Red Location district pays tribute to South African heritage
Port Elizabeth is a vibrant city brimming with stories of South African heritage, and is home to many anti-apartheid activists who fought to liberate the country many years ago.
The Red Location cultural precinct in New Brighton, Port Elizabeth’s oldest township, is testament to their legacy and a must-visit location for anyone wanting to gain a deeper understanding of how far South Africa has come as a nation.
Driving through this section of the township, you soon realise why it earned the name Red Location – the corrugated iron barrack buildings that dot the area have turned a deep red through rust damage. Many of these were built using materials from the Boer concentration camp at Uitenhage and the Imperial Yeomanry Hospital at De Aar, both erected during the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902.
Two primary attractions in the district are the Red Location Lodge and Red Location Museum.
Red Location Lodge
From the ashes and rubble of an old beer hall established during the apartheid era rose the Red Location Lodge – a backpackers that began as a haven for vulnerable youths in the township.
The business was started by a group a passionate elderly ladies, many of whom were political activists before the first democratic election in 1994. They saw the damage the old beer hall was causing within the community – turning young children into alcoholics and causing hundreds of others to waste what little money they had solely on booze – so they burnt it to the ground.
The property stood derelict for many years before the ladies managed to secure funding for the lodge in 2007.
We receive a warm welcome at Red Location Lodge as we walk into the main hall and dining area. The room is spotless and the decor simple, and the smell of meat cooking wafts in from the nearby kitchen.
We meet “Mama Africa”, a proud woman who fought for equal rights and better education for children during apartheid. She is a co-owner of the lodge, and formed part of the group that burnt down the beer hall in 1986.
In the years that followed, Ma Africa was brutally harassed by police, and still bears the scars of those encounters. She recalls how she was often thrown in prison on suspicion alone and subjected to cruel treatment while detained.
'Our children grew up without us because we were in jail. But today South Africa is free. I have forgiven, but I will never forget.'
Ma Africa comes out of her reverie with tears rolling down her cheeks. The rest of the ladies rally around her and break into a cheerful song, which they often sing together when feeling down. I’m happy to see that she’s smiling again as everyone waves us goodbye.
Accommodation at the lodge is comfortable and affordable. Expect to pay R120 a night without a meal, or R155 with breakfast included.
Red Location Museum
We then drive to the Red Location Museum, a few kilometres away. The museum was established in 2005 and has since won a number of prestigious architecture awards, including the Royal Institute of British Architects’ Lubetkin Prize.
A feature on the wall reads: 'The Red Location Museum seeks to remember the past in many ways. It plans to depict the notion of memory, portraying both the horrors of institutionalised racism and the heroic efforts of the anti-apartheid movement.
'The museum seeks to serve as stimuli for upgrading the destitute living conditions in the Red Location shack settlement, while celebrating those who fought to end apartheid. It is therefore designed not only as a tourist attraction for foreign visitors, but also as an integral part of the surrounding community, regarding education, arts and cultural activities and also a space for heritage practitioners in the metro.
'The museum seeks to portray an overall feeling of awkwardness, ambiguity and complexity through its vibrant exhibitions.'
In this way, it also challenges the traditional method museums use to portray history through their displays. The floor space contains different 'memory boxes', which each creatively exhibit the stories behind the people or groups who fought apartheid.
Walking into the museum, you’re met with the '12 Pillars of Liberation', which feature 12 notable activists who played a major part in transforming South Africa into the democratic nation it is today.
Among other displays, you’ll also see a moving photographic essay dedicated to the children, mothers, fathers, men and women of the Langa massacre in Uitenhage, as well as an interesting depiction of the fate that befell activist Vuyisile Mini – one of the first men to be executed under the apartheid regime.
Category: Culture & History