Library launches exhibit on South African apartheid


Nathan Richards/Daily Senior Staffer

Figurines depicting Nelson Mandela are shown on display in University Library. April 27 marked the 20th anniversary of Mandela’s election as South Africa’s first black president.

Ciara McCarthy, Managing Editor

Northwestern is marking the 20th anniversary of democracy in South Africa with a University and Deering libraries exhibit drawing on multiple platforms to portray both the international struggle and NU’s connection to the conflict, featuring the campus community’s role in protesting the apartheid regime.

The exhibit, “From Apartheid to Democracy: 20 Years of Transition in South Africa,” focuses on two main aspects of anti-apartheid history. The display in the main library delves into the country’s first democratic election and features an original 1994 election ballot.

Erik Ponder, one of the exhibit’s co-curators, worked as an election observer under the United Nations during the country’s first democratic elections. He said the exhibit has allowed the Herskovits Library of African Studies to display its wide array of artifacts related to South African history, including its extensive election poster collection.

Deering Library showcases a more local aspect of the anti-apartheid struggle, featuring NU’s debate about divesting from South African companies and other Chicago-area groups who were also involved in the global movement against apartheid.

Esmeralda Kale, who curated the exhibit with Ponder and John Kannenberg, said the campus conversation at NU was unique because the University’s prolonged discussion about divestment encouraged and instigated further student activism. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, students organized protests and sit-ins, built at least two shantytowns and were arrested on multiple occasions. Kale and Kannenberg said highlighting NU students’ involvement in the movement was an important legacy for current students to understand.

“In today’s culture, people feel like they’re helping out causes around the world by doing things like posting images to Facebook or clicking a ‘like’ button, and these people were living outside and getting arrested by the police,” Kannenberg said. “It’s so radically different.”

Kale said the curators worked to integrate various platforms for learning to make the exhibit as engaging as possible. It is the first library exhibit to include an iPad, on which visitors can use the “Zapiro: Jiving with Madiba,” app, which features the work of famed South African cartoonist and political satirist Jonathan Shapiro.

In addition to the app, the Herskovits Library also produced a video featuring the perspectives and memories of Chicago-area election observers. Ponder, who produced the video with two Medill students, said he has collected about 12 oral histories so far and hopes to expand the video into a full-length documentary.

The exhibit is coupled with three lectures by NU professors and a film series. Political science Prof. Alvin Tillery, who will deliver his lecture on Monday, noted the importance of the South African conflict to those even without explicit ties to the country and its symbolism to the global community.

“We had a very important stake in South Africa and in resolving these issues in our own democratic society,” he said. “We all walk hand in hand in these issues.”

Tillery’s talk will cover the connection between black members of Congress and the role they played in mobilizing the U.S. government to oppose the apartheid regime as well as the significance their activism held for the country.

Kannenberg added the exhibit allowed students who didn’t live through the apartheid era to understand its global significance.

“It’s a very powerful word, but I think a lot of people in the campus community are of a certain age that they don’t really know what that word stands for,” he said.

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