When the South African National War Museum opened in 1947, the then Prime Minister J C Smuts said in his speech:
“… Memorials, of course, have more than one use. They serve to remind us of what is past, of great deeds of heroism and sacrifice; they also serve as a pointer, and sometimes as a warning to the future.
It is in these senses that the South African War Museum may be regarded as a memorial. It will remind us, I hope, not only of the part we played in the recent great struggle to save civilization, but also of the horrors, the loss of life and the devastation, and serve as a warning to us to create a world in which we shall never have to use again the weapons of mass destruction we see here today, or those dreadful weapons to follow them …”
Since then, the museum, now named Ditsong National Museum of Military History, have expanded to include even more sacrifices and warnings to the future. It has a section dedicated to the resistance to war (from 1914 and onwards), and a (expanding) display of the resistance movement Umkhonto weSizwe (MK), the military arm of the ANC (the African National Congress). For those of you too young to know these names; Umkhonto weSizwe means “Spear of the Nation” in Xhosa, and MK was founded after the Sharpeville Massacre when Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu and others, decided to leave the path of non-violence. (If you want to know more about this fascinating chapter our history, you can find a brief history of ANC – as told by the ANC… here – and then you should find out more, from different perspectives, in the many great books written about the history of South Africa).
The museum is considered a spiritual and physical home to all South African soldiers, and veterans of war.
It is also the home to a one of a kind plane. At the very last part of WW II, the German engineers built the first jet engine fighter plane, ME 262. The only copy of this plane left in the world, is on display at the Ditsong museum.
The museum is part of a larger group of eight national museums. Home for the Ditsong National Museum of Military History is Johannesburg, next to the Zoo. If you can’t make it in person, (but you really should try, South Africa is an amazing country!), you can find some information on the website here.