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Freedom isn’t free! – Commemorating 30 years of Democracy with Iziko Museums of South Africa

The 27th April 1994 is a bittersweet moment for those who remember.  Some already up at the crack of dawn; some – filled with nervous excitement and even those filled with apprehensive uncertainty went to their voting stations, stood in queues, weathered the elements and waited their turn to make their mark. That morning was pregnant with the hopes of millions, unified in a single vision – a better life for all. Now, thirty years later, Iziko Museums of South Africa will commemorate that moment in history by providing *free entry to selected Iziko Museums on Freedom Day, 27 April 2024.

Museums are spaces of memory, stimulating learning and dialogue. It holds the past for future generations. The Iziko Slave Lodge is one such place. A place whose traumatic history and legacy, is now geared toward creating awareness of human rights, social justice and equality. Today, the Iziko Slave Lodge aspires to be a symbol of remembrance, reflection and (hopefully) redress. Exhibitions at the Iziko Slave Lodge intend to share the untold stories – histories, legacies and lessons of the Cape and the Country at large. The exhibitions cover topics relating to enslavement, apartheid, resistance and liberation.

Installation View: Iziko Slave Lodge façade © Iziko Museums of South Africa/N. Pamplin

Singing Freedom: music and the struggle against apartheid shows that music was integral to events such as the Sharpeville massacre and other turning points in our history – those that are either unknown or forgotten. Through its focus on freedom songs the exhibition tells the story of the various organisations, events and people who were involved in the struggle for an end to apartheid. Singing Freedom draws on oral histories and the memories of a few activists, as well as musicians. In addition, the freedom songs, some of whose lyrics are displayed in the exhibition, tell powerful stories of their own. As we continue to strive to deepen democracy and freedom, we do need to be reminded, as the words of one of the freedom songs states, ‘Freedom isn’t free; we have to pay the price; we have to sacrifice.’

Installation View: Singing Freedom, Iziko Slave Lodge © Iziko Museums of South Africa/N. Pamplin

The exhibition Aluta Continua documents the story of the 1976 student uprisings and the events that followed the Soweto protests, right until 1994 and after the first democratic elections. This multimedia exhibition derives from the Portuguese phrase, meaning ‘the struggle continues.’ It later became associated with the anti-apartheid resistance movement when Miriam Makeba used the phrase Aluta Continua as a song title. Aluta Continua zooms in on the contribution of the people of the Western Cape in South Africa’s resistance against apartheid and liberation.  Historically overlooked, untold and unremembered, the narratives of individuals based in the Western Cape are featured, interrogating their role and highlighting their contributions during this tumultuous time. 

Installation View: Aluta Continua, Iziko Slave Lodge © Iziko Museums of South Africa /N. Pamplin

Red in the Rainbow forms a key part of the resistance and liberation narrative dedicated to struggle history at the Iziko Slave Lodge. This exhibition is based on a book called Red in the Rainbow by Lynn Carneson, who also created and curated ‘Red in the Rainbow’. The exhibition features a reconstructed replica prison cell from the 1970s as well as graphics, video and sound material. Red in the Rainbow offers fascinating insights into the idealism and vision, as well as the frustrations, pain and sheer persistence, that led to the ending of apartheid and the birth of “the Rainbow Nation”.

Visitors immersed in the exhibition, Red in the Rainbow, Iziko Slave Lodge © Iziko Museums of South Africa/N. Pamplin

My naam is Februarie: Identities Rooted in Slavery not only details the history of slavery in the Western Cape, but also gives modern-day descendants of the enslaved the opportunity to have their voices heard. Cape Town has many people with calendar-based surnames, with September, October and November being the most common. Today thousands of South Africans still bear these surnames and some of them were asked to tell their personal stories for the exhibit, produced by Geometry Global.

Click to watch exhibition summary video on YouTube:

When the enslaved people arrived in the Cape of Good Hope, they were treated as property. Everything was taken from them, including the one thing they were born with – their identity. The purpose of the exhibition is not to showcase ‘The History of Slavery’ in South Africa, but to continue to drive awareness about a tragic part of our history that is all but forgotten.

Let us remember the hope, commitment and aspirations of the citizens of this country – manifested in the Preamble to the South African Constitution:

“We, the people of South Africa,

Recognise the injustices of our past;

Honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land;

Respect those who have worked to build and develop our country;

and Believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity.

We, therefore, through our freely elected representatives, adopt this Constitution as the supreme law of the Republic so as to –

Heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights; Lay the foundations for a democratic and open society in which government is based on the will of the people and every citizen is equally protected by law; Improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person; and Build a united and democratic South Africa able to take its rightful place as a sovereign state in the family of nations.

May God protect our people. Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika. Morena boloka setjhaba sa heso.

God seën Suid-Afrika. God bless South Africa. Mudzimu fhatutshedza Afurika.

Hosi katekisa Afrika.

*Free entrance includes:  the Iziko Slave Lodge, Iziko South African National Gallery, Iziko South African Museum and the Iziko Bo-Kaap Museum on Saturday, 27 April 2024 only. Entrance to the Castle of Good Hope will also be Free. *Excludes the Iziko Planetarium and Digital Dome as well as museums closed on Saturdays.

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