The History of the Police Museum in Pretoria
The Police Museum dates back to 1932 when the SAP College, a
depot at that time, started it on a small scale. The items on
display mainly included instruments used in the commission of
crime, exhibits in important and sensational criminal cases and
other items connected with crime. The museum mainly served as an
aid in the training of police students.
The Police Museum was officially opened on 23 September 1968
and is currently housed in the Compol Building. The displays
were initially not augmented and the curator and his personnel
devoted all their time to collecting items of historical value.
The museum consequently showed no sign of expanding and as the
public’s interest in the museum waned, the number of visitors to
the museum gradually dwindled. Public interest in the museum was
revived following the appointment of a new curator, Major Dirk
Ehlers, as he immediately set about appointing several qualified
artists. This enabled the museum to improve existing exhibitions
and to put various items carefully collected over a period of
several years, on display. This led to a substantial increase in
the number of visitors to the museum.
According to Mrs Hill, an employee at the museum, the archive
moved from the SAP headquarters at Wachthuis to the Compol
Building in 1978. By that time the museum occupied both the
ground floor and the first floor of the Compol Building.
By the end of 1982 the Compol Building had become so
dilapidated that it was regarded as a safety hazard. Major
Ehlers, therefore, deemed it advisable to close the entire
museum while it was under restoration. The closure of the museum
enabled the personnel to devote all their time to reorganizing
existing exhibitions and to display them in a more historical
The museum was officially reopened on 1 December 1983.
Visitors and various members of the police’s General Staff who
attended the opening were pleasantly surprised to find that the
museum no longer housed a random collection of displays, but
that the exhibitions had been organized into three distinct
sections. The crime section depicted various types of crime
without overplaying the sensational aspect of crime. This
section rather focused on education and were augmented by
striking and interesting illustrations. The second section
depicted the various phases of the police force’s growth and
development over numerous decades. Over a period of almost 71
years, not only the appearance of police officials, but also
their work situation, resources and techniques of crime
investigation had changed considerably. Although the third
section that dealt with “terrorism” was not entirely completed,
it was also opened to the public. The exhibitions filled two
entire floors of the Compol Building and immediately proved to
be a popular tourist attraction.
In April 1984, the first standing orders regarding the museum
and the socio-historical archives which form part of the museum
were introduced to regulate museum services in the police. This
placed the curator of the Police Museum in a position to
exercise more control over items that had historic significance
for the police and that were scattered across the country. At
the same time, the curator became the commander of all other
police museums that were in existence or that would still be
established. Therefore, the small museum in Ventersburg also
fell under the command of the curator in Pretoria.
By 1984 the museum had an extensive collection of historical
items. Items such as badges, uniforms, office furniture and
personal possessions were eagerly collected. The museum also
corresponded with collectors of insignia and uniforms worldwide.
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In 1964 the SAP started to build up an archive. Apart from
being an invaluable source of information for the museum, it
also served as a source of reference for outside institutions to
a certain extent.
As from 1 May 1984 the museum was no longer considered to be
just a place where the police force’s history was preserved. The
exhibitions had a definite educational value and the focus
shifted to the prevention of crime. The museum became a showcase
for presenting the SAP to the general public and foreign
The museum has, in collaboration with other museums in
Pretoria, presented week-long courses during school holidays. A
course in nature and cultural preservation was once presented at
Maleoskop. The children were also taught how to follow up
By 1984 the annual number of visitors to the museum had
already exceeded the 60 000 mark, giving impetus to the concept
of turning the museum into an educational institution. Museum
guides were trained to make visitors more aware of crime, and
one hall in the building was especially equipped to show videos
of police activities and crime prevention actions. Puppet shows
were used to educate schoolchildren about crime prevention.
The curator and museum officers began to plan new exhibitions
and more personnel were consequently appointed. The new
exhibitions included a display of the police uniforms, insignia
and medals; an exhibition of the modes of transport used by the
police; and various photographic exhibitions.
The museum has depicted historic crime scenes, and
socio-historical scenes, with a great degree of accuracy over
the years. The museum became famous for its monthly night tours
that were available to the public, during which the museum staff
staged dramatized enactments of certain historic events. Puppet
shows were held to educate children. The museum has amassed a
unique collection of exhibits and dockets pertaining to the
political struggle in South Africa.
International Museum Day is celebrated annually on 18 May.
The Police Museum arranged the celebrations for Museum Day in
1995. The staff of the Police Museum, the National Museum of
Cultural History, Melrose House, the Pretoria Art Museum and the
Transvaal Museum participated in a procession through the
streets of Pretoria and the public was allowed free entrance to
these museums. The Police Museum conducted a night tour which
coincided with the opening of new displays. The tour formed part
of the Restructuring and Development Programme and was attended
by Mr Tokyo Sexwale, the then Premier of Gauteng.
The museum’s staff regularly visit other museums throughout
the country to establish friendly relations and to promote
cooperation. This ensures that the various museums continuously
portray the history of the police as completely and
realistically as possible. In August 1995, for example, they
visited the museums in the Cape, which included the Castle and
the Police Museum in Muizenberg.
On 11 March 1999 both the Compol Building and the Volkstem
Building were closed for restoration which took nearly four
years to complete. However, the archives remained open during
this time and dealt with queries from the public on a daily
The Volkstem Building was officially reopened on 28
June 2004. There is a brand new exhibition of transport in the
SAPS in and around the building, which includes a 1938 Ford,
Harley Davidson motorbikes dating back to the 1940s, a field
ambulance, a Black Meraai, and a stuffed camel.
The Compol Building is currently still closed to the public,
but new exhibitions are on the way. Both the first and second
floors will be used for new exhibitions. The archive is situated
on the ground floor and the third floor serves as offices for
The museum currently has 22 members of personnel, including
archivists, artists, and training officers. Superintendent
Mathilda Smal, who has worked at the museum since 2 January
1982, was appointed as its curator on 1 November 1992.
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