The British Council's Mandela exhibition: history or corporate whitewash?

4 days 19 hours ago
The "Mandela and me" exhibition includes posters from the Anti-Apartheid Movement's campaign. Supplied

The “Mandela and Me” exhibition at the British Council in London marks the centenary of Nelson Mandela’s birth in 1918. The exhibition is sponsored by Anglo American, the mining giant that was the biggest corporation in South Africa during apartheid and has, since 1999, been headquartered in London.

This corporate connection influences the narrative that is spun at the exhibition. For example, it completely ignores Anglo’s own role as a founder and principal beneficiary of both British colonial rule and later the apartheid regime.

A film shown as part of the exhibition features young South Africans relaying what Mandela means for them. They appear inspired. Yet, I couldn’t help feeling that this was an exercise in the construction of public memory that has connotations of manipulation.

The inter-generational theme is repeated in the form of Mandela’s image, constructed as a mosaic of young South African faces. There is also a section interspersing anti-apartheid movement placards with protest concerns today.

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