Museums, Art Galleries and Botanical Gardens

ID #1248

South African National Museum of Military History, Saxonwold, Johannesburg, Gauteng.

Known locally as the War Museum, it provides a home for the memory and study of the military history of Southern Africa. It affords visitors a rare opportunity to view artifacts from our often turbulent past.

Itself a child of war, the museum began its existence in 1942 as part of the Union Defence Forces, when a few far-sighted individuals grasped the need to collect material evidence of our country’s contribution to world history. After  WW1, the idea that a museum could serve as a war memorial led to the establishment of the Imperial War Museum in London. Sadly, no similar effort was made in South Africa, and much of the war material collected during the period was dispersed.

This oversight was not repeated during WW2. In 1940 Captain J Agar-Hamilton was appointed official historian to the Union Defence Forces. He formed a Historical Research Committee to ensure the preservation of documents and material of military interest, laying the foundation for the establishment of the museum. The museum was opened on its present site by Prime Minister Jan Smuts on August 29 1947. He noted, at its official opening:

“…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 will never have to use again the weapons of death and destruction we see here today, or those dreadful weapons to follow them…”

In 1975 its name was changed to the South African National Museum of Military History to reflect its widened scope – all military conflicts in which South Africa has taken part. Many of the displays can be viewed in the two Bellman aircraft hangars which were the original buildings when the museum opened. Many other buildings have been added over the years to house the growing collection and to provide work space for staff. A new entrance, accommodation for the library and archives and display halls for some of the museum’s world-renowned aircraft and armoured vehicles are the most recent additions. The museum is also home to various enthusiast and veterans groups and the South African Legion has offices on the site. The children’s playground, in its tranquil garden setting, is a popular venue for birthday parties and the conference and functions facilities are available for hire.


The museum houses some of the rarest military equipment in the world, most notably the world-famous ME262 jet aircraft of WW2. Aircraft, armour, artillery, medical, naval and engineering equipment, small arms, medals, badges and uniforms are presented throughout the museum.


The museum has the dual functions of education and preservation of history. Qualified education officers play host to a large number of school and enthusiast groups by providing guided tours. To make a booking, call the Education Officer +27 (11) 646 5513


The reference library, archives and photographic archives hold a large and unique collection of books, pamphlets, journals, archival documents, photographs, audio-visual and maps. The library is open to the public on working days from 09h00 to 16h00.

Features include:

o    Conference and function facilities (including weddings)
o    Dan Pienaar Gun Park
o    The Wardroom
o    Captain WF Faulds VC Conference Centre
o    JC Lemmer Auditorium
o    Delville Wood Room
o    Marrieres Wood Room
o    War Store

To hire the above facilities, contact the Functions Officer +27 (11) 646 5513

Open daily from 09h00 to 16h00 except for Christmas Day and Good Friday. The museum is located in Herman Eckstein Park, which includes Johannesburg Zoo and the Zoo Lake recreational area. It is in Erlswold Way, which is east of Jan Smuts Avenue in Saxonwold, Johannesburg.  NFSanmus

Contct:         SA National Museum of Military History
Box 52090 Saxonwold 2132
+27 (11) 646 5513 telephone
+27 (11) 646 5256 fax

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Last update: 2014-02-23 19:49
Author: Alan McIver
Revision: 1.7

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