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National Museum of Military History - Johannesburg

national museum of military history johannesburgSituated at the top of the 200-acre site that consists largely of the Johannesburg Zoo and Zoo Lake, the National Museum of Military History was opened in 1947 by the Prime Minister, Field Marshall Jan Smuts. The Museum is an impressive memorial to the past with its collection of World War 1 and 2 fighter planes - some the only remaining planes of their kind in the world - tanks used by the South African Defence Force in war in Angola, armaments, medals, military insignia and uniforms.

During the First World War many of the countries involved in the fighting spent time collecting and preserving records of the role of their soldiers. For instance Britain established the Imperial War Museum, but South Africa failed to start any form of a museum and a lot of the material relating to the period was lost. It was shortly after South Africa entered the Second World War that efforts began to preserve documents and materials, and an Historical Research Committee was set up. Interestingly the state appointed seven war artists who were present at the front. The collection of over 800 art pieces that followed serves as a form of reference to South Africa’s role in the war.

The museum opened only in 1947 and was called the South African National War Museum. It was changed in 1975 to the South African National Museum of Military History. It holds a collection of over 44 000 items from both world wars and the civil war against Apartheid, divided into 37 categories that include photographs, the art collection and some of the rarest aircraft in the world. The Museum of Military History also has a library with a unique collection of journals, archive material and books, and some 80 000 people visit annually. It conducts interviews in the library as part of its ongoing oral history collection and has a number of publications for sale.

A recent display covers the resistance movement Umkhonto weSizwe (MK), the military wing of the ANC.The museum also recently acquired a large white touring truck, parked outside in the car park. It has canvas blinds through which tourists could peek at animals on tours that were conducted from Kenya to Cape Town, by Africa Hinterland Safaris. In reality, it was used by MK to smuggle weapons into South Africa, under its metal benches.

In the grounds and well-kept gardens of the Museum is The War Store. It offers the visitor an array of badges, weapons, uniforms, helmets and books. And opposite it is the Vargas Café, named after Alberto Vargas who painted voluptuous women on the noses of World War 1 planes.



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