Exploring SAPS history

A black tile marks the spot were unnamed skeletons were found during renovations.

For skeletons, secrets, intriguing artefacts and historical facts, the SAPS Museum in Muizenberg makes a great outing.

It is the only SAPS Museum in the Western Cape, so it’s a fitting place to visit during Museum Week, from Tuesday May 14 to Saturday May 19.

Children adore meeting Chester – a stuffed horse – who was (in his day) the only transport used by police of the time. He’s had the longest shift in history, joke museum staff Suzette Farmer and Warrant Officer Lungwisa Nxele.

The museum is quiet inside, like a library, but it seems almost every inch of the place has something to say.

A black tile on the floor marks the spot where skeletons were unearthed during renovations.

“Yoh, you should see the children scream and run away from it when we tell them,” Ms Farmer laughs. “It’s all good fun, but it is also all about education, and the combination of the two works really well.”

The museum is like a treasure hunt, only one that brings the children’s school books to life.

After extensive renovations, the museum reopened in March 2016.

Warrant Officer Nxele says she has to make sure she has her facts straight when telling the stories harboured by the museum.

“When the senior citizens visit, they will tell us, ‘I remember this, I remember that’, and they are sure to correct us if they think something is wrong.”

Ms Farmer says it’s a special joy to have the seniors come by and tell their own stories.

She says the old typewriter they have on view often starts the women talking about their work days and typing on those behemoths.

Ms Farmer says the museum often teaches by comparison: they show the children the typewriters, and then point out how easy it is for people today to communicate, and type, on their phones.

Warrant Officer Nxele says the handwriting on the old police reports was exquisite cursive. Where she comes from in Caledon, the judges and magistrates point out a few policemen or women and insist their reports are typed because their handwriting is illegible. “Not everything has improved,” she laughs.

The women stress the importance of history as a tool for learning and change. “If people learn from history then they don’t have to repeat it,” Ms Farmer says.

Warrant Office Nxele says that if history is respected no more cultures need be lost and those cultures today can be understood and preserved.

Many groups of schoolchildren are introduced to SAPS as a possible career option through the museum. The schools can also book visits from the dog unit or bomb unit, and older children are taken on visits to Pollsmoor.

Aside from the many items from yesteryear, the museum also has a mock court and underground cells that once housed criminals.

There are foundations of a previous police building from before 1847 still visible in the current gardens, with the history of the court dating back to 1873.

The museum is on Main Road. It is open Monday to Friday 8am to 3pm. Entry is free. Call 021 788 7035 or email wcmuseum@saps.gov.za for more details.