Canadian Museum for Human Rights celebrates Mandela’s legacy 29 years after his release

Twenty-nine years ago Monday, South African leader Nelson Mandela was released after spending 27 years as a political prisoner.

While Mandela’s post-release life is well-known – the iconic first black president of South Africa and a beacon for human rights around the world – the context and reasons behind his imprisonment and revolutionary struggle may be lost on some Canadians, especially younger generations.

That’s where the Canadian Museum for Human Rights comes in.

The Winnipeg museum has extended its Mandela: Struggle for Freedom exhibit until fall of 2019 due to its ongoing popularity.

The exhibit’s curator, Isabelle Masson, told 680 CJOB that the museum aims to deepen the public’s understanding of the horrors faced by Mandela – and millions of others – in South Africa’s racist apartheid system.

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“I think it adds an element of that emotional experience that you have a connection to world history, to human rights, to struggle around the world,” said Masson.

“It’s a story that we tell in five chapters, or zones. Seeing Mandela walk out of prison is one zone, one space, but you have four other zones before that, which tell you who he was, where he came from, how we tried to change the system for so long, and what sent him – and others – to prison.”

The emotional centre of the exhibit is a replica of Mandela’s tiny prison cell on Robben Island, in which visitors can trigger five films documenting different aspects of Mandela’s life.

“It’s actually a motion-activated experience,” said Masson. “You can enter the cell, you can touch the very few objects he had while he was still in prison.

“These different elements bring this fuller, broader story together.

“In this cell, you discover how the political prisoners maintained their spirit. They weren’t broken by this experience, they continued to prepare themselves for change… and envision a different South Africa.”

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