Mandela: Struggle for Freedom

Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison because he was fighting for freedom and human rights. After he was released, he became South Africa's first democratically elected president. (The Globe and Mail Inc./Erik Christensen)


“I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

- Nelson Mandela, 1964

What would you do if you were imprisoned for 27 years? Would you be able to forgive your captors, or would you want revenge? Nelson Mandela chose forgiveness – and he never stopped trying to build a better world.

Mandela: Struggle for Freedom looks at Nelson Mandela and the movement that formed around him. Follow Mandela into hiding after he is declared an outlaw, and then join him inside a replica of the prison cell that was his home for 18 years. Experience the bittersweet joy of his release, after 27 long years of imprisonment. Finally, witness South Africa’s first democratic elections, and find out about Mandela’s efforts to rebuild a nation shattered by racism and injustice.

Explore what was happening on the streets during Mandela’s lifetime. Bear witness to South African children defending themselves from tanks with garbage can lids, and learn about the secret plan to break Mandela out of prison. Support for Mandela and his cause also came from outside South Africa. Hear from Canadians who joined the struggle for freedom and equality and see for yourself the importance of mobilizing and speaking out.


What was Mandela’s struggle about?

Mandela fought against apartheid, a system of white supremacy in South Africa. Under apartheid,  everyone was put into one of four racial categories: “white,” “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 prevent a bloody civil war. Mandela went on to become the country’s first democratically elected president.


One man, many voices

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.

Mandela: Struggle for Freedom is about one man, but it is also about the many who came together to oppose racism and injustice. It encourages you to ask important questions: How should I respond to injustice? How can we heal after human rights have been denied? How does the past affect my present?

Mandela: Struggle for Freedom tells a story of racism, oppression, resistance and reconciliation that changed the world forever – and continues to be relevant today.

Mandela: Struggle for Freedom opens in the Level 1 Gallery on June 8, 2018.


The exhibition was developed in collaboration with the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Logo of the Apartheid Museum

The Museum is grateful to The Asper Foundation, TD Bank Group and Air Canada for supporting this exhibition.

Contributing partners:

The Asper foundation logo


TD Logo


Official Airline:

Air Canada logo



Robben Island Museum