Mandela fought against apartheid, a system of white supremacy in South Africa. Under apartheid, everyone was put into one of four racial categories: “white/European,” “black,” “coloured,” or “Indian/Asian.” Non-white South Africans were second-class citizens with little or no political power. Restrictive laws governed every aspect of people’s lives, dictating where they could live, work and travel and restricting their access to education, health care and other social services.
Mandela rose up against apartheid and called upon all South Africans to join him. Although he was arrested and imprisoned for 27 years for fighting for freedom, Mandela refused to give up the struggle or give in to hate. Mandela was fighting against apartheid, but he was also fighting for something: a better world, in which the freedom, justice and dignity of all were respected. Even before his release in 1991, Mandela began negotiating with the government to end apartheid. Through those negotiations, he helped prevented a bloody civil war. Mandela went on to become the country’s first democratically elected president.
Mandela's courage is inspiring and his story is dramatic, but he did not end apartheid alone. In South Africa and around the world, people were inspired by Mandela's example. They recognized that there would never be freedom in South Africa unless many people took action. In South Africa, many died in the struggle for freedom. Here in Canada, numerous individuals mobilized against apartheid, calling for boycotts against South Africa’s apartheid regime.
We invited people to spend 27 minutes in a room roughly the same size as the cell in which Mandela spent most of his time in prison. Find out how it changed their view of Mandela’s struggle for freedom.
Mandela: Struggle for Freedom is about one man, but it is also about the many who came together to oppose racism and injustice.
Mandela: Struggle for Freedom is featured in the Level 1 Gallery from June 8, 2018 to October 14, 2019.
The exhibition was developed in collaboration with the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, South Africa. Lenders include Robben Island Museum and Zapiro.
The Museum is grateful to The Asper Foundation, TD Bank Group and Air Canada for supporting this exhibition.