Watching 3.5 billion years unfold

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Copy of Copy of PN Freedom Park Feature 561

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The Earth section at Freedom Park. Picture: Oupa Mokoena

Pretoria - It starts with evidence of the Big Bang theory, takes visitors through the emergence of light from darkness, through the age of rock, fire and water, the story of creation, and how ubuntu was born.

Visitors are also introduced to the belief that ancestors exist, and how they intercede between man and God. They are also shown the tools of pre-colonial life and religion.

They have access to thousands of historical artefacts in the 2 500m2 of exhibition space at Freedom Park’s //hapo Museum. The venue was designed and dedicated to inform people about South Africa’s origins and painful journey to understand its diversity.

Technology makes the museum highly interactive, and visitors can listen and watch history dating back 3.5 billion years unfold.

The narrative is told via strategically positioned screens, surround-sound systems and other intimate and personal audio and visual videos. All turns visitors into participants instead of mere spectators.

Derived from //hapo – the Khoi word for dream – the museum shares information with the whole community.

Copy of Copy of PN Freedom Park Feature 618

The Resistance and Colonisation section at Freedom Park. Picture: Oupa Mokoena

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“We are the custodian of humanity, and therefore have the responsibility to share our knowledge with everyone,” museum curator Sipho Mdada said.

The museum was opened last year, after 10-years of collecting 3.5 billion years’ worth of history, which was then assembled in technical interactive tools.

When Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe opened the museum, he called it a shrine of the people’s dreams. He said it embodied the symbolism of the country’s history.

It was also built as a monument to the legacy of its patron, Nelson Mandela.

In 1999, Mandela described his dream of a people’s shrine. It would honour with dignity those who had endured pain, “so that we should experience the joy of freedom”.

The museum shows the layers of local people’s historical, cultural and spiritual past.

“People must leave, having reached a new understanding of the rather complex past,” Mdada said.

Visitors experience South Africa’s history as themes broken down into seven eras.

Epoch 1, called Earth, shows earth’s beginnings and life from an African perspective.

The story of the region’s geological evolution is told in this section.

The story of the origin of life, about 3.5 billion years ago, is described here.

The second Epoch talks about ancestors and explores the concept of their existence from a physical and spiritual perspective.

The role these spiritual beings play is discussed at length, as is their relationship with man and God.

In the third Epoch, named Peopling, //hapo discusses the historical notion of pre-conquest societies and how they experienced change.

There visitors are shown how, for more than 4 000 years, the cultures, languages and spirituality of communities on the continent evolved. There is also evidence of the evolution of the tools they used to sustain themselves, including spears and rocks for hunting and gathering.

Resistance and Colonisation are discussed in the 4th Epoch. Visuals and records of the time show how warmly local people initially received colonialists.

This section documents how life changed with colonisation, and discusses the exploitation, conflict, separation and forced removals that heralded apartheid. The resistance struggle and eventual demise of apartheid are also shown.

Epoch 5, Industrialisation and Urbanisation, takes visitors through the large-scale exploitation of minerals, and its impact on indigenous industries and settlement patterns.

The emergence of Johannesburg as the city of gold and inhumane conditions of immigrants’ lives and work are documented here.

Nationalism and struggle, in Epoch 6, demonstrate the contesting forces of white state formation and the struggle for a democratic society as a backdrop for the birth of the new South Africa.

Epoch 7, Nation Building and Continent Building, allows visitors to experience the story of the different aspects of freedom contained in the country’s constitution.

The museum also has exhibits of the material comforts used by miners and others who played a part in industrialisation.

These include the trunks in which they transported and stored their goods, their blankets and beds, and the actual size of the rooms they slept in.

Also on display are the types of food and cooking utensils Afrikaners used during the Great Trek, and items reflecting periods of apartheid’s legacy, including signs depicting places where black people were not allowed entry.

Visitors can also listen to Truth and Reconciliation Commission audio tapes, and the not-so-faint-hearted can view clothes taken from sites where struggle heroes were buried. - Pretoria News

ntando.makhubu@inl.co.za

@ntsandvose

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