Today we visited the Kwa Muhle Museum, the former center for the Native Administration Department in Durban. The museum features many great exhibits that illustrate what it was like to live as a black South African in Durban during the apartheid regime. The name Kwa Muhle, meaning “Place of the Good One” originates from the uMuhle (“The Good One”) nickname given to J.S. Marwick, the first manager of the Native Administration Department who rescued 7,000 Zulu who would have otherwise been left stranded at the commencement of the Anglo-Boer War.
Most black South African men came to the Native Administration Department in the hopes of attaining a passbook, which would allow them to seek employment in Durban. This was an important policy of the Durban System, which aimed to monitor and control the black population in the area. As the city became more industrialized, the local economy began to depend greatly on African labor. Thus, the Native Administration Department came to represent a central administrative location where workers could obtain their housing, medical, and labor permit documents. Furthermore, workers had access to the sorghum beer halls, which produced the only type of beer that non-whites were allowed to consume. These beer halls essentially symbolized another means of control over black South Africans, as the profits secured from the sale of this beer were used to fund the Durban System. Interestingly enough, it was the women who led a demonstration outside the beer halls in 1959, as the men reluctantly yet dutifully worked in the mines while their wives protested.
An additional section of the museum was dedicated to more contemporary developments in South African apartheid history. One exhibition highlighted the legacy of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), a trade union founded 25 years ago that seeks to uphold the values of racial equality and economic fairness for its members. It is fascinating to see how the rights of workers in South Africa have changed so considerably in recent decades!
For more information about the Kwa Muhle Museum exhibits, please visit this website.