Exhibition captures ‘essence of Mandela’

12 November 2008

Mandela, an extensive new exhibition that took over a year to put together, has opened at the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, and is also set to travel abroad to tell the story of South Africa’s most treasured person.

The exhibition, developed by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, the Apartheid Museum and the Nelson Mandela Museum in Mthatha in the Eastern Cape, is made up of photographs, videos and artefacts – including the car that Mercedes Benz workers made for Mandela while he was president of South Africa.

Large images now suspended in the halls of the Apartheid Museum bear testimony to Mandela’s life from childhood to recent times.

Among the people who feature in the photos and who had a profound impact on Mandela are his former wife Winnie, former president FW De Klerk, and assassinated SA Communist Party leader Chris Hani.

The exhibition will be on at the Apartheid Museum for about a year, while versions of the exhibition are set to travel abroad, with the Nelson Mandela Foundation saying it is in discussion with the Malmo Museum in Sweden and the Museum for African Art in New York.

Nelson Mandela Museum chairman Kader Asmal, speaking at the opening of the exhibition on Saturday, said the exhibition embodied the essence of Mandela, showing a man “driven by the insatiable desire for peace between people and communities”.

Asmal spoke also of Mandela’s great sense of humour, his humanity, and the fact that his legacy “belongs not only to South Africa, to Africa – he’s part of humanity.”

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, who grew up on the same street in Soweto as Mandela and also went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize, said one of the most important things the exhibition was saying was that South Africans were reclaiming their own history.

“When other people tell your story, they tell it from their own perspective . we want to tell our story, and we want to remember this man who we revere and who the whole world reveres.”

At the same time, Tutu said, it was important to remember “that this one who we hold in such high regard is a human being; he was a little boy who herded cattle. What does this say to our children? It says to our children that they don’t come ready-made for heaven.”

Tutu stressed the importance of South Africans protecting their hard-won freedom, and the need for debate to happen in an open manner in the country.

“Debate, debate, debate as vigorously as you can – but know the other person has the right to respond . My father used to say to me: ‘Don’t raise your voice; improve your argument.’

“We are free today, but remember the cost of that freedom – our freedom did not come cheap – and it cost this man [Mandela] 27 years of his life.”

Jakes Gerwel, who has worked closely with Mandela for the past 14 years, first as director-general in the president’s office when Mandela was president, and more recently as chairperson of the Mandela Foundation, said: “Our Madiba . brings a smile to our hearts . a sense of calm and reassurance in a troubled world.”

Mandela, Gerwel said, had an “exceptional view of humanity. He has an unshakeable faith in the fundamental goodness of people . and he generally believes the world is populated by people like him!”

He said he was sure the scale and ambition of the exhibition would impress audiences, adding: “Madiba’s legacy belongs to us all – and we respect it most effectively when we share it actively.”

After the speeches, a video message to Mandela from United States President-Elect Barack Obama on the occasion of Mandela’s 90th birthday earlier this year was played.

Obama said: “I reflected on your courage and your foresight and conviction, and on your fundamental belief that we do not have to accept the world as it is, that we can remake the world as it should be.”

SAinfo reporter and BuaNews

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