Pniel Museum is a small community-run museum which opened in 2013 in the village of Pniel, close to Stellenbosch. It has its roots in a long-running project, dating back to the unveiling of the Freedom Monument on the werf area of the former Papier Moelen manor house (which now houses the museum) in 1993. Pniel itself is a former Apostilic Union mission station which was established in 1843. Many of its early inhabitants were purportedly enslaved people looking for somewhere to settle following the ending of the five year apprenticeship period in 1839. It was designated a rural coloured group area under apartheid.
A small group of locals have a clear sense of pride in their history, and embrace their connections with slavery which is taken as Pniel’s formative experience. The Freedom Monument – which celebrates emancipation – was reflective of this, and subsequent developments including two further monuments and the museum have advanced this engagement with the past. The museum itself offers a thorough overview of local history, partially laid out in the form of a historical farmhouse, and partially based on interpretive content. There is no exhibition dedicated to slavery at Pniel Museum, however the links between Pniel and slavery are evident at various points. Additionally, staff (local volunteers) are happy to talk about the links both they and Pniel hold with slavery.
Perhaps the most important display in terms of slavery is a family tree of the Willemse family. At the top sits a photograph of Adriaan Willemse who is described as ‘a freed slave who settled on the Pniel mission station and became the father of almost 70% of Pniel inhabitants’. The museum functions as something of a community archive featuring donated objects ranging from cutlery to trade implements. There are, however, no objects which belonged to the village’s early and formerly enslaved inhabitants.
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