South End Museum, Port Elizabeth
Did you know?
The building that houses the South End Museum was once the Seamen’s Institute of Port Elizabeth.
If you should speak to an old-timer from Port Elizabeth, ask him about life in the famous South End district before 1965.
By all accounts, South End, which houses the South End Museum, was a microcosm of the perfect South Africa: a lively community of Xhosa, English, Afrikaans, Malays, Greeks, Portuguese and Chinese people, to name a few.
They lived together, cheek by jowl, worshipped in a dozen different churches, temples and mosques, ran their businesses together and schooled their children together. This took place at the height of the infamous apartheid era, when a raft of laws officially separated all races from mixing in most ways.
The South End suburban buildings had that 'grande dame' feel about them. They were stylish, ageing and high ceilinged. Someone best described them as reminding one of ‘rural South America’ with their charming, nearly rundown look.
South End was the spawning ground for good sportsmen and many musicians. The old Alabama Hotel was the honeypot of hot jazz music, featuring bands like the Modernaires, the Cubans and the Rio – not to mention the Soul Jazz Men, the Debonairs and the Cavaliers.
Those who once lived in the old South End remember that there was an atmosphere of togetherness in their community, a spirit of cooperation that transcended any exterior differences.
The Group Areas Act – arguably the most harmful of all apartheid legislation – came into force in 1950. By 1965, the apartheid bulldozers had moved into South End and demolished most of the suburb. The residents were dispatched to new residential areas and townships, according to their race and colour. South End was one of the tragic stories of forced removals in South Africa.
These days, the South End Museum on Humewood Road is where you go to recapture those times. One of the displays is a massive floor map of the old South End. Other rooms contain photographic memories of the community and its sporting achievements, as well as tributes to the heroes who lived here.
From the South End Museum, you can also embark on a walking tour. A guide, who is also a former South Ender, will take you around to see 15 major landmarks of South End, and will tell you the stories of the people who once thrived there.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
South End Museum
Tel: +27 (0)41 582 3325
South End Museum Heritage Trail
Guide: Sidney Prince
Mobile: +27 (0)73 872 8064
How to get here
The South End Museum lies on the corner of Humewood Road and Walmer Boulevard on the way to the Port Elizabeth Airport in the metro area.
Best time to visit
You can visit the South End Museum any time of year.
Around the area
Head down the N2 for some surfing lessons at Jeffreys Bay; walk the Tsitsikamma Forest; go inland to the Addo Elephant National Park; or visit the glorious Baviaanskloof World Heritage Site.
Tours to do
The South End Museum Heritage Trail is headed up by a former South End resident, Sidney Prince – see Contacts.
You can either hire the services of a city guide, who would then drive you around the various sights of Port Elizabeth, or drive yourself to the museum and meet your South End guide there.
What will it cost
There is no official entrance fee to the South End Museum, but a donation at the end of your visit would be highly appreciated.
Length of stay
If you’re only visiting the museum, set aside 90 minutes. If you’re going on a guided walk of the area, plan for a morning’s visit.
Where to stay
There are some good guest houses in the Humewood area – check the listed Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism website for choices.
What to eat
Summerstrand has some excellent seafood restaurants, so walk around the beachfront district and take your pick.
Check the listed Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism events page for things happening during your visit. The city regularly hosts high-profile events, including international triathlons and Christmas festivals.