by Oresti Patricios (@orestaki) There’s a beautiful quote by the late American author and poet Maya Angelou that talks to the value of what has passed. “History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived,” she wrote. “But if faced with courage, need not be lived again.”

If one looks at comments on Facebook and Twitter, and on the comments section of (which has recently been disabled), it becomes evident that, for some sectors of our society, the terrible era that was apartheid is something they’d rather forget about. But this is impossible. Millions of people in this country live with the damaging legacy of apartheid, and have to contend with the reality of what this means to their lives. The damage caused is still clearly evident in the way infrastructure such as the transport, water and the schooling systems prejudice the majority.

Apartheid Museum OpenCo campaign - Massacre

Consequences of history

What I love about Angelou’s quote is what it says about understanding history and its consequences. If we understand the past and how it has shaped us, we can muster the courage and empathy needed to build a better future. This, in part, is why the Apartheid Museum, situated in the south of Johannesburg, plays such a critical role in preserving history, and communicating the legacy of apartheid in a multisensorial experience.

However, it is a Section 21 company and is reliant upon donations and public support for its sustainability. In order to boost awareness, a print campaign was recently created for the museum by OpenCo — The Open Collaboration, South Africa. The message communicated by the campaign? “Make sense of the past, make sense of the present.”

The current generation of school-goers was born after 1994, so for this segment of our population there is already a sense of disconnect from the reality of apartheid. Yes, their parents may be able to tell them a little about what it was like, and they may even become aware of the disparities in privilege that still exist. But democracy has certainly not been the great leveller that idealists thought it might be.

Apartheid Museum OpenCo campaign - Mob

Connects past and present

So how does one make an advert that effectively connects the past and the present, and communicates how valuable the Apartheid Museum is? The device that OpenCo came up with for the print campaign was simple, yet impactful.

Archive photos of scenes from apartheid-era South Africa are juxtaposed with similar scenes from modern-era South Africa. The historical pictures are black and white, while the modern pictures are in colour. The modern pictures have been carefully selected, sized and cut to match what is happening in the historical pictures and, sadly, the similarities are all too apparent.

One ad has a picture from the Sharpeville massacre, superimposed with images from Marikana. Both images show bodies lying on the ground — the bodies of protesters who were shot by police. What the ad is conveying is that, just as ‘Sharpeville’ became a symbol of the harshness of the police under the apartheid regime, ‘Marikana’ too has become symbolic of a police force that all too readily used violence to quell protest. The ad is called “Massacre”.

Apartheid Museum OpenCo campaign - Police

Frighteningly similar

Another ad, “Mob”, shows two more frighteningly similar pictures: both feature men wielding pangas, sticks and knives, and both show a man lying in the street in a pool of blood, his body twisted and contorted in a disturbingly similar way.

“Police” features two similar scenes of police with their weapons drawn: in the historic picture, they are wearing the old SAP uniform and point revolvers; in the modern picture they are in riot gear and have automatic weapons.

In the fourth ad, called “Protest”, the striking similarity is in the youthfulness of the protestors in both the historic and the modern photo. There is a generation that separates them, yet they look almost identical.

The Apartheid Museum is built on seven hectares and comprises 22 individual exhibition areas that use film footage, photographs, text panels and artefacts to illustrate the events and human stories that formed part of the apartheid era. In this way, the museum illustrates the rise and fall of apartheid in a manner that is a moving experience. All the exhibits have been carefully curated to tell the human story of apartheid in an emotional and dramatic journey that everyone may go on by visiting the museum. (It is not recommended for younger, primary-school-aged children, due to the graphic nature of some of the material.)

Apartheid Museum OpenCo campaign - Protest

What Mandela said

It was our beloved former President, Nelson Mandela, who said: “The real makers of history are the ordinary men and women of our country. Their participation in every decision about the future is the only guarantee of true democracy and freedom.”

The message for me in this campaign is that, although the imagery—and the lexicon—of the past and the present can be shown to be disturbingly similar, there is still a hope that this can change, and that, through awareness, healing can take place.

Thanks to the Apartheid Museum and OpenCo for a powerful campaign that reminds us how important remembering history is to shaping a shared future.

Ad credits

Advertising agency: OpenCo — The Open Collaboration, South Africa
Chief creative officer: Louis Gavin
Executive creative director: Rob Rutherford
Creative director: Darren Borrino
Strategist: Sean Donovan
Art directors: Sheldon Stewart, Darren Borrino
Copywriter: Rob Rutherford


Oresti Patricios

Ad of the Week, published on MarkLives every Wednesday, is penned by Oresti Patricios (@orestaki), the CEO of Ornico, a Brand Intelligence® firm that focuses on media, reputation and brand research. If you are involved in making advertising that is smart, funny and/or engaging, please let Oresti know about it at



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