The Lwandle Migrant Labour Museum in Somerset West, about 40km from Cape Town, documents the appalling conditions faced by migrant labourers in apartheid-era South Africa. The dynamic exhibitions and installations recall this dark South African past, but also shed light on a brighter future.

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The Transported of KwaNdebele, a photographic exhibition by world-renowned photographer David Goldblatt, is on permanent display at the Lwandle Migrant Labour Museum.

The Lwandle Migrant Labour Museum in Somerset West, just 40km from Cape Town, explores the history of apartheid in Cape Town and the Western Cape during the 20th century. In particular, the museum examines harsh realities faced by migrant labourers under the apartheid system.

The museum is a memorial to enforced single-sex hostels and the control of black workers. Under the infamous 'Pass Laws' Act of 1952, it was compulsory for all black South Africans over the age of 16 to carry a 'pass book' at all times when in 'white' areas.

In 1958, the small township of Lwandle was established with hostel-type rooms for men who worked at the nearby fruit farms and canning factories. Living conditions for these men, who numbered in the thousands, were appalling. Cramped into confined spaces, the men were often separated from their families for long periods of time, having access to only very basic amenities and rudimentary, substandard ablution facilities.

Conditions worsened in the 1980s when government control of the flow of workers relaxed. Facilities were not upgraded to accommodate the increasing number of workers arriving in the Western Cape and the hostels became even more overcrowded.

The Lwandle Migrant Labour Museum was officially opened on 1 May 2000. Imagined as a space to remember the past and learn from for the future, victories as well as defeats are represented in a variety of media, from photography to interactive installations. Permanent and temporary exhibitions are updated regularly.

Some of the museum’s staff members are involved in research projects. Topics include the establishment of the museum, the Lwandle community’s relationship to the museum, and the role played by this museum in the context of post-apartheid reconciliation.

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