Apartheid Museum, Johannesburg


Space. Veld. Geometry.

The Johannesburg sky is rent, at regular intervals, with curdling cries when you walk about in the gardens of the Apartheid Museum. These are the cries of the anguished, before their vertiginous descent in an orange Big Dipper at the Gold Reef City fun fair.

Apartheid Museum

All of the Joburg skyline icons are visible: the Ponte tower, the Hillbrow tower, golden mine dumps, bluegum (eucalyptus) trees. The museum’s 7-hectare terrain is ‘‘dotted with mining structures that in themselves offer a robust yet poetic industrial vernacular,” Ivor Prinsloo wrote. And upon erstwhile mined land this piece of veld was re-established as an introspective canvas for the Apartheid Museum.

It had to be a strong landscape, yet humble. Unequivocally South African, and more: Bankenveld Highveld.

(As I am writing this, I hear that Michelle Obama will be visiting the Apartheid Museum during her forthcoming visit, and my own first visit was in the company of Christine Lagarde. Gardens to convey us to the world.)

Who better to design gardens fit for a shrine than the author of the Rudyard Kipling-esque Afrofantasy Lost City gardens?

Patrick Watson, a landscaper with unequalled knowledge of the South African landscape (and unequalled influence on our contemporary landscape) designed the Apartheid Museum landscape a decade ago.

‘‘I wanted to make a form of land art, strong but tranquil because Joburgers don’t meditate too much. But the area was very disturbed,” he says. And right next to a casino. And therein lies the unusual story of the museum’s genesis. >>