The museum was established in 1933, when the Johannesburg Public Library bought a large quantity of African material culture and books from John Gaspard Gubbins. From the mid-1930s, the museum's scope widened to include all aspects of African cultural history and material culture.
The museum has collections of African material culture from across the continent, including noted collections of tokens, musical instruments and head-rests. Museum Africa houses The Geology Museum and the Bensusan Museum of Photography.
The Bensusan Museum of Photography collects rare and valuable precision-made photographic equipment and pictures made using this equipment including wet-plate prints, stereoscopic views and digital images.
The Geology Museum collection consists of over 17000 rock and mineral samples from Southern Africa including many type samples and samples from the Tsumeb area of Namibia, the witwatersrand reefs and Okiep area
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