Johannesburg's Workers Museum, as the name suggests, exposes the conditions in which the city's substantial migrant population lived and worked in the 20th century. The museum occupies a former workers' compound, where hundreds of men lived in cramped and dirty conditions. These men worked for the city's sanitary and power departments, and lived under what amounted to little more than slave-like conditions. The compound was built in 1913, and it was used until the 1980s.
Today, the compound houses the Workers Museum (opened in 2010), offering a poignant reminder of a dark period in Johannesburg's past through exhibits illustrating the horrid life a migrant worker lived. In addition to rooms such as bunk rooms and toilets, the museum also has a workers' library and resource center.
The Workers Museum is managed as a branch of Museum Africa (its entrance is on Newtown Park, in the Newtown Cultural Precinct). It tells the story of migrants who came to Johannesburg from across Southern Africa, leaving behind their homes and families. Centrally located in the Newtown Cultural Precinct, the original dormitories, concrete bunks, and punishment room at the old compound building reveal the workers’ hardships under the migrant labour system. This was a cornerstone of the economy from the early 1900s to the 1970s, when at last the system of job reservation began to break down.