A new exhibit presented by the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center, "Mandela: Struggle for Freedom," shines a spotlight on the life and legacy of former South African president and anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela.
The interactive exhibit, which debuts Saturday, Feb. 20 and is set to run through Sept. 12, 2021, is designed for guests 10 and up and incorporates special rooms that highlight the human rights struggle in South Africa during the apartheid era.
Apartheid, translated as "apartness" in Afrikaans, was a system of racial segregation that lasted from 1948 until the 1990s and placed residents of South Africa into one of four categories: white/European, black/Native/Bantu, Indian/Asian and mixed race. Under apartheid, nonwhite South Africans were forced to carry documentation at all times to authorize their presence and purpose in certain locations.
The exhibit highlights moments such as the Sharpeville massacre on March 21, 1960 — an incident in which police fired on a crowd of peaceful protestors, killing 69 and wounding hundreds. This event sparked the anti-apartheid movement and led to key moments for which Mandela is remembered, such as the burning of his passport as a symbolic protest against apartheid.
Among the museum's artifacts and displays are a voting ballot and ballot box from the first elections following Mandela's release, the photograph that inspired the uprising against apartheid and the Freedom Charter that led to Mandela's arrest for treason. Visitors can also examine a life-sized replica of the cell Mandela inhabited for 27 years until his liberation on Feb. 11, 1990.
Marcy Larson, the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center's vice president of marketing and business development, said the exhibit is important for many reasons, including Americans' lack of education on the subject.
The Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center, which operates on the founding principle of "Remember the Past, Transform the Future," aims to preserve the legacy of the Holocaust by honoring the lives of its victims and educating the public on the importance of human rights and putting an end to genocide.