Jul 18, 1918 - Dec 5, 2013

A virtual exhibition:    The Life and Times of Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory

"The call now is for each of us to ask ourselves: are we doing all we can to build the country of our dreams"

This is a virtual tour of the highlights from the NMF's permanent exhibition  "The Life and Times of  Nelson Mandela" at the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory. The exhibition offer's a perspective on Mandela's life within the contexts of colonialism, apartheid and democracy. This virtual version will also include a behind the scene tour of the archive repository and of the facility itself.

Sello Hatang: Chief Executive Officer

By the beginning of the 20th century most of Africa had been colonised. Long struggles for liberation saw the start of the independence process from the early 1950's but in some countries formal colonial government was replaced by various forms of European settler rule. South Africa was the last country in Africa to have such rule ended by a transition to democracy.

Razia Saleh: Senior Archivist

In 1948 an Afrikaner nationalist class alliance assumed power with a broad racial ideology offering the protection of the "Afrikaner people" and also the maintenance of white supremacy. The term Apartheid was used by the National Party as an election slogan in 1948.

In 1941 Mandela arrived in Johannesburg, having fled an arranged marriage, and after a brief interlude as a gold mine security guard he finished his degree by correspondence and worked as a clerk in a law firm. Walter Sisulu and Anton Lembede was Mandela's earliest political influences and Sisulu became his mentor and a lifelong comrade and friend. In 1944 he joined the African National Congress when he co-founded its Youth League, he also married his first wife, Evelyn Mase in the same year. They had four children during this marriage.

Nelson Mandela quickly rose to leadership positions within the ANC (African National Congress). By the late 1950's he was a prominent public figure and a thorn in the apartheid regime's flesh. His work as an attorney with OR Tambo in South Africa's first black legal firm mostly involved in defending black victims of the Apartheid system. As Volunteer-in-chief in the 1952 defiance campaign, he led thousands to break apartheid laws. He was frequently arrested and banned.

Verne Harris: Director-Dialogue and Archive

In 1962 Nelson Mandela was sentenced to five years in prison for leaving the country illegally and for inciting a strike. The next year, from prison he became accused number one in the Rivonia trial, which saw most of the senior internal leadership of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) sentenced to life imprisonment for sabotage. Mandela would be a prisoner for over 27 years. By the time he was released he was the most famous political prisoner in the world, and a global symbol for the anti-apartheid movement. He used his time in prison to further his studies, read widely, reflect deeply, and learn as much as he could about Afrikaner histories and culture and became proficient in Afrikaans.

IN 1986 Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela took the fateful decision to inaugurate "talks about talks" with representatives of the apartheid state. He did this before consulting with his comrades in the prison or ANC President OR Tambo. It was a moment of great leadership, but also of great danger. Even though Mandela established lines of communication with Tambo and other leaders, comrades outside feared that he might have "sold out'. They need not have worried. He managed the process masterfully, and ensured that it was integrated with other 'talks about talks' processes that emerged from 1987. Soon after his release in 1990, he led the formal negotiations with the National Party and its allies.

Resistance to apartheid was led by the ANC and other allied organisations. When it became clear that the slow disintegration of the Apartheid system could not be stemmed, the regime engaged its opponent in a process of negotiated settlement. In February 1990 the ANC and all other outlawed organisations were legalised, and Mandela was released from prison. This began a period of formal negotiation leading to South Africa's first democratic election in April 1994. Although the ANC won a sweeping victory, the first five years was governed through a Government of National Unity.

Mandela's presidency (1994-1999) focused on the challenges of nation-building, reconciliation, and reckoning with the past. Rebuilding South Africa's reputation was also high on his agenda. He relied on his deputy president, Thabo Mbeki and his Cabinet to look after governance and the nuts and bolts of transformation. The challenges were many. Apartheid socio-economic patterning was resilient. The damage wrought to the social fabric by centuries of oppression was profound. And there was considerable vested interest in avoiding significant restructuring of the state and the economy.

On stepping down as President of South Africa in 1999, Nelson Mandela founded the Nelson Mandela Foundation to manage his post-presidential office and support his continued work.

Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory
Credits: Story

Bobby Heaney
Museum Africa
Jurgen Schadeberg
Heritage Agency
National Archives of South Africa
Chris Ledochowski
Matthew Willman
A.M Duggan Cronin, Mcgregor Museum
Nelson Mandela Foundation

The permanent exhibition is curated by the NMF's Research and Archive team and designed by Trace Media

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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