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LLocated in the centre of Johannesburg is a large and impressive heritage building that occupies an entire city block. This building is known as Museum Africa, one of the most attractive buildings in the city centre, next door to the Market Theatre complex in Bree Street, Newtown.
Originally known as the Africana Museum, it was established circa 1935. Today, it houses around 850 000 objects including a substantial collection of paintings, manuscripts, African cultural artefacts, Cape silver, ceramics, furniture, photography, costumes, explorer maps and other objects.
There is a permanent exhibition at the museum, which greets visitors, called, "My Culture". This exhibition provides a historical background on the hundreds of different South African cultural and ethnic groups. On the top floor of the museum you can find the Bensusan Museum of Photography, which not only displays historical photographs, but also historical photographic equipment from the Victorian and Edwardian era.
OOne of the most iconic displays in the museum covers the Treason Trial, where more than 150 people including Walter Sisulu, Albert Luthuli and Nelson Mandela were charged with treason, with no convictions. The main trial lasted until 1961, when all of the accused were found not guilty. However the trial led to the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela, and the other accused men were convicted of various manufactured charges.
TThese iconic freedom fighters are each portrayed in a display that contains their portrait and a small biographical plate. Under each portrait lies a little red book in which the public is welcomed to write comments and facts about the person.
The collected works of art contain many local artists as well as Pre-Raphaelite and Impressionist paintings.
Many people who have visited the museum love the interesting and distinctive approach of the main displays. Some have even gone as far as describing it as a "museum with a difference". The primary focus of Museum Africa’s collections and research include: indigenous African cultures, history and archaeology, linguistics, and the collection of rock art, which is more than impressive.
TThe museum also has a shop, selling beautiful arts and crafts that are produced by the non-profit Imbali Visual Literacy Project. This gives an opportunity for visitors to purchase souvenirs.
In the words of curators, Museum Africa is a journey back into the bygone years of this continent, when the first civilisations flourished. The journey through Africa’s history travels to places like Kemet, now known as Egypt, Kush (Sudan) and Punt (Somalia), which the ancients called "God’s countries". In one of the interviews conducted with Ali Hlongwane, one of the museum curators, he said that, "Museum Africa is Johannesburg's centre for a southern African heritage experience. The latter is informed by the fact that the museum's collection is representative of southern Africa but it throws up endless questions and areas of contestation about the notion of 'African experience(s)'."