The Langa Dompas Museum in Cape Town offers visitors a poignant tribute to the heroes and victims of apartheid. This historical gem is located in the heart of the township and was established to commemorate its centenary. The once-infamous offices of the Bantu Affairs Administration now serve as a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and an important reminder of the past.
The Museum’s Exhibits
The museum’s exhibits cover various topics, from the history of the compass and apartheid laws to the exhaustive list of marches and protests. Upon entering the museum, visitors find themselves in a former courtroom where individuals charged with apartheid-era crimes face trial. The next room houses a chilling array of original compasses encased in glass cabinets. Finally, walls adorned with photographs of past protests and informative displays about passed laws immerse visitors in a world of struggles and challenges faced by the African community during apartheid.
Adjacent to this room stands the haunting “holding cell,” a small space where up to 200 people were detained during court hearings. Thami Sijila, the museum curator, opened this symbolic space in 2014 with assistance from the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation and the City of Cape Town.
The Museum’s Founder
Sijila, a former tourism professional, founded the museum to promote a deeper understanding of Langa’s history, particularly among the youth. He emphasizes educating individuals about their heritage and asks, “We know European history, American history. So why don’t we know enough about African history? Our history?”
Today, the Langa Dompas Museum has become a popular tourist destination, alongside attractions such as the Guga S’thebe Arts and Culture Centre, the art gallery, and the renowned Jordan Ways of Cooking restaurant. Sijila also conducts monthly one-hour educational sessions for up to 50 local students, utilizing the meager donations collected to provide lunch for participating learners.
Occasionally, the museum hosts special exhibitions, such as a recent display on the history of the steamship SS Mendi, which sank in 1917 during World War 1, resulting in the loss of over 600 service members. Mendi Avenue in Langa also bears its name as a tribute to the ship.
Commemorating Langa’s Past
As part of his ongoing efforts to enrich the community’s historical knowledge, Sijila plans to commemorate a significant event from Langa’s past each month this year. Through the Langa Dompas Museum, visitors and locals alike can journey through history, gaining a profound appreciation for the township’s rich and diverse heritage. The museum is a tribute to the past and a reminder of the importance of learning from history to build a better and more inclusive future.