Clouded in the unreasonable fear South Africans have to makwerekweres (foreign migrant workers) are three stark reminders within Johannesburg of the country´s shameful historical episodes; the Constitution Hill, the Hector Pieterson Museum and the Apartheid Museum
Constitution Hill is an ancient fort built in the 19th century by Afrikaans in the middle of Johannesburg, initially intended as a prison for white males, but which over the years was transformed into a secretive torture chamber for holding black men and women opposed to the Apartheid regime.
David, the facility's tour guide, gives moving accounts of the humiliation meted on the anti-apartheid activists; including for instance how the women were denied any form of under-clothing which meant that the sanitary towels routinely fell off for those who couldn’t master the technique of holding them in place while walking.
Male prisoners on the other hand would be strapped on a triangular-shaped wooden frame from where lashes of the whip would be used to extract confessions on the activities of Umkhonto we Sizwe (or MK), translated as 'Spear of the Nation', the military wing of the African National Congress.
Nelson and Winnie Mandela are among former inmates at this former prison, as were many others whose only crime would have been walking on white neighbourhoods without passes.
The Hector Pierterson museum, located in Orlando west, Soweto, holds photographic reminders of the June 16, 1976 riots by school children who were protesting the use of the Afrikaan language as a mode of instructions in township schools.
Within its walls visitors interact with the raw courage that was displayed by the children, as well as the cruelty visited upon them by state agencies, all blended together to give the recipe that gave birth to the Rainbow nation.
Interviews, direct quotes and proficient skills of photography capture the moments, before and after, when the peaceful march turned into a bloody massacre of an estimated 500 people.
The Apartheid Museum goes a notch further. It traces the origin of South Africa´s liberation struggle, offers rare moments of one-on-one interviews with its leaders and depicts graphic images of the torture methods used to quash the ANC.
An array of large blown-up photographs, film footages, artefacts and text panels take visitors back in time to the 70´s and 80´s setting in the Soweto township and brings to life how the crowds dodged bullets, suffocated from tear cannisters and marched with the clenched fist to demand the release of Nelson Mandela.
In solidarity, any visitor joins the rhythm of toyi toyi, the dance of stomping feet, and spontaneously chant “Amanda" (Power), "Awethu" (Ours) to show defiance to Apartheid rule.
The museum gives particular recognition to liberation heroes who never lived to see the fruits of their sacrifice, most poignantly the iconic Bantu Steve Biko who died from injuries he incurred while in Police custody.
A large Police armoured vehicle, nicknamed “casspir“ and likened as the symbol of Police brutality during the Apartheid era, is also well preserved, standing in close proximity to dangling nooses used to hang political prisoners.
It is hard for a visitor to any of these three museums not to have a sense of comradeship with South Africa's liberation struggle. One shares the anguish and desperate thirst for freedom that the liberation heroes had.
Yet this sense of empathy quickly evaporates into disgust as one is bombarded by present-day accounts of rising xenophobia within the Rainbow Nation. Last week, a Zimbabwean was thrown off a moving train by a crowd, a Somali-owned shop was looted and gutted down and yet the official government response has been to dismiss such incidents as rumors.
How can a nation go through so much, and forget too soon, one may be tempted to ask. South Africans have turned a blind eye on their history and substituted the Pan - Africanism of the 70's and 80's with a xenophobic attitude which now pervades every sphere of life.
There is no longer a connection between the struggles of the past with the possibilities of the future. History will come back to haunt the nation.