wherever you happen to travel to on your holiday or your business trips.

The rewards are priceless. Your horizons expand as you learn how people lived, worked and waged works; your appreciation of the world around you deepens as you absorb the natural and cultural heritage. As a result, you really acquire the feeling of being part of all that went before you and all that is to come after you.


The International Museum Day

According to the International Committee of Museums (ICOM), a museum is a non-profit, permanent institution in the service of society and its development, open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purposes of education, study and enjoyment.

Every year since 1977, the International Museum Day is celebrated worldwide around May 18. This day is an occasion to organise events that can last a day, a weekend, a week, or a month in order to raise awareness of the importance of museums in the development of society. In 2012, the International Museum Day attracted the participation of 30,000 museums in more than 120 countries.

The 2013 International Museum Day is celebrated around the theme Museums (Memory + Creativity) = Social Change.



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