Wednesday, 31 July 2013


It starts with the cell. Measuring 2.4 by 2.1 metres, with nothing but a bench and a bucket inside, this recreated jail is the first item in the exhibition “Nelson Mandela: From Prisoner to President”, which is currently on tour internationally.

Shown in Paris, France, in June and July, the exposition of Mandela’s extraordinary life will also be seen in countries such as Peru and Ecuador this year. At each stop, visitors will get to experience for a few seconds the tiny space where Mandela spent 18 of the 27 years in captivity. They will find themselves wondering how he survived and could forgive.

Posters shown in the exhibition.
While the cell on its own is enough to make a lasting impression, the other items on display – ranging from film footage to early posters calling for Mandela’s liberation – combine to take viewers on an exceptional and emotional journey.

This second section begins with Mandela's birth on 18 July 1918 in the modest village of Mvezo, and follows his fight against South Africa’s apartheid regime as a young man, his long incarceration, his ultimate release and his election to the presidency.

“The main interest of this exhibition is that its progressive presentation shows the multiple dimensions of Nelson Mandela’s life, and reveals the strength and greatness of the man, without hesitating to recognize his weaknesses,” said Christopher Till, director of South Africa’s Apartheid Museum, which curated the display.

Organized according to six themes, the show presents “the man, the comrade, the leader, the prisoner, the negotiator and the statesman”. Throughout, visitors are impressed by this singular story of strength, grace and reconciliation.

Visitors view the exhibition in France.
But many of the images will also cause pain and anger, especially those showing students being brutally beaten by the security forces, or footage of the remains of an “informant” who has been killed in the most gruesome fashion.  The viciousness of apartheid comes through clearly in the exhibition, and against such a background, Mandela’s role as a unifying force is even more remarkable.

“With this exposition, one can better appreciate the reasons why Nelson Mandela embodies victory over oppression,” said French president Francois Hollande in a foreword to the show’s catalogue. “A visionary statesman, he has never ceased all through his life to prefer dialogue to confrontation, reconciliation to the demagogic exploitation of hatred accumulated in the past.”

Hollande also summed up the feelings generated by Mandela’s life and work, as outlined in the exhibition, when he declared that:  in a world threatened by ignorance, this man’s example should serve as an inspiration for all. - A.M.