In Joburg make sure to give yourself at least half a day to take in the huge Apartheid Museum which offers a comprehensive view of the history of apartheid in South Africa. The national heritage landmark Constitution Hill, which was once a prison and is now home to the South African Constitutional Court, also reveals in vivid detail the cruelties of apartheid while giving a voice to the many ordinary and extraordinary people who were imprisoned at Constitution Hill for their opposition to apartheid.
In the leafy northern Joburg suburb of Rivonia, the excellent Liliesleaf is another must-visit museum that looks in detail at the activities carried out at this former farm by Nelson Mandela and his fellow activists which eventually led them to a sentence of life imprisonment on Robben Island. Meanwhile in the suburb of Sophiatown, Sophiatown The Mix is a museum and community centre that highlights the devastating 1955 forced removals which saw the destruction of the vibrant multi-racial suburb as all ‘non-white’ residents were forcibly moved to distant townships under the apartheid regime’s Group Areas Act.
In Pretoria check out the many historical museums such as the 52-hectare Freedom Park is an impressive memorial to South Africa’s history and heritage, themed around humanity, freedom and healing. Rich in symbolism the memorial park showcases the different struggles South Africa has faced along the path to democracy with a high-tech and extensive museum that looks at the long history of oppression in South African under colonialism and later under the apartheid state. There also some wonderful old house museums such as the beautifully-preserved mansion Melrose House where the 1902 Peace Treaty of Vereeniging, was signed ending the Anglo-Boer Wars. Just outside the city you can also find some fascinating house museums such as the Jan Smuts House Museum to the south in Irene or the impressive Sammy Marks House Museum just east of the city.
In Soweto, the Hector Pieterson Museum and Memorial looks at the student riots of 1976 and the brave struggle for education and equality that was led by the school children of Soweto, while the Kliptown Museum remembers the historic Congress of the People and the resultant Freedom Charter that was created by those opposed to apartheid in 1955 and of course there's also the Nelson Mandela House Museum too.
Some of the world's oldest hominid fossils were discovered in Gauteng in the Cradle of Humankind, now a world heritage site, and remains of our ancient ancestors continue to be found here.Maropeng is the visitor’s centre for the Cradle of Humankind, with an extensive modern exhibition that takes an interactive approach to the history of life as we know it from the Big Bang to the evolution of humankind and the spread of people across continents. The stories behind the numerous discoveries made here are also showcased alongside copies of the original fossils. A perfect accompaniment to the museum is a guided tour of the nearby Sterkfontein Caves where the remains of Little Foot, Mrs Ples and other famous fossils were found.
If you don’t have time to make it all the way out to the Cradle of Humankind, visit the excellent Origins Centre at Wits University in Braamfontein, Joburg. The museum explores and celebrates the history of modern humans, tracing the emergence of humanity along an 80 000-year path to its African source including an extensive collection of ancient rock art, stone age tools, and artefacts of spiritual significance to early humans.