Workers Museum, Newtown, Johannesburg
The excellent portrayal of life as a migrant worker, found at the Worker’s Museum in Newtown, Johannesburg, was master-minded by Henry Paine, a local architect. Henry and his team managed to give a balanced presentation without sensationalising any aspect of this tragic practice.
The museum is housed in an old migrant labour hostel compound and documents the history of South Africa’s migrant workforce, from the first arrivals to unionisation. The original dormitories, concrete bunks, and punishment room at the old compound building reveal the workers’ hardships under the migrant labour system.
The men who lived in this compound were some of the many thousands of migrant workers who were recruited from throughout Southern Africa to work on the mines and in towns and factories. They left their wives and children hundreds of miles away in the rural areas and each night they returned to their dormitories where they slept side-by-side in double-storey concrete bunks with nine workers per level. There was no privacy and they were at the mercy of the Compound Manager who exercised total control over their lives.
South Africa’s economy was totally reliant on this workforce, the majority of whom were from outside the country, and less likely to cause “trouble” for the establishment. The inhumane conditions, draconian discipline and the high price South Africa has had to pay for the migrant labour system, are brought home in this tasteful museum. The museum is small, and it will probably only take you an hour to do it justice.
Address: On Mary Fitzgerald Square, opposite the SciBono Centre in Newton.
Directions: As you come over the Nelson Mandela Bridge, turn right at the first set of traffic lights into Carr Street. There is a large brown signboard pointing to Newtown at this intersection. Once in Carr Street turn left at the first set of traffic lights into Miriam Makeba Street. The next set of traffic lights intersect with Bree Street which is a one way to the East, continue straight. The next set of traffic lights intersects with Jeppe Street which is a one way to the West. Turn right into Jeppe and continue straight. Just before you reach the intersection with Henry Nxumalo there is a slip road to the right which leads you into the parking for Mary Fitzgerald Square. The signage indicates parking for Museum Africa, which is the same parking area.
Visiting hours: Tuesday to Sunday from 09h00 to 17h00
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