Things you can’t Google

2010-05-08 11:40

On a cold, desolate Saturday morning, four black girls and I

approach the stony facade of the Apartheid Museum, south of Johannesburg.


visit was prompted by a TV advert for the museum that posed the question: What’s

to become of a celebrity-obsessed generation that’s forgetting its


In the ad, two young women with posh accents decked out in trendy

outfits are ­being interviewed about pop culture and asked to identify


Interviewer: “She had a hit with ‘Oops, I did it again?’”

“Britney Spears, baby!” they chorus.

More pop culture questions follow, and they get them all


Then the interviewer stumps them: “The apartheid government

stripped him of his title as chief?” Her question is met with awkward silence

and blank stares while a picture of Chief Albert Luthuli flashes across the


“Is he South African?” asks one women.

The ad hits home – just as the management of the museum intended it


“The museum is inundated with foreign visitors and school visits,”

says Wayde ­Davies, deputy director of the museum. “It worries us that young

South Africans show such nonchalance about our history.”

So there we are – me with two bubbly 20-year-old cousins,

Lesego Masete and Tsholofelo Pitse, and teenage sisters ­Vutomi (17) and

Miehleketo Mabasa (14).

We’re there to see if the ad is just ­manipulative PR or

whether we are in fact “a celebrity-obsessed generation that’s ­forgetting its


Our education begins at the entrance. We are divided into groups of

whites and non-whites.

Whites are allowed to use the lifts; non-whites have to

use the stairs.

My companions playfully fight to be ­classified white.

Our guide through the museum’s ­elaborate maze of corners and

partitions is 26-year-old Mduduzi Tshabalala.

The first room is filled with

life-size apartheid-era identity cards hanging inside cages.

The interior is loud and cold. Voices blare from videos and audio.

Our tour is no easy journey.

Endless visuals of the history of the struggle

depict a history I struggle to identify with.

How do I reconcile my lower-middle-class, born-free upbringing with

this past?

To me it seems odd that people who had the same hair and skin type as

me were once denied their human rights.

Lesego, Tsholofelo, Vutomi and ­Miehleketo are all silent,

concentration etched on their faces.

It’s surreal to hear the voices of real

martyrs who fought for a country in which we could live out their dreams.


speak from the streets, they shout from the stages of meeting halls, and they

cry over bloody lifeless bodies.

We come across a photo of Winnie ­Madikizela-Mandela and her

daughters in the Mandela exhibition currently on show.

“Are they still alive?”

asks Miehleketo earnestly, referring to Zindzi and Zenani.

Moving on, we find a blue and yellow apartheid-era Casspir, a

vehicle that struck fear into many hearts before 1994.

I climb inside. It’s

silent, but I can almost hear the voices of those who were ferried to ­detention

and torture.

I hear the bullets, I see the blood, and I smell the fear. I feel

the courage and the defiance. All things you can’t Google.

Then comes the part of the exhibition chronicling the Convention

for a ­Democratic South Africa (Codesa) and I begin to understand for the first

time why Codesa was a miracle.

After the sounds and images of horror and pain,

we move towards the exhibit on the 1994 elections, and I understand why choosing

dialogue over AK-47s was a marvel.

I realise that you are less likely to form a plausible identity if

you are not informed about the history that shapes you.

You can’t know who you

are ­without knowing your history.

The history I revisit this cold Saturday

reminds me that I live in a ­country that’s been free for barely 16 years;

reminds me that I live in a country where violence was once the norm; where the

­majority had their psyches shaped by the notion that they would merely be

extras on the stage of life.

The history is enlightening. I can’t go back. What I’ve seen has

changed my ­expectations of the government and myself.

I ask my friends if they think our ­generation chooses to ignore

the past or if they’ve just forgotten it.

“We ignore the past. We weren’t there, so why should we care?” asks


“We weren’t the ones who were shot, we weren’t beaten down, so we

don’t care, we just move on with life the way it is.”

But don’t we owe those who struggled something, I wonder?

“We owe it to them to learn about what they went through,” says


“And because they went the extra mile for us,” adds Lesego.

We head back outside and the chill has not subsided.

We pile into

the car and ­Lesego asks Tsholofelo what she’ll be ­doing on Freedom Day.

Tsholofelo shrugs and says: “Nothing.”

I realise that we, like the women in the Apartheid Museum advert,

look set to conquer the world as the born-free generation.

The past I saw that

day made me view the the present very differently

If the women in the ad, and myself, ­remain oblivious to our past,

we will ­be disempowered when we face the economic and social apartheid that

still persists.

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.